How English soaks up words from other languages

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By Martin Rubin

MAY WE BORROW YOUR LANGUAGE: HOW ENGLISH HAS STOLEN, PURLOINED, SNAFFLED, PILFERED, APPROPRIATED AND LOOTED WORDS FROM ALL CORNERS OF THE WORLD

By Philip Gooden

Head of Zeus/IPG, $24.95, 359 pages

For many people across the world, the dominant role of English has been a problem. Back in the 1960s, President Charles de Gaulle was so concerned that French was being contaminated by such an infusion from across the Channel, that he fought a largely unsuccessful rear-guard action against what was known as “Franglais.” If words like “le weekend” or sound-alikes like “rosbif” instead of the correct French words “boeuf roti” were unstoppable, the words engendered by the American computer-related technologies of the late-20th and early-21st century only made for a truly global tidal wave. Yet even here, there is cross-pollination rather than one-way traffic. Consider the French word menu, long a staple in English food terminology, which now has a whole new connotation.

Rather than focus on the back-and-forth dynamic between languages, British author Philip Gooden has chosen to concentrate on the English language as a sponge that soaks up foreign words from many languages, a list of which he usefully provides. His book is organized charmingly as well as practically, providing in chronological order a multitude of foreign words purloined and then firmly ensconced in our language. His justification for this is characteristically humorous as well learned:

” ‘Good artists copy; great artists steal,’ Picasso said or is supposed to have said. English is a great language by any reckoning, and so it must also be reckoned as more of a thief than a copier yet to steal words from a language does not deprive that language of its own words; rather it is to share the original expressions more widely, in the process often giving them a different spelling, another shape and perhaps a meaning that has strayed some distance from the one in the source. English is adept at this. The language is a great borrower, a practiced thief.” Read more

Source: Washington Times

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