It is a pleasure to have fellow blogger, Ivan Kanič, share some of his insights into language issues. As his website and his profile on LinkedIn reveal, Ivan has been interested in terminology topics, especially library terminology, for a long time. He talks about it on his own blog site, http://terminologija.blogspot.com/, which is in Slovene. You can check out the content through a convenient machine translation option, though. Thank you, Ivan.
Throughout the history, any language has always incorporated foreign words and phrases, to paraphrase Darwin, this was the development and “origin of languages by natural selection”. These days, most new words are English, predominantly American English to be precise. All historical attempts to “purify” a particular language proved largely unsuccessful, and many people, including linguists, doubt seriously that such efforts would fare any better today. English has already invaded the languages of Molière, Cervantes and Goethe, dominating above all the fields of technology and business, and spreading widely with the young generations and their jargon. Denglisch, Franglais, Spanglish, Swenglist, Slogleščina and the like were born, a natural linguistic blend of two languages bringing together their morphological, syntactical and phonetic peculiarities in one sentence, often in a single word as well. It occurs mostly in sports, computing, and business where the domestic language, for some reason or the other, lacks words for some concepts, like the word “serve” in tennis, or the domestic word is less well known, e.g. “stock options”. It also occurs when a word is to be “modernized”, shortened or otherwise updated, like “outsourcing” in business, where people go to the “office”, attend “meetings”, work in “teams”, participate in “workshops” and consider “stock markets” in a number of languages. In Slovene, for example, the situation is even more complex because it is a highly inflected language (a single verb, noun, adjective has a vast number of different endings as a rule) and has an almost “phonetic” writing, so we may encounter doublets like tagirati / tegirati (to tag), tagiranje / tegiranje and the shorter version taganje / teganje (tagging) or verbs like surfati, torrentati (mind the double r, which is not a Slovene feature), printati, downloadati (w is not Slovene), keširanje (I am sure you can understand them, I should help you perhaps with the last one – caching).
Another vast field of invasion is the colloquial language and the jargon of the street, international examples would be cool, kids, trendy, sexy, wellness, in Slovene language ful(l) + adjective makes the superlative, or sich relaxen, ich habe gejobbt, wir shoppen etc. in German, or French sentences like: Je vais driver downtown. Je suis tired. Je ne care pas. J’agree. Not to forget that naming a mobile phone a “handy” is an absolute invention, made up by Germans and has never been printed in an English dictionary.
Unlike the French, who almost religiously guard against the invasion of foreign (read English, and forget for a moment that French had fed it in the history immensely) words, many other languages have embraced Anglo terms and phrases with almost careless abandon in recent years. For example hybrids such as surfen, downloaden, updaten, emailen, chatten are frequent even in German technical language. Opposed is the French “stubbornness” to fight the Franglais formally in most facets of life, thus it is one of the rare languages (if not the only) not to have “digit” and all the derivatives (numérique, numérisation, numéroter instead) and “logiciel” is a fine example, too.
At the moment I would stick to the technical or semi-technical language only, not the jargon. I would ask the opinion, experience and expertise of the readers in this respect. How do you feel and deal with it in your particular language(s) and subject field(s), being terminologists?
Barbara Inge Karsch says
When I returned to my native Germany for a two-year assignment in 2005, I had the impression that the trend of using English terms had peaked. At least in more formal use, Anglicisms were no longer appreciated. But I found it amusing that in corporate speak products would be “gelauncht” (imagine German pronounciation of “au” here), processes would be “getriggert” and so on. I noticed that the same practices occured not only in the tech world where I worked, but also in the financial industry.
Jeno Demeczky says
The situation is similar in Hungary. About 10% of my national language term proposals are accepted and used by the subject field professionals, in my case it is information technology. The rest of my proposals are used only once, when I submit them to our translators. In most cases, they admit that my proposals are good ones, sometimes even smart solutions, but they are late, subject matter experts already use the English terms, either in their original form, or written using Hungarian phonetics. The reason is obvious: new IT concepts are created in the USA, and they arrive with their US English designation, which is normally short, at least shorter than any possible Hungarian equivalent.
On the morpho-syntactic level, they do not mean a big challenge; Hungarian has several layers of borrowed word sets, such as Turkish (both Chuvash and Osmanli), Iranian, Slavic, Latin, German, Russian, and nowadays English. Hungarian is an agglutinating language, so a foreign stem is easily embedded between several hundred possible prefixes and suffixes of a Hungarian noun or verb, and used as if it was of Hungarian origin. But the above mentioned former impacts have never had the speed and ratio of foreign stem infiltration compared to the current flood of English words.
On the semantic level, it might cause long-term problems. Up to the middle of the 20. century, the modern Hungarian language had a consistent mapping of words and concepts, thanks to the last big language reform in the first half of the 19. century. That is: a native speaker of Hungarian could easily understand an unknown Hungarian word, because its meaning was close to the meaning of a known or a similar stem. In other words, for its most part, the Hungarian vocabulary was relatively motivated. With the current speed and ratio of adopting English stems, the concept-word mapping web becomes fragmented, and the formerly strong relative motivation of the Hungarian vocabulary might be quickly deteriorated.
Ivan Kanič says
Thank you for the interesting insight into the Hungarian situation, Jeno. It looks like a “standard situation” all over the globe, above all in the IT sphere. I am in the library and information science and the situation is identical, overlapping often with the IT terminology (electronic media, e-resources and the like) which underlines the complexity of the terminologist’s task even more. I m glad you mentioned the “missed train” situation, where the terminologists’ proposals and solutions come late for the professionals who had already adopted a foreign appelation and are carelesly satisfied with the practical solution. Unlike in English, in Slovene a single word is much more precise in its designation because of the specific endings (e.g. “catalog(ue)” in English can be a noun, a verb or an adjective, but we have to have three words for that – katalog (n), katalogizirati (v), kataložni (a), which makes the process of establishing a new term much more demanding.
The use of English words in Italian is variously described as itanglese, itangliano or anglitaliano. Unsurprisingly, assorted pundits regularly voice their concern about the “invasion” of English words, and bemoan the lack of an Italian language authority that might provide guidelines on neologisms and terminology standardization, but according to recent data, use of loanwords is not yet widespread in everyday speech (anglicisms amount to only about 0.7% of basic vocabulary) and it is mainly restricted to specialized domains, such as information technology, economics, finance, politics, sports and fashion.
As an Italian terminologist working mainly in the IT field, when working with new concepts –and the Italian terminology that should be associated to it – I take into account different variables, such as end user (e.g. consumer or professional?), type of product and its penetration (influential market leader or newcomer, mainstream or niche?), origin of the term (IT-specific or transdisciplinary borrowing?), its usage (industry-wide or producer/product-specific?), users’ familiarity with the term (is it known only to early adopters and/or SMEs or also to standard users?). Additionally, there are some linguistic trends that help identify the type of words that are more likely to be borrowed from English. A few examples:
Semantic neologisms (cf Barbara on terminologization) cannot always be reproduced easily in Italian; generally speaking, metaphors associated with living beings, their features or actions tend to be rejected by Italian speakers and loanwords are used instead (e.g. mouse, bug, spider, worm, piggyback but also cookie, sandbox)
Portmanteau words tend to be retained because of their conciseness and uniqueness, e.g. codec, widget, camcorder, podcast, webinar.
Foreign nouns keep their spelling and do not inflect for number; there might be some “gender issues” as there is no rule to determine whether a loanword should be masculine and feminine and sometimes both genders co-exist (e.g. il font and la font), but overall foreign nouns are easily assimilated into the language.
Verbs are harder to integrate as they require conjugation; usually they are formed by adding the relevant inflections from the first conjugation (-are) to the English word which serves as the stem, e.g. to format – formattare. However, this process appears to work only with words that can conform with Italian spelling – forms like downloadare, chattare, linkare, backuppare are used colloquially but are rejected in standard Italian because they include characters or grapheme combinations that conflict with Italian spelling conventions. In such cases, we tend to opt for expressions like “to do/make” + noun, e.g. fare il download, fare il backup etc.
Conciseness is a key factor in preferring loanwords over fully viable, yet much longer, Italian alternatives, e.g. email vs posta elettronica. Lack of ambiguity balances against having to learn a new word, provided the loanword is easy to remember and pronounce, cf. link (short and monosemous) vs collegamento (long and polysemous).
As already mentioned by Ivan and Jeno, also Italian terminology is affected by scenarios where better native designations need to be discarded because the market has already opted for a loanword. Moreover, sometimes various alternatives for a new concept are coined at the same time and it can be quite difficult to foresee which one will eventually prevail. A typical example is the English verb scan (image acquisition) which initially was variously rendered in Italian as scandire, scansire, scannerare, scannerizzare, scansionare and scannare; only several years later is scannerizzare emerging as the preferred form. In such cases one might need to look into alternative solutions, e.g. as Microsoft’s Italian terminologist working on scan at the time, I opted for a slightly more generic term, digitalizzare – cf English digitize – which worked fine in all relevant contexts and avoided using “unestablished” terminology that might soon become obsolete.
[ If you speak Italian, you can find the Italian loanword examples I mentioned and many more in my own blog, Terminologia etc. – cf posts with tag prestiti ]
Ivan Kanič says
A very comprehensive yet concise linguistic insight into the situation in a Romance language context, thank you for the contribution, Licia. Nice to have your blog posts handy for further clarification and explanation, I had been visiting it before, enjoying some of your posts inspite of my poor understanding of Italian. Looking forward to new additions.