Quick Quote

Enquiry Info
Personal Info
All fields are required.
tiny map

Loanwords: What are they and where do they come from?

Stop the press! ‘Marmite’ is French. And it’s not just the most-British of yeast spreads that is a loanword. Previously we’ve written about our favourite French words with no English translation, now this article will look some of our all time favourite loanwords which we use so regularly that they simply don’t need a translation.

What are loanwords and why don’t they need a translation?

Languages often borrow words from each other. For example, over a third of English words are derived from French. In fact, a staggering 1,700 words that are identical in the two languages.

In essence, loanwords are adopted from one language and incorporated into another language without translation; they simply become part of that lexicon too. Eventually, the origin of the word becomes unclear to users, as the below examples prove.

English is a language made up from older languages, including Celtic, Latin, and Germanic languages. For centuries, English has borrowed words from other languages, through strong cultural links, historical events and, quite often, invasions.

English has lent words to other languages too, examples of which include ‘e-mail’, ‘computer’ and ‘mobile’. Now new technology has increased the number of English loanwords, however, others date back further. For example, the French say le weekend, which derives from the English; the weekend.

Interestingly, the word loanword itself is borrowed from another language. It is a calque—otherwise known as a loan translation. A calque is a word or phrase which borrows its meaning from another language by translating into existing words in the target language. These do need translating still and it is important that translators know the difference. For example, our German translators would know that the word loanword derives from the German word lehnwort. Therefore, although English to German loanwords would not need a translation, loan translations, or ‘calques’, do.

Foreign language words regularly used in English

There a great number of loanwords in the English language hiding in plain sight. There’s a particularly high number of loanwords from French, German, Spanish and Italian.

For example, ‘marmite’ is a French loanword. A marmite (pronounced mar-meet) is a traditional crockery casserole. It is famed for its “pot-belly” shape, in fact, a traditional French marmite pot can be found on the label of each and every jar of Marmite. Other French loanwords include ‘morale’, ‘lingerie’, ‘gourmet’, ‘petite’, ‘parole’, ‘faux pas’, ‘voyeur’ and ‘dessert’.

At London Translations, we often sit in the cafeteria and discuss Spanish loanwords too; one of which is, incidentally, ‘cafeteria’. As is ‘tobacco’, ‘hurricane’, and ‘hammock’. Unsurprisingly, there’s plenty of culinary Spanish loanwords too, including ‘taco’, ‘salsa’, ‘cilantro’, ‘guacamole’, ‘enchilada’, ‘oregano’, and ‘burrito’.

German loanwords that have made it into everyday English lexicon include ‘angst’, ‘delicatessen’, ‘zeitgeist’ and ‘kaput’. Italian is well represented too, with ‘casinos’, ‘extravaganza’, ‘ghetto’, ‘piazza’, ‘violin’ and ‘zucchini’, all borrowed from Italy.

Other words loaned to English

The examples of words in English borrowed from French, German, Spanish and Italian are numerous. This is hardly surprising due to the close geographical ties that the countries and, therefore the languages, traditionally share.

However, as the world has become increasingly global, more and more words pop up in daily usage from a wide array of languages. For example, ‘ombudsman’, ‘ski’, and ‘smorgasbord’ arrive from Scandinavia. ‘Icon’, and ‘vodka’ arrive from Russia, and ‘avatar’, ‘karma’, and ‘yoga’ are Sanskrit words, and ‘pajamas’, ‘shampoo’ and ‘jungle’ are borrowed from Hindi.

It just goes to show that languages are constantly changing and, in turn, influencing others.

This website uses tracking cookies to improve user experience. By using our website you consent to all tracking cookies in accordance with our Cookie Policy.