When I started studying Spanish, I noticed a vast number of crossover words. I had already studied my dictionary and discovered words of Latin and Greek derivations along with German and French-based words. English is fantastic at borrowing words. Forever. Linguists call the appropriation of a foreign language word, a loanword. Some loanwords undergo a phonetic makeover, which makes the word sound more English and less like its home origin.
Linguists say loanwords account for 80% of English words and borrows from 350 other languages. Yep, that number amazed me, but it turns out there may be 7,000 unique languages in the world. More than half of the world’s population speak just 23 of those. The statistic also shows almost 3,000 languages are in danger of extinction and are spoken by fewer than 1,000 people.
I wonder if some foreign words will one day only live in their English form. The Samoan word “tatau” and the Marquesan, “tatu” were used by British explorer James Cook, to describe the inked individuals he met in Polynesia, coining our word, Tattoo. Hoi Polloi, which sounds Hawaiian, is from the Greek word meaning “the many.” Avatar is Sanskrit and passed through Hindi or Urdu. The original meaning was “manifestation of a god in bodily form.”
A writer’s favorite genre is from the French word for “kind” or “style.” Coffee traveled to us on a long road from Arabic, to Ottoman Turkish, to the Dutch “koffie” before entering the English language in 1582. The other writing staple, chocolate, was “xocolatl” in the Nahuatl language of modern-day Mexico, with a detour through Spain. I don’t want to return a single borrowed word.
What is your favorite word?
Keep on writing.
Jo Hawk The Writer