Speaking only one language at a time? Think again!

August 25, 2015 2:32 pm

It used to be theirs, but now it is ours.

Words of different origins blend into our daily interactions, often in an unnoticeable, seamless manner. Even if it is not intentional, these patterns of lexicon illustrate the creativity in languages which exists within various communities in different countries across the globe.

In most cases, we do not make a conscious effort to use such words specifically and perhaps, we are not even aware of the roots they are derived from. However, they are simply reflective of the multi-layered societies in which we live.

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Unless you can claim to be part of an untouched and unaltered civilization similar to that of Sentinel Island, the most isolated people in the world, your daily vocabulary contains evidence of the multitude of cultural references, altered pronunciations and societal impact which shape your understanding of how we communicate with one another. Fortunately, our daily language use allows us to experience aspects of its linguistic evolution, the good, the bad, the funny and of course, the confusing parts. For example, a good old hamburger and fries may be a well-known American staple dish but linguistically, derives its roots from Europe with ‘Hamburg‘ (Germany) and ‘frites’ (Belgium or France)*.

Multilingual influences add richness to languages. It is no longer ideal to argue in favour of “linguistic purity”. In fact, a standardisation of a language is impossible to define. Embracing the expansion of lexicon illustrates the diversity of social exchange occurring on a regular basis and colonisation of the past. This is particularly illustrated in the adaptation of colloquial terms and phrases heard between people, in particularly youth. This acceptance shows the sharing and incorporation of terms we find useful and interesting which consequently, make their way into becoming social, professional and/or academic norms.

If I use it, how am I to give it back?

The question is, are we truly borrowing words? In one sense we are but on the other hand, a word may infiltrate our daily vocabulary and soon enough, we claim that it is ours. What is also important to note is that we don’t need to look to other languages from which to adapt words; we also are capable of borrowing from our own but of a different variety. For example, the different terms between British vs. American English and French in France and Quebec. Knowing different words from different languages and varieties now has a “cool factor” attached to it, provided it is used correctly.

A standardisation of a language is impossible to define. Embracing the expansion of lexicon illustrates the diversity of social exchange occurring on a regular basis and colonisation of the past. This is particularly illustrated in the adaptation of colloquial terms and phrases heard between people, in particularly youth.

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In fact, it has become even more mainstream to incorporate words during daily speech which are clearly not a smooth transition into the conversational flow. However, always err on the side of caution to ensure that the term you borrowed from another language does not have an entirely different meaning, otherwise, you might run into trouble (or fits of laughter) for using it. Phrases like déjà vu, Gesundheit are commonly used but fart (Swedish for ‘speed’) and gift (German for ‘poison’) are likely not universally understood. That being said, borrowing words continues to be a linguistic adventure for and between conversationalists.

“A blend of the world’s languages”. If language was a colour, it would be found in an incredible amount of different shades comprising a mosaic. In this way, we are helping to keep languages alive, wherever and however they are used.

*Continues to be a topic of discussion


Written by Margarita Reyes – Study visit at TermCoord, Student at the University of Luxembourg

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