Borrowed Words in English: Explore the Rich Cultural Heritage and History of the English Language
English is rich in cultural heritage. Did you know that 80% of English words are of foreign origin, or “loanwords”? From ancient languages like Latin and Aztec to modern ones like French and Spanish, English has borrowed words from all over the globe, often giving them new meanings. This article will look at five surprising English loanwords and their fascinating origins. You’ll be amazed by the diverse cultural influences that have shaped the English language. Whether you’re learning English or want to encourage your children to understand it, exploring the rich cultural heritage of English loanwords is a great way to appreciate the language and learn about the world.
How English Honours the Cultural Influences that Have Shaped it
English is a unique and fascinating language that serves as a linguistic history book, paying tribute to cultures, people, and objects that have shaped its development over the centuries. One of the most exciting aspects of the English language is the way it has borrowed words from other languages, incorporating them into its vocabulary and often giving them new meanings. From ancient languages like Latin or Aztec to modern ones like French and Spanish, and even Indigenous ones, 80% of English words are of foreign origin. These words are known as “loanwords”. Some of these loanwords are so deeply woven into English that most don’t even realise the root of the word is foreign.
For example, the words “sky,” “husband,” “egg,” and “knife”, are actually Old Norse, introduced to English speakers by the Vikings. Old Norse also greatly influenced English grammar and syntax. Another significant source of loanwords in English is Latin, the language of the Roman Empire. Latin was the language of scholarship and science for much of European history, and as a result, many Latin-derived words found their way into English. French has also had a significant impact on the English language, particularly in arts, literature, and politics. Other languages that have contributed loanwords to English include Arabic, Italian, Spanish, and various Native American languages. For example, “alchemy” and “alcohol” come from Arabic, “balcony” and “fiasco” come from Italian, “canyon” and “salsa” come from Spanish, and “chipmunk” and “moccasin” come from Native American languages.
Incorporating loanwords into English is a natural process reflecting the dynamic nature of language and the cultural exchange between different groups of people. Loanwords can enrich a language and broaden its vocabulary, providing insight into a language’s history and cultural influences. Being spoken across the world, English is a melting pot of words and phrases from various languages, uniting many cultures into one international tongue.
In a way, English is a global memoir. It is a linguistic history book with examples in daily phrases. For example, the phrase "to hang up the phone" pays tribute to the history of telecommunications and the innovations that have made it possible to connect with people around the globe. In the past, phones were connected to a central switchboard by a physical cord, and when you were finished with a call, you would "hang up the phone" by placing the receiver back on the switchboard.
Today, most phones are cordless and don’t have a switchboard, but the phrase “hang up the phone” remains in everyday use to end a call. Similarly, the term “turn it down a notch”, used to ask people to lower the intensity of their behaviour, originated from when knobs with notches on them controlled the television volume.
It’s difficult to predict what English words or phrases might lose meaning and retire in the future. Language is a constantly evolving and dynamic entity, and many factors influence it. Technology and societal shifts could potentially lead to the retirement of certain words, such as phrases related to physical media like “CD,” “DVD,” or “Disk on Key” – all of which might soon become obsolete as streaming and cloud services become more prevalent.
But there is hope for these words yet! Take the term “floppy disk” for example. Although floppy disks are no longer a commonly used form of media, the icon of a floppy disk is still universally recognised as a symbol for the “save” action on your computer. The 💾 icon is a testament to the power of visual language and how it can transcend spoken language’s historical preservation power. It demonstrates how visual language can be a more enduring and universal communication, as it can convey meaning and ideas even when the words or objects it represents are no longer in use. In this sense, the “save” icon is a testament to how visual language can outlast spoken language in terms of its ability to communicate meaning and preserve cultural knowledge.
While emojis serve as global means of communication that transcend borders, they are still a limited form of communication that fails to express complex emotions or ideas. Technology helps us facilitate communication. However, it can be a poor substitute for more traditional forms of communication like face-to-face conversation or written language.
Until the day the emojis take over (or not… 😛), people will use the English language to communicate between countries. English is an international language and with good reason. Not only is it spoken across borders and in many different countries, but a diverse range of nations and cultures has also shaped it. To know English is to know the world, and it’s no exaggeration to say that learning English can open up a world of opportunities and experiences. From business and finance to education and travel, there are countless ways in which knowing English can broaden your horizons and give you a greater understanding of the world.
The best way to learn any language is to start at a young age and absorb the language naturally through everyday exposure and use. Children raised in an English-speaking environment learn the language easily and naturally, without much conscious effort. For adults, the key is to immerse yourself in the language as much as possible by listening to English-language music, watching English-language movies and TV shows, and reading English-language books and articles.
At Helen Doron English, learning English is an enriching and immersive experience that helps students discover the world around them. That’s why we focus on teaching English by exploring different cultures and customs, encouraging students to learn about the world and respecting diversity. Our unique approach to language learning helps children develop an appreciation for other cultures and understand how people from different backgrounds communicate and interact with one another.
As you learn English and explore the cultures that have shaped the language, it’s important to remember the origin of the words you speak and the cultures they come from. By learning about the history and heritage of words, you can more easily spell them and use them in the proper context. More importantly, you naturally respect the cultures that have contributed to the English language and broaden your understanding of the world.
Whether you’re a student learning English as a second language or a native speaker looking to expand your knowledge, there’s always more to discover about the rich and diverse history of the English language.
5 Surprising Common English Words of Foreign Origin
The word "Sofa" originated in Turkish, meaning "a raised section of a floor, covered with carpets and cushions". But wait! The term "sofa" actually dates back to 2,000 BC in ancient Egypt, and it derives from the Arabic term "Suffah", which means "a bench of stone or wood".
We are sure that you would have never guessed that the word "Ketchup" – an American kitchen staple – originated in China! In Hokkien Chinese, the word kê-tsiap (膎汁) refers to a sauce made from fermented fish. Decades later, Westerners added tomatoes, which is how the modern "ketchup" was created. The word, however, still pays respect to its Chinese origin. .
The English word "glitch" was originally used in the 1940s by radio announcers to indicate an on-air mistake. By the 1950s, the term had migrated to television, where engineers used "glitch" to refer to sudden, unexpected technical problems. The word is thought to have originated from a combination of two different sources. The first is the Yiddish word "glitshen", which means "to slip or slide". The second is the German word "glitschen", which means "to glide or slip".
The word "Shampoo," which is both a noun for the hair product and a verb for washing your hair with that product, was adopted from the Indian subcontinent during the Colonial Era. It dates back to 1762 and derives from the Hindi word "cā̃pō" (चाँपो), which in itself derived from the Sanskrit root "capati" (चपति), which means "to press, knead, or soothe", as in massaging shampoo into your hair.
The word "Cartoon", which usually refers to silly animation or a funny comic strip, originated from the Italian word "Cartone", first used during the Renaissance when referring to the heavy paper on which artists sketched and planned their more extensive works. The word was adopted into English in the 1670s, adding the common "-oon" ending as with similar French and Italian words, like balloon and macaroon. In 1843, the English word "Cartoon" was changed to represent comical political drawings, and then circa 1916, the term began also to signify animations.