What is the reason for loanwords to preserve the original pronunciation, but not to be assimilate into the new language?

For example, the German loanword from English Handy (mobile phone), it is pronounced like /hɛndi/, but not /handʏ/ (the regular way to pronounce this word in German).

Is this for specifically labelling them as loanwords but not native words?

  • 3
    A better way to put your question is why German /hɛndi/ (mobile phone) is not written as “Hendi” or “Händi”. “Pronunciation” is how the words sound, the way the words are written is called “spelling”, “orthography”. The typical way of German is to borrow a foreign word with its sound and keep the original spelling used in the source language (English does the same). As for “Handy”, its pronunciation was adapted to the German phonology, since in English it is /ˈhæn.di/, with /æ/ not found in German substituted for German /ɛ/. >>
    – Yellow Sky
    Nov 2, 2022 at 7:00
  • >> Besides, German did change the spelling of that word, since in German it is always capitalised together with all the rest of the nouns, while in English, the source of the borrowing, the standard form of the word is without capitalisation. The question you ask does not correspond to your example and the rest of your text since the word you discuss changed both pronunciation and spelling in the process of its borrowing from English into German.
    – Yellow Sky
    Nov 2, 2022 at 7:04
  • @YellowSky I am not sure whether the spelling is changed, afterall the etymology of this word is not clear and people only know that it comes from English, and I think capitalisation has few to do with spelling.
    – Gaai Chia
    Nov 2, 2022 at 8:23
  • @YellowSky about the pronunciation change, I guess the one in Handy does not count as assimilation since it would be /a/ not /ɛ/ if it is assmilated. Also there are some German loanwords from French that retained the nasal vowels from French.
    – Gaai Chia
    Nov 2, 2022 at 8:26
  • 1
    @Gaai What do you mean “it would be /a/ not /ɛ/ if it is assimilated”? Why would it not be /ɛ/? The English phoneme /æ/ is phonetically about halfway between German /a/ and /ɛ/, and there’s no reason it should assimilate to one rather than the other. Also, Orange is not just like the French pronunciation, which is /ɔ.ʁɑ̃ʒ/, not /oˈʁãʃ/ – both vowels are different in quality, the second is different in length, and the final consonant is devoiced in German. Nov 2, 2022 at 18:03

1 Answer 1


Pronunciation of borrowed words can be influenced by spelling or by pronunciation. Words borrowed into English are strongly influenced by Latin alphabet spelling, until special pronunciation conventions are adopted for the target language. When the western standard for Chinese transliteration changed to pinyin, there was a period of hilarious mis-pronunciations of <q, c, x, z>, which abated somewhat via various social correction procedures. The soup known as "pho" is widely pronounced as [fo], though the Vietnamese spelling is phở and most non-Vietnamese have no idea what those diacritics are: but a number of people pronounce it [fʌ], again thanks to social correction trends. Nobody (who isn't speaking in Vietnamese) pronounces the word the way it is pronounced in Vietnamese, and nobody pronounced Chinese words with correct tones, because English doesn't have tones. Mosima Sexwale, an early post-apartheid government official in South Africa, had his name pronounced [sɛkswɛil] by the media, because they had no idea how to pronounce it. John Wells opined that the name is Venda (not an unreasonable conclusion) therefore x is pronounces as a back fricative as in IPA, but a competing account is that the name is Nguni where it stands for a lateral click (as in Xhosa). Etymology notwithstanding, English pronunciation (outside of southern Africa) follows orthographic rules for pronunciation. OTOH there is a "hard" rule that in Dutch, <g> is a velar fricative, except in bagage (and similar words) where it is a palatal fricative – as it is in the source language, French (likewise Danish, Norwegian, Swedish).

In all cases, the word is assimilated into the phonology of the receiving language. Norwegian pronunciation of "baggage" (conveniently respelled to bagasje) is not the same as the French pronunciation (there is no [ʒ] in Norwegian, a is a back vowel, not a front vowel). The variation that arises is in how words are adapted to the recipient-language phonology, and to what extent earlier rules of pronunciation have been overruled by loanwords. In the southern Bantu language, it was originally a rule there there were no clicks, but thanks to substantial contact with Khoisan language which have clicks, the rules changed.

  • “When the western standard for Chinese transliteration changed to pinyin, there was a period of hilarious mis-pronunciations of <q, c, x, z>, which abated somewhat via various social correction procedures” — Any fans of badminton (a sport with many Chinese names) will confirm that mispronunciations of Pinyin are still very much the norm. Commentators round these parts mostly pronounce all of <x, c, s, z, ch, sh, zh> as [s ~ ʃ], <u, yu, ü, ou, iu> as [u], <ian, en, ing, eng> as [ɪŋ], etc. Xu Jingxian and Zhou Tiancheng both become [ʃu ʃɪŋʃɪŋ]. Nov 2, 2022 at 21:19
  • Thank you for your informative explanation!
    – Gaai Chia
    Nov 3, 2022 at 1:43
  • Arabs have many loanwords from different languages, yet we switch V to F and P to B. Same thing happens to the words loaned from Arabic, semitic sounds are being switched to the closest sound, ط to T and ظ to D and so on.. Nov 3, 2022 at 7:58
  • "nobody pronounced Chinese words with correct tones, because English doesn't have tones" <-- I didn't realise everybody was an English speaker ;) Nov 3, 2022 at 20:49

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