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Lend Us a Word: Investigating the Phenomenon of Lexical Borrowing


Admission requirements



“English: A language that lurks in dark alleys, beats up other languages and rifles through their pockets for spare vocabulary.” (James Nicol)

In linguistics the phenomenon of languages lurking in dark alleys and stealing spare vocabulary items from other languages is known as lexical borrowing, the borrowing of individual or even large sets of words from another language or dialect. As a lexical donor language, English is currently most dominant, as illustrated in the quote above, but English itself has also borrowed about half of its words from French or Latin. Throughout history, other languages have also been active in lending and borrowing words, for instance Turkish during the Ottoman period. The attitudes of speakers to loanwords are mixed, and often age-sensitive, with younger speakers accepting them more openly than older speakers; language policies regarding loanwords also differ from one country to another, and range from the more liberal (e.g. Japan) to more restrictive (e.g. France). In the Netherlands, as a reaction to German influences, the journal Onze Taal (‘Our Language’) was established in the 1930s, while in Turkey, for example, a language reform was set up after the First World War, during which numerous borrowings were replaced with words having Turkish roots.

In the first half of the course, various contact situations from which borrowings emerge will be addressed, starting with the definition of borrowings, their history and the main theoretical models. Then the form, meaning and use of borrowings will be analyzed by means of looking at various typological classifications and semantico-pragmatic approaches. In addition to that, the perspective of the speaker/language user will be included as we will try to answer the question of what the speakers’ motives for borrowing are and how speakers perceive borrowings. Furthermore, examining some of the most interesting examples of dictionaries of borrowings will add a lexicographical angle to the course, whereas its last part will discuss the present-day reactions to borrowings will be discussed as well – both the more formal ones as stated in language policies and the less formal ones found in the media discourse.

Course objectives

By zooming in on different types of language contact situations, students will examine the phenomenon of lexical borrowing by means of exploring its history, the linguistic processes underlying it, the most significant theoretical approaches to the study of borrowings, language policies concerning it and the attitudes of speakers towards the presence of foreign borrowings in their mother tongues.

Mode of instruction

2-hour weekly seminar and self-study.

Assessment method

  • Participation (30%)

  • Course Paper (30%)

  • Exam (40%)



Reading list

Articles and other materials will be available on Blackboard or on the first floor of P.N. van Eyckhof 4.


Students should register through uSis.
Exchange and Study Abroad students, please see the Study in Leiden website for information on how to apply

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