What Are Loanwords

What Are Loanwords?

Languages freely borrow terms from each other. This usually occurs when a new object or institution is created for which the borrowing language lacks a word. If you are searching for what those words maybe, you are on the right page. 

In this post, we will be providing you with answers to the question “What are loanwords?” and how loanwords came to be.

We will also be enumerating the different loanwords from other languages and explaining the importance of getting ourselves acquainted with them. Please continue reading. 

What are Loanwords?

Loanwords are words that have been borrowed from other languages and utilized by speakers of that language (the source language). A ‘borrowing’ is another term for a loan word. The process by which speakers incorporate words from a foreign language into their native tongue is referred to as abstract noun borrowing. 

The terms ‘loan’ and ‘borrowing’ are both metaphors, as there is no such thing as a literal lending procedure. There is no translation from one language to another, and there are no words that ‘return’ to the originating language. They simply became popular within a linguistic community that spoke a language other than the one in which they originated.

Borrowing occurs when two language populations come into contact culturally. Word borrowing can occur in both ways between two languages in touch, although there is generally an asymmetry, with more words flowing from one side to the other. The source language community has some influence, reputation, and wealth in this situation, which makes the goods and ideas it brings appealing and beneficial to the borrowed language group. 

Borrowing is a complicated procedure that requires numerous usage occurrences. In most cases, some speakers of the borrowed language are also fluent in the source language or at least know enough to use the appropriate words. When speaking the borrowed language, they use them. They may speak the words the same or similar to how they are pronounced in the source language if they are bilingual in the source language, which is typically the case. 

Those who first use the new word may do so solely with speakers of the parent language who are already familiar with it, but eventually, they will use it with those who are unfamiliar with it. The word may appear ‘strange’ to these speakers. The word can be classified as a foreign word at this stage when the majority of speakers are unfamiliar with it and believe it comes from another language. 

However, a novel foreign word might become more familiar to more speakers over time. The user community can expand to the point that even those with little or no knowledge of the original language can understand and utilize the new word. The new term becomes established. 

What Is the Purpose of Borrowing Words from Other Languages?

Loanwords exist in all languages. What is the reason for this? The answer is complicated, involving past and current history, location, language size and power, and linguistic structure. Languages are generally influenced by their surroundings. 

There is no language – or component of language – that is completely ‘loan-proof’. Any term in one language might theoretically be replaced with a word from another. 

Here are the reasons and explanations why we borrow words from other languages. 

  • Loanwords contribute to the enrichment, expansion, and development of the language.
  • Other languages may better convey a concept, such as ‘schadenfreude’ which means pleasure in the misery of others. 
  • To introduce a new idea/product/sport/food/etc. for which no English word exists, borrowing is required. 
  • There has never been a formally acknowledged national academy in an English-speaking country to oversee the terms of entering and leaving the language.

How Do Borrowed Words Work in English?

Words are borrowed and lent due to cultural contact between two communities that speak different languages. The dominant culture (or the culture seen to have more prestige) frequently donates more words than it borrows, resulting in an uneven exchange mechanism. 

Many of the words that are borrowed are part of the dominant group’s material culture. Food, plants, animals, and tools travel with the people who use them, and the words used to describe them do as well. 

It is no surprise that physical and linguistic exchanges occur when other cultures come into contact with those new people, their goods, and their language. Since these objects have corresponding names already, the borrowing culture prefers to use them rather than create new ones. 

The new loanwords that the receiving language integrates into its lexicon frequently sound foreign at first. They may only be used by a small group of people until they gradually spread to more speakers over time. Pronunciation changes occur as a foreign word gets phonologically transformed to make it easier to utter in the language where it was borrowed from, a process known as naturalization or assimilation.

A loanword has been conventionalized when a large percentage of the population utters it on a regular basis, and what it is no longer needs to be defined and explained. Loanwords can either maintain traces of their former self (i.e., they can still be seen as foreign in some sense) or totally disappear into the new language. It is a loanword once the word no longer appears foreign.

Semantic Loan (Borrowing)

A semantic loan is related to the generation of calques in that it involves borrowing semantic meaning (rather than lexical objects) from another language. 

However, in this scenario, the whole word in the borrowing language already exists; the difference is that its meaning is expanded to accommodate another meaning in the lending language that its existing translation contains. 

When two languages are in close proximity, semantic loans are common and can take several forms. The source and target words could be cognates, which may or may not share any current meaning in common; they could be a loan translation or parallel construction (composite of matching terms); or they could be unrelated words with a shared meaning.

Loan Translation (Calque)

A calque (or loan translation) is a word-for-word translation from one language to another in linguistics. A calque is when you take a phrase in French and literally translate it into English root-for-root or word-for-word. 

To calque, as a verb, means to take a phrase or word from another language and reassemble it into a new lexeme in the chosen language. It is a type of loan in which words or phrases are taken from another language and then translated into the target language. It means adhering to the target language’s syntactical structures.

By avoiding using foreign terms directly, calque contributes to the richness of a target language. Calque is a construction, not a loan, which is a phonological and morphologic modification.

The French term ‘souris’, which means ‘mouse’ (the animal), is a good example. When French speakers began speaking of computer mice after the English term mouse acquired the additional sense of ‘computer mouse’, they did so by expanding the meaning of their own word ‘souris’ in the same way that English speakers had extended the meaning of mouse. 

It would have been a borrowing if French speakers had started using the term ‘mouse’; it would have been a calque if they had developed a new lexeme out of various French morphemes, as with ‘disque’ dur for ‘hard disk’.

Some Fun Facts About Loanwords

The people of the British Isles did not need borrowed terms before 1066. They spoke an Old English dialect of German. It has something to do with what we are talking about right now. France’s William the Conqueror invaded Britain in 1066. The nobles’ language became French. The common people, on the other hand, the common people continued to speak Old English. 

As a result, English has acquired a dual vocabulary. Pork, for example, was a hit with everyone. The nobles referred to it as ‘porc’, while the common people referred to it as swine. In modern English, both words exist, although ‘pork’ is more prevalent. More words from various European countries seeped into English as Christianity flourished.

Here are some fun facts about borrowed words:

  • The English language has borrowed words from up to 350 other languages.
  • Although all languages borrow words, many of them alter the rules to meet their phonetics.
  • Latin (29%), French (29%), Greek (6%), other languages (6%), and proper names (4%) are the languages from which present English is derived, meaning only 26% of today’s English is actually English. 
  • According to Dictionary.com, nearly 80% of the terms in an English dictionary were borrowed from another language.
  • Overall, Latin is the most common source of loanwords, but French is the most important provider of new loanwords.
  • When the alphabets are different, English transliterations normally rely on the source language to provide a starting point.
  • Since World War II, English has surpassed all other languages as the largest exporter of loanwords, including ubiquitous terms like ‘OK’, ‘Internet’, and ‘hamburger’.
  • Languages having richer grammar, such as German or Icelandic, are more hesitant to borrow because their grammar systems risk collapsing if there is an excessive flood of loans.

What are Some of the Common Loanwords?

Language is, at its core, a means of communication. It is an all-encompassing human phenomenon. It is a way to convey our thoughts, feelings, emotions, and messages. A language must be capable of expressing these phenomena. 

However, a language may not always have all of the words necessary to represent all of one’s experiences. It will have to borrow words and phrases from various languages.

Here are the most common ‘loan words’: 


The majority of African-derived words in English are nouns that describe creatures, plants, or cultural traditions that originated in Africa, mostly sub-Saharan African. 

apartheid banana banjo basenji

bongo buckra chimpanzee cola

dengue fandango goober jambalaya

jive jukebox jumbo mamba

mambo samba voodoo zebra


The following terms were learned either directly from Arabic or indirectly through the translation of Arabic into other languages and subsequently into English.

alcohol algebra average caravan

gazelle giraffe harem kebab

lemon magazine mattress mosque

oud safari shawarma sofa

sugar sultan tariff zenith


Some of the words of Australian Aboriginal origin, such as kangaroo and boomerang, are commonly used in Australian English. Many of these words have been leased into languages other than English, while others are unique to Australian English.

aborigine ballarat billabong bombora

boomerang bunyip dingo gymea

humpy kangaroo koala mallee

nugget swagman waddy walkabout

wallaby willy willy wombat wonga


The English language, as well as many other European languages, has adopted certain Chinese words. The majority of them were loanwords from Chinese, a phrase that refers to members of the Sino-Tibetan language family who speak Chinese. 

china chopsticks chow mein cumquat

dim sum feng shui ketchup kowtow

kung fu lychee soy tai chi

tea tofu typhoon wok


Both English and Dutch are West Germanic languages. However, in most cases, English spellings of Dutch loanwords suppress vowel combinations from the source term that do not exist in English and substitute them with existing vowel combinations.

bamboo blister boulevard brandy

cashier commodore dapper decoy

elope filibuster geek iceberg

knapsack mannequin onslaught pickle

pump school sketch stove


Many French words have found their place in the English language, just as many Latin ones have.

ballet casserole chancery cinema

croissant embassy entrepreneur faux pas

genre helicopter limousine parachute

pastry porridge renaissance rendezvous

silhouette stew television thermometer


Because the living Greek and English languages did not come into direct touch until modern times, borrowings had to be indirect, coming via Latin (through texts or French and other vernaculars) or Ancient Greek texts, rather than the living spoken language.

alchemy bacterium bishop chair 

elixir garbology gas helicobacter 

hydrant hydrodynamics kerosene metalinguistic

photography priest symbiont taxonomy 

telegram telescope television zoology 


Many of these terms may be traced back to a Germanic source (typically Frankish), making them cognate with a large number of native English words from Old English, resulting in etymological twins. Many of these are Franco-German words or words with Germanic roots in French.

attaché blitz bourgeoise delicatessen

fest flak gesundheit kindergarten

lager noodle poodle pretzel

rucksack sauerkraut schadenfreude schnitzel

strudel waltz zeitgeist zeppelin


It is not unexpected that Hebrew had an influence on English. Because European languages lacked a decent equivalent, or the translators weren’t sure what the word meant, many early translators took words directly from Hebrew.

abacus amen cherub cider

corban glitch golem jacket

jubilee macabre pascal pharaoh

pharisee rabbi sabbatical schmoose

schwa shalom shivah torah


Many old Greco-Roman words that are now part of modern English can be traced back to Sanskrit.

candy cashmere cough crimson

daughter dental grass ignite

jungle karma lilac mantra

neem nirvana pepper rice

shampoo shawl tank yoga


Many words from the Italian language and its Latin-derived relatives have made their way into English, particularly those related to art, music, and cuisine.

balcony coda extravaganza fresco

maestro motto novel piano

presto quarantine regatta solo

soprano stanza studio tempo

trio umbrella violin zucchini


Japanese words have made their way into a wide range of languages. Some of the words are simply transliterations of Japanese language words for cultural concepts, but others are words of Chinese origin that were first introduced to English through Japan.

anime bento bonsai geisha

kamikaze karaoke karate katsu

mochi ninja nori origami

samurai shoyu sudoku sumo

sushi tsunami tycoon wasabi


Even though no one speaks Latin anymore, many aspects of the language can still be found in word components. Many languages have taken vocabulary from Latin, particularly in the areas of arithmetic, science, and medicine.

affidavit agenda alias alibi

alma mater alter ego alumni bonus

etcetera exit fact maximum

post mortem post-partum propaganda spectrum


The majority of loanwords and derivations stem from the Age of Discovery, when the Portuguese spoken at sea was widely regarded as the most widely understood vernacular (lingua franca) of the Indian and Atlantic Oceans, according to several studies.

albino buffalo caramel cashew

caste cobra creole embarrass

flamingo indigo Labrador lingo

marmalade massage molasses mulatto

palaver port potato tapioca


The impact of Spanish, being one of the major Romance or Latin languages, can be heard all over the world, particularly in English. Because of the Spanish colonization of a substantial section of the Americas from 1492 until 1832, the influence of Spanish on the English language is particularly noticeable in American English.

alligator avocado barrio breeze

burrito cafeteria canyon cargo

cigar fiesta hacienda hurricane

macho mosquito oregano patio

ranch stampede tequila tornado

Where Can We Usually Find Loanwords?

Everyday words are popular loanwords. You may not even be aware that some of them are from a different language. 

The majority of well-known loanwords are the outcome of cross-cultural encounters. There are a plethora of methods to highlight English’s global ingredients, but it would take as many years to do so properly as it did for English to develop into the rich stew it is now.

Loanwords in Academics

Loanwords have been discussed and explained by academics like Lyle Campbell, together with Ugandan-born British linguist Francis Katamba and even author and linguistic researcher Kerry Maxwell. Continue reading to see what they had to say about it.

Lyle Campbell

“One reason terms from another language are adopted is for prestige, as the foreign phrase is held in high regard for whatever reason. ‘Luxury’ loans are used to describe loans used to gain prestige. For example, English could have done just fine with only native terms for ‘pig flesh/pig meat’ and ‘cow flesh/cow meat,’ but pork (from French porc) and beef (from French boeuf), as well as many other terms of ‘cuisine,’ were borrowed from French; ‘cuisine’ itself is from French cuisine ‘kitchen’, because French had a higher social status and was considered more prestigious than English during the Norman French dominance of England (1066-13).”

Francis Katamba

“Bilingual speakers may be expressing something about themselves and how they want to relate to their interlocutor by using a specific language. For example, if a patient initiates a Yiddish conversation with a doctor in the doctor’s office, it could be a show of solidarity, implying that you and I belong to the same sub-group. Instead of selecting between languages, these two people would prefer code-switching. They may produce sentences that are partially written in English and partially written in Yiddish. If foreign terms are often employed in code-switching, they may gradually flow from one language to another, becoming fully integrated and no longer being considered foreign. That is most likely how Yiddish phrases like chutzpah (brazen impudence), schlemiel (a clumsy, bungling person who is constantly a victim), schmaltz (cloying, bland sentimentality), and goyim (gentile) came to be. The fact that these Yiddish words have no graceful English equivalent was undoubtedly a factor in their acceptance.”

Loanwords in Pop Culture

As the following comment from the late British actor Geoffrey Hughes, who also played Paul McCartney in the film “Yellow Submarine,” demonstrates, loanwords function in a range of languages.

Geoffrey Hughes

“Scholars use a three-part distinction drawn from German to classify loanwords according to their degree of assimilation in the new host language. The sound, spelling, and meaning of a Gastwort (‘guest word’) are all preserved. Examples are ‘passe’ – a French word, ‘diva’ – an Italian word, and ‘leitmotiv’ – a German word. A Fremdwort (‘foreign term’), like the French ‘garage’ and ‘hotel’, has experienced partial assimilation. ‘Hotel,’ which was initially pronounced with a silent ‘h’, has been spoken like an English word for some time, with the ‘h’ sounded; ‘garage,’ which has evolved a secondary, Anglicized pronunciation (‘garrij’) and can be employed as a verb. Finally, a Lehnwort (‘loan word’) has assimilated into the new language and has no distinguishing features. As a result, the loan word is an example of itself.”

Kerry Maxwell

“Fauxcellarm, a clever blend of the French loan term faux, meaning ‘false’, ‘cell’, from ‘cellphone’, and ‘alarm’, which when pronounced out loud sounds similar to ‘false alarm’, is a tongue-in-cheek alternative to ringxiety.”

Why Should We Be Familiar With ‘Loanwords’?

You are now aware that English has many words that have been borrowed from other languages. 

In reality, the majority of English terms are from other languages. Many of the words in the English language have cognates in different languages. Knowing what many of these common word components signify will help you expand your English vocabulary. 

As such, it is a must that you familiarize yourself with these terms and where they are from as this will surely come in handy not just in academic settings but also in social settings. 

Additional FAQs — Loanwords

How Many Loanwords are There in the English Language? 

Out of the (approximately) 171 476 words in the English language, 80% are borrowed or loaned from other languages. Studies show that these loanwords are from 350 different languages, most of which are from Latin and French. 

How do Loanwords Happen?

Borrowing of words usually occurs when a new object or institution is created for which the borrowing language lacks a word.
In some instances, the word’s spelling is altered to fit in a country’s standard spelling. Other times, the borrowed words stay as they are, with no modifications and alterations. 

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