Wednesday 6th December 2023, 4:30pm-6:00pm (GMT)
Online (Microsoft Teams)
Topic: English Historical Linguistics
Prof Louise Sylvester (University of Westminster, UK)
Semantic integration of loanwords borrowed in the Middle English period
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This paper discusses part of a three-year project funded by the Leverhulme Trust, the semantics of word borrowing in late medieval English. The issue of what constitutes an embedded loanword is a focus of discussion in the literature on borrowing. Haspelmath & Tadmor (2009: 12) sought to include 'only established loanwords that were felt by the contributor to be part of the language's lexicon', noting that it was often difficult to make this distinction. Backus (2012) discusses the question of how widespread the usage needs to be for a loanword to be considered part of the language. He observes that in theory, the regular use of a loanword may be restricted to one or a few people in the community and such a word would not be designated a conventionalized loanword in the variety spoken in the bilingual community. It is difficult to arrive at an answer to the question of the embeddedness, or otherwise, of the loanwords borrowed in the Middle English period, but we need ot engage with it if we are to understand the development of the English vocabulary.
This paper outlines our methodology: the application of text type labels to all citations for each loanword sense attested in Middle English in our corpus, and the devising of a system of categorising semantic integration based on the number of text types per recorded sense. This serves as a proxy for conventionalisation and dissemination of the loanwords within the recipient speech community. Preliminary results show that 40% of senses are non-integrated in the recipient language (1 text type only), 54% are integrated (2-4 text types) and only 6% are highly integrated (5+ text types). Obsolescence rates decrease overall as semantic integration increases (i.e. as the range of text types per sense increases). Senses unique to Middle English have significantly lower levels of semantic integration than borrowed senses (senses shared with French/Latin) i.e. the range of text types for senses which develop independently in English following the borrowing of a loanword tends to be much smaller. Non-integrated senses overall are cited in a higher-than-average proportion of Instructional Texts. 59% of senses in the corpus have citations from at least one translated text, 41% have none, and obsolescence rates increase overall as the proportion of translations per sense increases.
Backus, A 2012. A usage-based approach to borrowability. Tilburg Papers in Culture Studies, 27.
Haspelmath, M and U Tadmor 2009. The Loanword Typology project and the World loanword Database in Haspelmath & Tadmore (eds), Loanwords in the World’s Languages: A Comparative Handbook. Berlin: De Gruyter Mouton