Something Borrowed

A rhetorical question, what is the English Language made up of?

A tricky one, well metaphorically if you can imagine a cake, there is a base of the bible, King James flavour Noted for its «majesty of style», this Version has been described as one of the most important books in English culture and a driving force in the shaping of the English-speaking world. You then need some Shakespeare sponge. The writings of Shakespeare actually influenced the English language, as his works contributed to standardize English language rules and grammar in the 17th and 18th centuries. The words and phrases that he wrote were embedded in the language. Maybe add some cream of Chaucer, who has been styled the «Father of English literature». Possibly if you are in the mood add a dollop of Dickens one of the first writers to employ popular slang. Finally add some Samuel Johnson jam, after all «Samuel Johnson» and «English Language» has a ring to it. Word! A dictionary full of them in fact his Dictionary «easily ranks as one of the greatest single achievements of scholarship into the English lexicon».

Speaking of words, English has the largest amount of vocabulary which makes the learners confused to understand the semantics, structure, grammar and pronunciation. There is a strong argument that English has been established as the de facto lingua franca. However a great number of words have been borrowed into the English language. Just look at the last sentence for proof. So loan-words have influenced and changed English immeasurably. The main reason for borrowing is to provide a word from the source language variety when there is no suitable existing word in the target language. English language, still, continues to expand its vocabulary by means of loanwords from other languages. Some might say English doesn’t just borrow from other languages. It follows these languages down dark alleys, knocks them over and goes through their pockets for loose words. There is some truth in this as more than any other language the evolution of English has remained fluid accepting foreign words at will. After all English- speaking countries have never had a formally recognized national academy to monitor the words that enter the language. Académie française anyone?

To Business ironically an English word absorbed everywhere.  If you are feeling a little frustrated during the lockdown some wanderlust may grip you, so pack a rucksack and leave. Wait you can’t excuse me if I have a bout of schadenfreude. Therefore let’s start with German as most scholars believe English is a West Germanic language that originated from Anglo-Frisian dialects brought to Britain in the mid -5th to 7th centuries AD by Anglo-Saxon settlers.

Top borrowed German words used in English are as follows:

Angst, delicatessen (deli), hinterland, iceberg, kaput, kinder garden (kindergarten), poltergeist, rucksack, schadenfreude, schnapps, wanderlust and zeitgeist which is all the fashion.

The origin of «kaput»?

After German and following the Norman Conquest Many Norman and French loanwords entered the local language which may make you feel a little peckish. So «Bon Appetite» it may be a cliché and is not déjà vu but time to visit a café or a restaurant then get the à la carte menu from the maître, drink an aperitif and chat to the chef. Funny how so much French we use is food related.  Encore!

Top borrowed French words used in English:

– Adieu, blond(e), chic, déjà vu, entrepreneur, fiancé, genre, joie de vivre, laissez-faire, nouveau riche, R.S.V.P (Répondez s’il vous plait), souvenir et Voila.  A footnote former US President George W Bush once said in a speech to business leaders

«… the French do not have a word for entrepreneur»

George W. Bush

…maybe … but: The french are chic!

Feeling sleepy?

How about a siesta now or perhaps mañana? Feeling better in fact you may feel so macho or suave or even savvy.  Ole! So to Spanish as some of you know America is full of Spanish place names from cities to states. Two of the most visited states Florida and California’s names deride from Spanish. As do two of the most popular cities Los Angeles and San Francisco.  Top Spanish words: aficionado, breeze, cockroach, cocoa, desperado, fiesta, guerrilla, macho, nada, patio.  Not sure about you I fancy a drink. Decision time, choose from the following – daiquiri, mojito, piña colada, sherry or tequila – it makes me happy in fact everyone dance now. You can choose a rumba or a tango. So Romantic!

Which brings us to the leader in the so called romantic languages,

ciao (hello) to Italian. Italian words and phrases crop up everywhere and the likelihood is that you use them in your everyday vocabulary without even realizing it! You may feel like running out for some Italian food however there are too many words to mention. So as music is the food of love the read on. Allegro now, if you cannot keep the tempo then you can go solo there is no need to be a diva.  You can always make a cameo in a ballet hopefully there will not be a fiasco at the finale. Pia parole Al fresco, Casanova, diva, forte, inferno, maestro, opera, piano, prima donna, quartet, sonata, trio, vendetta, virtuoso. There are many more so you won’t be a zero.

We have just shown examples where English has taken from what is considered to be the top few. Percentage wise English consists of roughly 21.3% French words: and 20% words of  Germanic decent. Then for arguments sake if Spanish and Italian can considered Latin then you can add a further 15%.   There is more. English also steals from Ancient Greek, not to forget Old Norse, Arabic, Hindi, Dutch and many, many more.

Regardless of the many languages that have been pilfered, English takes its place as one of the world’s predominant forms of communication with its influences extending to over 400 million speak who English as their native tongue. There is also between 2.5 and 3 billion people have some competence in the language.  So it’s always better to borrow.