LINGUIST List 13.588

Sat Mar 2 2002

Sum: Borrowing of Verbs Versus Nouns

Editor for this issue: Marie Klopfenstein <>


  • 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 date: 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. 166-181. 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 46:103-145. 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 to--GLH] 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 borrowed. 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 classes. 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 Nairobi KENYA