06 Dec 2022
13:00  - 14:00

Englisches Seminar, Grosser Hörsaal


The Dynamic Lexicon of English: A Socio-cognitive Approach to Loan Processes and Their Linguistic Effects

Dr. Julia Landmann (Universität Basel)

This paper contributes to the investigation of the dynamics of the lexicon of the English language. Using an integrative socio-cognitive model of the dynamic lexicon (see Schmid 2018: 215-231), borrowing processes and their linguistic effects on English are to be illustrated. The focus of interest will be on lexical units which have been adopted from French, Spanish, German and Yiddish into English since the nineteenth century. Compared to previous centuries, there has been a general increase in the number of borrowed words from these languages since 1801. New media, such as the Oxford English Dictionary Online (OED) and corpora (e.g. the British National Corpus, the Corpus of Contemporary American English) will make it possible to examine to what extent the borrowings demonstrate semantic, morphological, and contextual variability in the receiving language.
The focus of the present paper is not on the total vocabulary borrowed from French, German, Spanish and Yiddish into English since 1801, but on several hundred relatively widespread lexical units that have undergone changes over the centuries with respect to their meaning, word form, and contextual use, and thus brought about variation and change in the lexicon of the receiving language.
Lexical innovation and change are typical characteristics of a living language. They often point to changing social situations or recent cultural trends. As to Schmid’s model, it will be essential to determine what is felt to be ‘French’, ‘Spanish’, ‘German’ or ‘Yiddish’ when carrying out contrastive analyses of language use and variation in specific English semantic areas. In order to identify connections between linguistic features and social or socio-cognitive attitudes, precise descriptions of very particular and culturally embedded attitudes are necessary. For example, the usage of German borrowings signaling German-American identity is not as widespread as the analogous phenomenon in Yiddish, where borrowings are systematically used to build up “ethnolinguistic repertoires” (see Benor 2010). As will be seen, Yiddish borrowings are consciously used as cultural clues by (American) Jews, in order to depict an authentic image of Jewish culture and to indicate their ethnic identity. There are many more relevant cultural contexts that are important for the analysis of the vocabulary carried out in this study. This paper will offer some detailed case studies of typical types of borrowing reflecting connections of linguistic features and sociocultural attitudes which have been identified in the overall analysis.


  • Benor, S. B. (2010): “Ethnolinguistic repertoire: Shifting the analytic focus in language and ethnicity.” Journal of Sociolinguistics 14(2), 159-183.
  • Landmann, J. (accepted): The Dynamic Lexicon of English: A socio-cognitive approach towards loan processes and their linguistic effects. Brill Studies in Language Contact and the Dynamics of Language. Leiden: Brill.
  • Schmid, H. (2018): “Ein integratives soziokognitives Modell des dynamischen Lexikons,” in: Engelberg, S. – Lobin, H. – Steyer, K. – Wolfer, S. (eds.): Wortschätze: Dynamik, Muster, Komplexität. Institut für Deutsche Sprache. Jahrbuch 2017. Berlin – Boston: de Gruyter, 215-231.
  • Schultz, J. (2012). Twentieth-century Borrowings from French to English: Their Reception and Development. Newcastle upon Tyne: Cambridge Scholars Publishing.
  • Schultz, Julia (2016). Twentieth Century Borrowings from German to English: Their Semantic Integration and Contextual Usage. Duisburger Arbeiten zur Sprach- und Kulturwissenschaft/Duisburg Papers on Research in Language and Culture. Frankfurt [et al.]: Lang.
  • Schultz, J. (2018). The Influence of Spanish on the English Language since 1801: A Lexical Investigation. Newcastle upon Tyne: Cambridge Scholars Publishing.

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