How English is English? – News

Shashi Tharoor’s World of Words is a weekly column in which the quintessential politician, diplomat, writer and blacksmith dissects words and language



By Shashi Tharoor

Published: Thu 28 April 2022, 20:43

My columns for the past few months highlighting words of French, German, Indian and more recently Japanese origin in the English language have prompted an eager reader to ask if there is any language spoken in the world that English does not. did not borrow words. There may be a few – no one can claim to know all 6,000 languages ​​on our planet – but it is remarkable how many languages ​​have contributed to the English lexicon, brought over many centuries of trade, colonization, imperialism and migration. .

To proceed in alphabetical order, using only commonly used words, apartheid comes from Afrikaans, a language spoken in South Africa. Arabic, of course, gave rise to English words like algebra, a form of mathematics that Europe learned from the Arabs. Bengali is famous for jalfreizi, a kind of meat, fish or vegetable dish cooked with fresh chillies, tomatoes and onions. When you say you’re excited about something, you’re borrowing Chinese words for “working together.” The English words landscape and easel were introduced by Dutch painters in the 17th century, as were bumpkin (as in “country bumpkin”, an unsophisticated rural figure) and quack in the sense of a fake doctor. The Finnish is best known for giving the English the sauna. French has been the subject of a separate section.

The word jukebox comes from Gullah, a creole language spoken in the Sea Islands off Georgia in the United States. So, it seems, is Mojo (originally meaning “magical power” and now often used for the spark you possess to achieve something, as in “he got his mojo back”.) The Greek figure in the roots of too many English words to list: antiquity, idol, dialogue, geography, grammar, architect, economics, encyclopedia, telephone and microscope are just a handful of the thousands of words that Greek gave to English .

Hindi, as we noted earlier, provides English with shampoo, booty, and thug, among many other words. The Hungarian gave us goulash and paprika. The Inuit language of Greenland and the arctic lands offers a kayak, a canoe and an anorak, the waterproof jacket. Many words commonly used today come from Japanese, including karaoke, bonsai, futon, geisha, haiku, and zen. Korean words in English have not passed through Korean culture: there is only martial art, TaeKwonDo, and food kimchi in English. Latin surpasses Greek in its contributions to English and, as a root language, requires no listing.

Malay drives us crazy in the phrase “run amok”, which has come to mean “to go crazy” in English. Malayalam gives the English pariah, the name of someone from an “untouchable” caste, which in English refers to someone to be shunned, as in “don’t treat me like an outcast, talk to me!” ” Portuguese blessed English with monsoon, marmalade, molasses, and flamingo, as well as the Indian English word brinjal for aubergine or aubergine. When you call someone a tsar, you are of course borrowing from Russian, but you are also borrowing when you use the words mammoth and steppe. Spanish is the source of the alligator, the vigilante, the guitar, the hurricane, the square and the cafeteria. The Tagalog of the Philippines gives the English boondock (which means “mountain” in Tagalog but “the bottom of the beyond” or an “isolated region” in English); “he’s from the boondocks” is an unkind way of referring to a freshly arrived country cousin from a remote area.

Urdu gave English pajamas and pashmina, as well as khaki. Jewish migrants to the United States introduced Yiddish words into American English, which in turn sank into the language through their use by American Jewish writers: chutzpah (“boldness”), kibitz (“offering advice unsolicited”), kvetch (‘to complain’), maven (‘expert, know-it-all’), meshuga (‘crazy’), mensch (‘a good and upright man’), nebbish (‘insignificant person’ ), and of course the ubiquitous schmooze.

Most of these words no longer feel “borrowed” from other languages, so deeply have they infiltrated English. It is the strength of English that makes it a prime candidate for world language status. At a time when travel and the internet have brought the world much closer together, almost everyone learns English as a second (or third or fourth) language. Whether its growing acceptance around the world is due to it being a repository of words from other languages, or vice versa, English is evolving into the Esperanto of our time.

[email protected]

Comments are closed.