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Summary Details

Query:   borrowing of verbs
Author:  george huttar
Submitter Email:  click here to access email
Linguistic LingField(s):   Historical Linguistics

Summary:   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:

"...it 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

LL Issue: 13.588
Date Posted: 02-Mar-2002
Original Query: Read original query


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