The BG Language Creation Guide

Calques and Borrowings

When ever two languages get next to each other, they mix. this has to do partly with the fact that bilingualism is more or less the natural state of the human mind: or so it would seem if you look at statistics about how many people are bilingual (perhaps 66% of the world's people). People use whatever is available to them when it's time to communicate.

Except in the cases of language shift or language death, this mixing doesn't damage either language. Remember that all languages are changing all the time. Adding words or structures from one language doesn't damage the other. Spanglish (a mixture of English and spanish) may be frowned upon by prescriptivists, but there's nothing inherently wrong with it.

Languages are eager to take words from one another. there are two basic ways this is done:

The most direct way to do this is by borrowing. When a word is borrowed, it's pronunciation almost always has to change to fit in with the phonology of the new language. Spanish and Japanese, for example, both borrowed the word 'strike' from English, and to keep our discussion lively, we'll also assume that Liqupa borrowed it, too. Here's how that was done:

On to calques

Sometimes, a language will choose to avoid the phonological adaptation route entirely and calque a word. that means, translating its individual morphemes. If Spanish borrowed the word 'skyscraper' [skajskrepR] (R = syllabic r), it might look like this:


It didn't borrow the word though: it calqued it. The verb 'to scrape' is 'rascar' and sky = cielo.

Now, in order to use the verb, one has to conjugate it: make it agree with the subject of the sentence. We get:

rasca (it scrapes)

The morphemes should appear in Spanish, not English word order. Perversely, English makes its compounds backward with the object of the verb coming before the verb even though english is an SVO language:

Spanish (also an SVO language) turns these around and makes its compounds verb then noun. And then pluralizes the object. So, a skyscraper becomes


It is also possible to calque half of a word and borrow the the other half.

Liqupa might do this with the word 'strikezone'. The Liqupa word 'kana' means 'place' which is close to 'zone' in meaning. So, I borrow 'strike' (as shown above) and calque the 'zone' part to get:


Updated 3/24/2010