Dr. Goodword’s Language Blog

Borrowing and Corruption

From time to time one of our Good Words rubs someone the wrong way. This happened to Lucy Medina when we published vamoose, mentioning that is a “materially corrupted” version of Spanish vamos. I was happy that she shared her immediate reaction to our essaylet on that word:

“As a Latina, I really resent the use of words in English that have come about by abusing another language, especially the Spanish language. The so-called western shows seen when I was a child in the 50’s did much to harm to the Latino children and the Latino population as a whole. There are still people alive who believe that what they saw on those western TV shows and movies is | historically true.”

“Maybe a series of word used in English that come from mis-using or abusing foreign languages would be ok, but I am not sure how I would feel about it.”

“Thanks for a usually great daily feature.”

The reason we love our job is because we meet so many people who take their language seriously and are, as we all should be, deeply emotionally affected by it. I would agree that the dissemblance of Western life in the motion pictures of the 40s and 50s probably is a danger to children and adults alike. However, I limited my response to the linguistic question of “corrupting” the pronuncation of borrowed words.

I know of no research indicating that borrowing and adapting words between languages (it works both ways) harms children or adults. Children have no idea where words come from; indeed, most adult speakers don’t know where they come from (unless they subscribe to the Good Word). I probably shouldn’t have said that vamoose is a “corrupted” form of vamos but that is a linguistic synonym for adapted that commonly appears in dictionaries.

Words are borrowed all the time; over half the English vocabulary has been borrowed from other languages. Since the sound systems of different languages are never compatible, adaptation or “corruption” is a normal part of borrowing.

I could see Spanish-speakers taking some pride in speakers of other languages appreciate Spanish enough to (try) to use Spanish words in their own speech. A language usually borrows from a language it considers exotic or superior in some way. That is why English borrowed so much from French and Latin. Spanish belongs to the same family of Romance languages.

2 Responses to “Borrowing and Corruption”

  1. Teresa Montejo Says:

    As a native from Spain, I could present the same argument: the language of Cervantes has been greatly corrupted by Hispanic speakers. The Spanish spoken in Latin America is a dialect of the Castillian language, not a pure Spanish Castillian.

  2. Edward Says:

    Don’t even get me started on the hatchet job we American English speakers have done on Latin and Elizabethan English. I don’t know how we can look ourselves in the eyes. The horror, the horror…

    How dare we incorporate words and phrases from Spanish without ensuring they remain exactly as they were in Torquemada’s day?

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