Language Contact

Links and resources: Language Contact

Loan Words

Loan words are words from one language that are incorporated into the vocabulary of another language. Some examples in English are sushi from Japanese, astrology from Greek, and justice from French. English is known for having lots of words from various backgrounds. These days, other languages are English words like computer.

For some examples of words that English got from other languages, check out the extensive Wikipedia collection here:
English isn’t the only language with loan words! For some examples of Spanish words originally from Arabic:

Do borrowed words degrade a language?

No! Languages change over time. Words are lost, words are gained, and sometimes words change their meanings. None of the world’s languages today are spoken the way they were 100 years ago. In fact, the romance languages, (French, Spanish, Italian, Portuguese, and more) were once considered “degraded” forms of Latin. Some people have a tendency to call language change “degradation” as it happens around them. But historically, language change is rather referred to as “evolution”.

Code Switching

When two bilinguals who speak the same languages talk to each other, it’s possible for code switching to occur. Code switching is the use of two languages in one conversation. Although code switching has a reputation among some people as coming from the random mixing and imperfect use of two languages, there is a structure to code switching. Switches have to adhere to the structural rules of both languages. Therefore, bilinguals who use a lot of code switching are very highly proficient in both of their languages – they’re following the rules of both systems at once!

People code switch for a lot of reasons. Sometimes, there’s a word or phrase that is hard to translate to another language. Other times, speakers may change languages according to the topic they’re talking about. (For example, two Russian-English bilingual teenagers talking in English about school topics, and in Russian about family topics.) Code switching can also be used to emphasize a shared culture and identity.

What is “Spanglish”, and why do people speak it?

“Spanglish” refers to the dual use of English and Spanish in a single conversation. Due to the widespread use of Spanish-English code switching, and the resulting recurrent patterns, some have argued that Spanglish is its own “intertwined language“.  Spanglish is not “degraded Spanish”, nor is it “broken English”. Rather, Spanglish is a language variety that some people use to represent the culture and identity of Spanish-English bilinguals.

Pidgins and Creoles

Pidgins develop as a form of communication between speakers who do not share a common language. (This is different from code switching, which includes bilinguals who speak both of each other’s languages). Historically, pidgin varieties are developed in situations such as trade, or as a result of the oppression of one group by another, such as colonization.

In cases where pidgin varieties are spoken for an extended period of time, and are spoken by a second generation as a native language, they become Creoles. Creoles are fully systematic, structured, legitimate languages. Historically, creoles have been devalued because people thought they sounded like “broken English” or “corrupted French”. However, with increased awareness about the grammatical systems of creoles, these varieties have gained more legitimacy in the minds of their speakers and surrounding communities.

Watch a video about Jamaican Patois (Patwa) here: (2mins 20sec).

Further Reading: 

One introductory textbook that covers topics related to language contact and language attitudes in great detail is Multiple Voices: An Introduction to Bilingualism, by Carol Myers-Scotton. (Blackwell, 2006).