Borrowing (i.e. copying)

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Saying that a language X (the recipient language) borrows (i.e. copies) an element from a language Y (the donor language) means that it comes to include this element into its own system.

  • "The vocabulary and grammatical patterns of a language can in this way be separated into two categories: native elements, which we can take back to the earliest known stage of a language, and borrowed elements, which were imported at some time from a different language." (Lehmann 1962:212)
  • "Cases of maintenance may involve varying degrees of influence on the lexicon and structure of a group's native language from the external language with which it is in contact. This kind of influence is referred to as "borrowing"." (Winford 2003:12)


It is often remarked that since the donor language does not lose the borrowed element, borrowing is really a kind of copying, and the metaphor "borrowing" is hardly appropriate. However, it is very deeply entrenched in linguists' (and lay persons') usage.

  • "The metaphor implied is certainly absurd, since the borrowing takes place without the lender's consent or even awareness, and the borrower is under no obligation to repay the loan...The real advantage of the term 'borrowing' is the fact that it is not applied to language by laymen. It has therefore remained comparatively unambiguous in linguistic discussion, and no apter term has yet been invented." (Haugen 1950:211-212)


Two important subtypes of borrowing are adoption (when native speakers of the recipient language borrow elements from the donor language, which is not their native language) and imposition (or retention) (when native speakers of the donor language adopt a new language but learn this new language imperfectly).

Some specific types of borrowing are: loan translation, semantic borrowing, loanblend, calque, nonce borrowing


The term borrowing is also used


  • loan
  • transfer
  • copying: This term has been used and promoted especially by Lars Johanson (e.g. Johanson 2002).


The use of the verb borrow for the adoption of foreign language elements seems to be very old. The OED has the following quotation from 1706: "The Rabbies would..borrow Words from other Languages." (A. Bedford Temple Mus. vi. 113)

See also


  • Haugen, Einar. 1950. The analysis of linguistic borrowing. Language 26:210-231.
  • Johanson, Lars. 2002. Structural factors in Turkic language contacts. London: Routledge.
  • Lehmann, Winfred P. 1962. Historical linguistics: An introduction. New York: Holt, Rinehart & Winston.
  • Winford, Donald. 2003. An introduction to contact linguistics. Malden, MA: Blackwell.

Other languages

German Entlehnung