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What Is an Anglicism?

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  • Written By: John Markley
  • Edited By: Melissa Wiley
  • Last Modified Date: 04 September 2016
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An Anglicism is an English word incorporated into and used in a language other than English. These are examples of loanwords, words from one language that are borrowed by another. The term “Anglicism” is also sometimes used more generally to refer to the incorporation of other aspects of the English language, such as using English grammatical structure while speaking another language or literal translations, known as calques, of English phrases and expressions into another language's words. Due to the global prominence of the English language, Anglicisms are common in many languages around the world.

Anglicisms vary in how closely they resemble the original English. In some cases, a word may be borrowed unchanged, but frequently the borrowed version of the word is pronounced differently from the original English version when spoken aloud or spelled differently when written to conform to the borrowing language's orthography. The word may also be changed in accordance with the borrowing language's own grammar. Borrowed verbs often change form to reflect things like tense, person, and gender according to the borrowing language's rules of conjugation rather than by directly mimicking the verb's different English forms, for instance. Different forms of the same language often have different Anglicisms. For example, borrowings from English that are commonly used by Portuguese speakers in Brazil or French speakers in Québec will not necessarily be recognizable to European speakers of these languages and vice versa.

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The sort of English words most likely to become Anglicisms in other languages are in subject areas where speakers of another language are most likely to have the greatest exposure to English, such as words relating to new technologies, popular culture, and commerce. In German, for instance, English words such as “website” and “Internet” are often used unchanged, and computer-related verbs are conjugated according to German rules so that terms like "download” and “crash” become downloaden and crashen. Another example is Finnish, where the English expression “killer app,” referring to a computer program desirable enough to spur sales of the operating system or hardware needed to run it, is directly turned into the calque tappajasovellus, “an application that kills.” Modern French incorporates many Anglicisms referring to musical styles, such as le rap.

A closely related phenomenon is a type of word called a pseudo-Anglicism, which is a word borrowed from English by another language but used in ways that would not make sense to a native English speaker. This frequently happens when an English word happens to closely resemble a word in another language despite having a different meaning, when speakers of the borrowing language incorporate English words into new expressions or compound words that do not exist in English, or simply because the loanword's meaning in the borrowing language has drifted into something different. For example, in many European languages “playback” refers to what a native English speaker would call lip syncing, and the loanword “smoking' refers to a tuxedo. In modern, Korean the terms “service,” "sharp pencil,” and “limousine” actually mean “free,” “mechanical pencil,” and “airport shuttle bus,” respectively, and “fighting” is often shouted at sporting events as an expression of encouragement or appreciation for the athletes.

The borrowing of vocabulary and other linguistic elements of one language by another is a common and ancient phenomenon seen in languages all over the world, including English. The English language has tens of thousands of words and expressions that either originated in other languages or were translated from them. These borrowings often have names similar to “Anglicism” that reflect their own origins, such as “Latinism,” meaning a word borrowed from Latin, and “Gallicism," meaning a word borrowed from French. Ironically, some English words now used in other languages actually entered the English language as loanwords from other languages, such as French, but have been used by English speakers for so long that they are considered native English words and are considered Anglicisms when borrowed.

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