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When Languages Influence Each Other

By Alison at Accredited Language
Posted on Friday, April 23, 2010
Category: Etymology, Etymology, History, History, Languages, Languages

A side effect of globalization is the way that languages influence one another and evolve thanks to increased foreign exposure.

Languages can be enriched by such cross-linguistic contact. But is there also a chance that unique languages will lose their purity — and even become threatened with endangerment?

Benefiting from Global Linguistic Exchange

Languages’ influence on each other can result in exciting linguistic developments, creating a richer lexicon and more dynamic speech. It can ultimately create an intriguing link between languages.

The English language offers excellent proof of the diversity and richness that the influence of another language can bring. Take the word “jungle,” for example, a word derived from the Hindi “jangal,” or the French loan-word “déjà vu,” which literally translates to “already seen.”

Other English words that have a foreign influence include “iceberg,” which is thought to originate from the Danish or Norwegian “isberg,” for “ice mountain” and the term “boondocks” which comes from the Tagalog’s “bundok,” meaning “mountain.”

Without such foreign influences, the English language would have a far more limited lexicon.

Borrowed Words, Borrowed Culture?

In addition to borrowed words, another language’s influence may also result in borrowed culture. The spread of the English language has resulted in the adoption and adaptation of English language words around the world.

American brand names like “Nike,” nouns like “T-shirt” and “jeans,” and slang words like “cool” are being adopted in countries around the world, giving cultures an American-English vocabulary — and a taste of American culture.

While such cultural exchange has its benefits, some critics have voiced complaints that an overload of English-language words can threaten the linguistic purity of foreign languages and cultures. An article in the Telegraph discusses fears in China of the English language “invasion” damaging the Chinese language.

According to the article, Huang Youyi, chairman of the International Federation of Translators, believes that the surge of English words appearing in everyday Chinese poses a threat to the future of the Chinese language.

And Youyi is not alone. In France, there is a constant fight against the appearance of American words. One recent battle saw a delegation determined to find a French substitute for the word “cloud computing.” Although “informatique en nuage” was proposed, the majority of the general public continues to use the English term.

How Important Is Linguistic Purity?

There is no doubt that foreign influences on any language may threaten that language’s purity. But just how important is perfect linguistic purity? Most languages have a long history of foreign language influence — and they would be significantly less rich and diverse without it.

With the increasing number of adopted words making appearances in languages around the world, it’s important to have a translator or interpreter who can adapt easily to these ever-changing languages.

The days of monochromatic cultures and languages are giving way to a richer, multifaceted future. The preservation of traditional languages and cultures is undoubtedly important — and increasingly difficult due to increased cultural exchange.

Ultimately it’s up to both individual citizens and national governments to find the balance between preserving the old and welcoming the new. If navigated correctly, the cultural and linguistic influences that come with globalization can be a great asset to any society.

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