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Language Translation: Amidst a language evolution

Updated: Sep 5, 2022



It is estimated that 80 percent of the English language is made of words borrowed from other languages, and for Spanish, it’s estimated to be above 75 percent (Rosettastone.com)!


Language is fluid, and over time it has evolved by borrowing words from other languages. Take the word taco as an example, e.g, the Mexican dish. The word didn’t exist in the English dictionary until Mexican migrants brought it to the United States during the 1900s.


When a language borrows words or phrases from another culture with little to no modifications, that's known as Loanwords or word borrowing. There are many reasons why this happens, such as the union of cultures or the introduction of new ideas like the word entrepreneur which was borrowed from French.


It turns out that this is common with languages. English, for example, is a melting pot of loanwords! Throughout history, the language has evolved by borrowing words from other languages with flexible grammar. As Philip Durkin, Deputy Chief Editor of the Oxford English Dictionary, states, most English borrowing has been done from French and Latin-based languages due to their grammar flexibility (McWhorter, 2020). English is also considered the language with the most loanwords, although now it has been doing most of the loaning in.


The Spanish coined the word “Anglicism” to describe the inverse Spanish-to-English word borrowing— specifically, from English spoken in England, Britain & America. As people migrate to settle in these new countries, they tend to learn the language to assimilate. This is different from word borrowing in that this process happens as the result of migrants entering a new country and becoming influenced by the surrounding culture. This also makes it nearly impossible not to blend a few new words into their own vocabulary in their native spoken language. For instance, Spanish-speaking countries now commonly use English words like parking, golf, chips, email, DVD, and chat in everyday talk (121Spanish.com).


The long history of word borrowing can be traced back to the times of the global slave trades and colonization of countries during the 1700’s. As traders arrived in different countries to trade slaves, they would forcefully teach their slaves their native tongue – the development of creole is a great example of this process. Haiti was colonized by France, so the Haitian natives and slaves were forced to learn French. The slaves would blend the French with their native languages resulting in Haitian-creole having more French words when compared to other forms like the Hawaiian-Creole, which has more English vocabulary since Hawaii was colonized by the Europeans (Sharma 2006). Essentially, creole is a mix of different loanwords from English and French dialects of indigenous people and varying African dialects such as Bantu, which originates in Cameroon in South Africa.


Now, if we fast forward to the 21st- Century, are languages still borrowing words? Yes! And in a very creative way. Recently, the NY Times released an article titled “How Sign Language Evolves as Our World Does,” outlining how technology is helping to evolve sign language with videos. Because sign language is non-verbal and visual, adopting visuals that could be seen on a phone screen could very much be considered a form of “loanwords.” Furthermore, sign language is not a universal language and has over a hundred different forms worldwide, so with the adoption of video-centered communications, an individual native of American sign language (ASL) can easily understand someone who communicates in Spanish sign language (SSL), or in French sign-language (FSL).


Witnessing the evolution of languages is exciting, but in some cases, it can cause confusion when communicating with an individual(s) who’s mixing words. Fortunately, translators and interpreters supporting countries remain up-to-date with the nuances of word borrowing. In addition to translating and recording the meaning of words, they also translate idioms and sayings known as Loan translation or Calque.


As technology advances and helps people to communicate and travel overseas much faster, the chances of word borrowing to happen is easier. At this point, some cultures have even borrowed slang and euphemisms— so stay tuned to the next article to find out just how much!



Written by: Alex Jimenez


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