For example, Latin is used as a source language for scientific terms in many European languages, and English is used as a source for technology-related terms in other languages

  • 1
    I feel like you've answered yourself...the terminology looks like 'source language' as the right term for the language that is the source of neologisms. Is there another nuance that you're looking for?
    – Mitch
    Sep 15 '11 at 15:16
  • To me when I hear "source language" I expect the topic to be about translation to a "destination language". Sep 16 '11 at 0:27
  • Another example: Sanskrit is used for coining new scientific terms in most Indian languages (whether Indo-European or Dravidian) other than Tamil. Sep 16 '11 at 8:44

In creole studies, you'll hear languages like this described as lexifiers. So for instance, with Haitian Creole — which takes a lot of grammatical features from West African languages, but has a mostly French vocabulary — you can say that French was the the lexifier. The Wikipedia article on relexification gives a few more examples and some citations.

I've never heard the word "lexifier" used to describe non-creole languages. But if you did use the word that way, I suspect you'd be understood. Calling Norman French the "lexifier" for English legal terminology might not be technically correct but I'd know what you were getting at.

  • That term is mostly related to the field you mentioned, though. Are you sure Latin can be defined a lexifier?
    – Alenanno
    Nov 2 '11 at 17:17
  • I'm not sure Latin-as-a-source-for-scientific-loans falls within the strict definition of the word. But I'm also not sure there's a more precise term for what Louis is looking for. And if someone called Latin the "lexifier" for English scientific vocabulary, I'd at least know what they meant. Nov 3 '11 at 2:59

I think the general term for these would be "prestige languages". Though the term itself has a wider application, those languages are chosen as sources of technical-term loanwords because of their prestige.

  • 1
    That's only one type of source language. Linguistic transfer frequently occurs between languages that are not in a prestige relationship.
    – Alek Storm
    Nov 2 '11 at 2:40
  • @Alek Indeed. Words for specific artifacts for example can come from the cultures that produce them (e.g. igloo, toga, burrito) and this doesn't imply prestige. But looking at this and the linked question by the same author, it didn't seem that this was the kind of thing being asked for.
    – Muke Tever
    Nov 2 '11 at 2:58

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