LINGUIST List 13.588

Sat Mar 2 2002

Sum: Borrowing of Verbs Versus Nouns

Editor for this issue: Marie Klopfenstein <>


  1. george huttar, borrowing of verbs

Message 1: borrowing of verbs

Date: Fri, 01 Mar 2002 10:25:24 -0500
From: george huttar <>
Subject: borrowing of verbs

 Here's a summary of my inquiry appearing in a Linguistlist posting of 
 24 February 2002, which read:
 A standard textbook on historical linguistics, Hock's 1991 
 Principles of Historical Linguistics, 2nd ed., p. 386, says:
 " has been noted that verbs are crosslinguistically less 
 easily borrowed than nouns..."
 Is this a generally accepted claim? Can you suggest a basic 
 bibliography where I could find documentation?
 First, my thanks to the following for their valued responses:
 Fredric W. Field Pete Unseth Daniel Villa 
 Nicholas Sobin James A. Walker John E. Koontz 
 Natalia Gagarina Hal Schiffman Martin Haspelmath 
 Joost Zwarts
 Second, bibliography suggested by respondents, in ascending order by 
 Moravcsik, Edith (1975). Borrowed verbs. Wiener Linguistische 
 Gazette 8:3-30.
 Moravcsik, Edith (1978). Language contact. In J. H. Greenberg, C. A. 
 Ferguson & E. A. Moravcsik, eds., Universals of human language, Volume 
 1, Method and theory. Stanford: Stanford University Press, pp. 93-122.
 Comrie, Bernard (1981, 1989). Language universals and linguistic 
 typology: Syntax and morphology. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. 
 [This turned out to have little on the subject--GLH]
 Sobin, Nicholas (1982). Texas Spanish and lexical borrowing. In J. 
 Amastae & L. Elias-Olivares, eds., Spanish in the United States: 
 Sociolinguistic aspects. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, pp. 
 van Hout, Roeland and Pieter Muysken (1994). Modeling lexical 
 borrowability. Language variation and change 6:39-62).
 Gomez, David Zarazua (1995). Prestamos verbales en el espa�ol 
 chicano. New Mexico State U. Master's thesis.
 Dressler, W. and M. Lad�nyi (1999). Productivity in word formation 
 (WF): A morphological approach. Acta linguistica hungarica 
 Morimoto, Yukiko (1999). Loan Words and Their Implications for the 
 Categorial Status of Verbal Nouns. In Chang, Steve S., Lily Liaw, and 
 Josef Ruppenhofer (eds.), Proceedings of the Twenty-Fifth Annual Meeting 
 of the Berkeley Linguistics Society, Feb. 12-15, 1999: General Session and 
 Parasession on Loan Word Phenomena (BLS 25). Berkeley: Berkeley 
 Linguistics Society, 371-82.
 Field, Fredric W. (In press). Linguistic borrowing in bilingual 
 contexts. Philadelphia/Amsterdam: John Benjamins. [Having read 
 Chapter 2 and section 4.3, I believe this is a book to look forward 
 For those who read Russian, recent books of Zems Kaja.
 Third, respondents provided examples from several language contact 
 situations confirming Hock's claim:
 Endo (Kenya) has borrowed more nouns than verbs from Swahili.
 US Spanish has borrowed more nouns from English than verbs.
 Dravidian languages "almost never borrow verbs".
 The few loanwords from European languages into Native American 
 languages of the Northeastern and Plains areas are typically nouns.
 On the other hand, it was noted that there are many examples of 
 verbs being borrowed from one Indo-European language to another, and 
 from Latin to Basque--but no indication that these have ever been as 
 numerous as borrowed nouns.
 Fourth, suggested explanations and general observations:
 The usual greater morphological complexity of verbs hinders their 
 being borrowed.
 Specifically, the usual greater morphological complexity of verbs 
 increases the chances of typological mismatch between potential 
 source and borrowing language, and thereby hinders their being 
 The referents of nouns are more readily delineable from the 
 environment than those of verbs, so nouns are more readily borrowed 
 than are verbs. {cf. literature on child language acquisition on 
 why children acquire nouns before verbs--GLH]
 Nouns are semantically less complex than words of other form 
 Nouns are syntactically more independent than, say, verbs and 
 adjectives, which typically rely on tautoclausal arguments (for 
 verbs) and head nouns (for adjectives); nouns are also semantically 
 more independent of their syntagmatic context than are adjectives.
 Finally, several mentioned that instead of borrowing verbs as such, 
 languages borrow (verbal) nouns and compound them with dummy verbs 
 like 'do'.
 Again, my thanks to all respondents. I hope I have represented your 
 input accurately in my above paraphrases.
 George Huttar
 SIL & Nairobi Evangelical Graduate School of Theology 
 Box 24686
 00502 Karen
Mail to author|Respond to list|Read more issues|LINGUIST home page|Top of issue