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Sometimes when a word is borrowed from one language to another, what is an inflected form in the source language becomes an uninflected form in the target language. Examples of this are the Italian words "salame", "panino", and "zucchino", whose plural forms "salami", "panini", and "zucchini" got borrowed into English as unmarked singular forms.

Is there a term for this kind of borrowing? I'm tempted to call it a "reanalytic borrowing" but that term doesn't appear to be in general use, and besides which probably covers a greater range of phenomena than what I've described above.

  • 2
    "inflecticide"? – Greg Lee Jan 9 '17 at 3:40
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Borrowing plural nouns as singular nouns (as in the example) can be explained as the result of regularization by analogy to the usual form of singular nouns. Even though English has a fair share of irregular plurals, the suffix -(e)s is the default plural marker, and its abscence is therefore understood to mean the noun is either a mass noun or a countable noun in the singular. Only speakers familiar with the pluralization rules of Italian (in this example) would pause to assess whether the loanword in question is singular or plural.

In Spanish, where noun inflection is overwhelmingly regular, this regularization is even clearer. Spanish has singular zucchini and ñoqui (< gnocchi) from Italian, as well as bacteria, currícula and obra (< opera) from Latin.

The term reanalysis seems to be restricted to processes of folk etymology, that is, processes of internal breakdown and reassembly of morphemes or phrases within the language. This can happen with loanwords but then by that time it's not part of the borrowing itself.

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  • Isn't alga a normal Latin first-declension singular? The plural would be algae, the form borrowed into English. – Draconis Jan 9 '17 at 4:22
  • @Draconis Yes, of course. My bad. – pablodf76 Jan 9 '17 at 9:02

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