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In the Wikipedia page History of the English language it is mentioned that English is a "borrowing language", with the implication that there are many loan words in English. What other languages may be considered Borrowing Languages?

Additionally, what are languages called that resist loanwords? For instance, I am aware that the French resist polluting their tongue with loanwords and coin French words for concepts that originate in non-French areas. Is there a term for this type of language as well?

Finally, is it correct to term the language "Borrowing Language" when the feature is not a feature of the language itself but rather a feature of the culture of the speakers who define the direction that the language evolves?

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    I'd be interested to see any research that shows if there's any real variety in how much different languages borrow...
    – curiousdannii
    Sep 29 '14 at 11:44
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    In Japanese and Korean most of the lexicon is borrowed from Chinese. Languages which are the least borrowing, apart from puristic ones like Icelandic, are Sanskrit and Arabic.
    – Yellow Sky
    Sep 29 '14 at 12:50
  • As a comment, I noticed that languages with higher level of idiomaticity appear to be more resistant to loanwords. Consider Chinese: 互联网 (Internet, literally: mutual-union-net), 火车 (Train, lit.: fire-cart), etc. This rule is not ultimate, however.
    – bytebuster
    Sep 29 '14 at 15:03
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    I agree with those who have said they doubt there's actually such a thing as 'borrowing language' per se. I think this notion falls within the broader issue of language ideology. Groups of speakers can have particular ideologies about their language, including preferences for/against borrowing, calquing, pleonasm, innovation, etc. Sep 30 '14 at 0:50
  • @bytebuster but is that just the official term for the internet? What does the average Mandarin speaker call the internet in their spoken language?
    – curiousdannii
    Sep 30 '14 at 2:27
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First, there is no such category as a 'borrowing language' equivalent to 'agglutinating language'.

Second, whatever variation there is among languages is cultural rather than linguistic. Although individual speakers may perceive this more viscerally (and report it as such).

But it's probably that there is not even a single scale along which you could grade cultures/languages. You will have to look at areas of linguistics practice, historical periods, registers and source languages.

For example:

You could compare English and German, Russian and Czech, Czech and Slovene and would find interesting differences. English will appear to borrow more technical words than German (cf. history vs. Geschichte) but the languages may be more similar at the colloquial level (cf. German 'Handy' for mobile phone). Czech will have been more resistant to borrowing at the literary level from German than Russian was but rife with borrowings at the colloquial level. It will have consciously borrowed words from Slavonic languages in the 19th century but not in the 20th. Czech will further differ from Slovene in how it transcribes foreign names. For example, Mr Beech may be transcribed in Slovene as Bíč but kept as Beech in Czech texts. However, Mrs Beech would be almost always converted into the female for form Beechová. They will not differ much in exonyms (such as London). These are not strictly borrowings but they indicate how the languages tend to integrate 'foreign' elements.

Also note above how easy (convenient) it is talk about languages when what you're talking about is the practices of different groups of speakers of those languages.

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I do not believe that “borrowing languages” is a meaningful concept in linguistics. All languages have borrowed from other languages, though obviously not all to the same degree. Just to stay with your question, French has borrowed lots of words from mediaeval and scholastic Latin (as opposed to the “genuine” French words derived organically from Vulgar Latin), and modern spoken French has borrowed heavily from English (despite the strictures of purists). Sanskrit borrowed heavily from Dravidian. Classical Arabic borrowed from Aramaic, Middle Persian and Greek, and Modern Arabic dialects have borrowed lots of words from Turkish, French, English, and (in Iraq and the Gulf) from Persian. So which language is not a “borrowing” language?

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While in general borrowing is a process that occurs in every language, there are some factors which mean it occurs more in some languages, one of which is a taboo against naming the dead. In such languages, the taboo means not only that you cannot say the names of dead people, but also vocabulary which is contained in names or sometimes even is just somewhat similar to names. Gary F. Simons (1982) found that 59% of the words of the Swadesh 100-word list in the languages of Malaita are found in the names of people. To avoid the taboos, words are borrowed from neighbouring languages and dialects. These languages will often have many synonyms, so that when one word becomes taboo, another can take its place, with the cycle repeating when it too becomes taboo.

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While that term is not particularly a part of general linguistic parlance, I think I understand what you mean.

For such examples, you might want to look at the languages of eastern Asia which have almost without exception borrowed massively from Chinese. Japanese even replaced some of its numbers with numerals of Chinese origin and generally has a Chinese alternative for almost any native word - or even just a standalone Chinese term without a matching native one.

For more ancient examples, you could look at Sumerian and Akkadian which had mingled and mixed so thoroughly between one another that they borrowed grammar, core vocabulary, syntax and phonetic features, in either direction.

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  • Is the borrowing from Chinese anything other than Chinese being a prestige language which meant that the borrowings were biased that way?
    – curiousdannii
    Sep 30 '14 at 2:30
  • Mongolian has very little Chinese compared to Japanese and Korean, if you consider it East Asian. Okinawan seems to have more borrowings from Chinese than Japanese and some Chinese terms entered Japanese via Okinawan. I don't think Ainu had any Chinese influence at all. If we want to include Southeast Asia, Vietnamese is full of Chinese borrowings but Khmer, Lao, and Thai are not. Burmese is related to Chinese so must have many words with a common Sino-Tibetan ancestor. Sep 30 '14 at 2:30
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    @curiousdannii it's primarily that, just as French was for English for quite a while. As for hippietrail's comment, yeah Mongolian and Ainu seem to be "left out" of the borrowing hype
    – Darkgamma
    Sep 30 '14 at 7:09
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I think this has more to do with not being a prestige language. English was a "borrowing language" because all higher-level vocabulary was coined in Latin historically, and Latin was the prestige language in Europe. I mean think about it, wouldn't it be inefficient to have both a native and borrowed word for something, when the language that it is being borrowed from is already well established? So naturally, English borrowed from Latin, because the words were already there.

In India, English is a prestige language, so people will often intermingle English words into their speech (even languages like Tamil which are thought to be less accepting of borrowings have a large English element now). So people will say computer, phone, TV since these things the words label were first invented in English-speaking places.

The idea of resisting loanwords is linguistic purism. This is not common in mainstream English; Latin and Greek borrowings persist.

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As others have mentioned, perhaps this is not something that academic linguists care too much about. But it is certainly true that some languages borrow more than others, and it can be quite fun for language learners to identify the "borrowing patterns" in various languages.

Here is a rough listing of "heavy", "moderate", and non-borrowing languages.

(languages in bold are those that I know personally. Examples that I'm not too sure about are marked with ?, please feel comment if you know these languages)

Examples of heavy borrowing languages:

  • English
  • Japanese
  • Korean
  • Vietnamese?

Examples of moderately borrowing languages:

  • Many other western European languages e.g. Spanish, French, German
  • Some/most Indian languages? (borrowings from Sanskrit/Persian/Arabic)

Examples of non-borrowing languages:

  • Chinese
  • Icelandic
  • Arabic?
  • Ancient languages like Latin and ancient Greek. (edit: not really true, probably belongs to the category above)

English is certainly a heavy-borrowing language, with much of its vocabulary derived from Latin and French. Languages of the Sinosphere (Japanese, Korean, Vietnamese) show a similar pattern with borrowings from Chinese. Japanese is particularly interesting in its historical similarity to English: both are island languages that borrowed significantly from its more civilized continental neighbor. There are many native-Japanese/Sino-Japanese word pairs, just like the many Germanic/Latin pairs in English. Maybe other languages also fit this model (e.g. middle eastern languages borrowing from Arabic, South/SE Asian languages borrowing from Sanskrit) though I am not too familiar personally.

Next are "moderately" borrowing languages; most European languages (other than English) probably fit in this category, with various borrowings from Latin, Greek, (more recently) English, etc.

(Note that even Romance languages can have "borrowings" from Latin in the form of more advanced and scientific vocabulary that was coined directly from Latin in Renaissance or early Modern times.)

Lastly, there are those strictly non-borrowing languages. The only one I am familiar with is Chinese, which doesn't allow loanwords due to the cumbersome nature of phonetically transcription in its writing system. Also, ancient languages generally fall into this category, for obvious reasons (though Latin might actually be a borrowing language, due to its borrowings from Greek)

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    Ancient languages like Latin and Ancient Greek absolutely borrowed – Latin borrowed heavily from Greek, in particular, and Greek has lots of loan words as well, many from sources that now cannot be securely identified. Also, “more civilised continental neighbour”? More like their invaders/trade partners. There was nothing uncivilised about English or Japanese. Nov 24 '20 at 19:47
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    @JanusBahsJacquet point taken about the ancient languages. RE the comment about 'civilized': it was NOT intended as a value judgement. Besides if we take literacy as a part of the definition of civilization, then my comment certainly holds.
    – Aqualone
    Nov 24 '20 at 19:53

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