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Indirect Italian Borrowings in English

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Anglo-Italian cultural contacts are rather unlike that of most languages that exerted influence on English. Whereas English had to struggle for power with the likes of French and Latin in order to keep its linguistic power and integrity, its relationship with Italian has always been less antagonistic and less aggressive. Though Italian borrowings in English are not so numerous they have highlighted the important role the Italian language and culture has had in the English world. The aim of this course paper is the selection of some indirect Italian loanwords and the way they penetrated into the English language. The paper examines how English borrowed Italian loanwords via other languages and the changes they have undergone in the target language. Structurally this paper consists of introduction, two chapters, conclusion and bibliography. Introduction presents the general idea of the whole course paper. The first chapter is based on the analysis of the English vocabulary with its main elements the native words and the borrowings. It also focuses on the loanword periods throughout the English history. It shows the contact of English language with other languages in the course of trade, wars, invasions, etc.

The second part of the course paper exposes the influence of Italian loanwords on the English language and the impact Italy and Italian culture had on Europe and Britain. It focuses on the main languages via indirect Italian borrowings that came into the English vocabulary. The paper examines indirect borrowings of Italian origin and the ways they have appeared in the English language. It also describes how they have been adjusted to the rules of English. Conclusion sums up the whole research giving the final idea of the course paper and illustrates the most important facts mentioned in it. Bibliography comprises titles of books and includes the internet sources given in the paper.

Loanword Periods
Etymologically the vocabulary of any language consists of two groups – the native words and the borrowings. A native word is a word which belongs to the original stock. An English native word is a word which belongs to Anglo-Saxon origin. To the native group words from Common Germanic languages and Indo-European stock are included. The native words in English are subdivided into those of Indo-European element, Germanic element and English Proper element. The native element denotes elementary concepts without which no human communication would be possible such as family relations, parts of the human body, animals, plants, time of day, heavenly bodies and so on. Some of the main groups of Germanic words such as parts of the human body, animals, plants, are the same as in the Indo-European element. There are also other groups of words denoting natural phenomena, seasons of the year, landscape features, human dwellings. The English proper element is opposed to the Indo-European and Germanic elements.

For not only it can be approximately dated no earlier than the 5th c. A. D., but these words have another distinctive feature: they are specifically English and have no cognates in other languages, whereas for the Indo-European and Germanic words such cognates can always be found (Antrushina, G., Afanasyeva, O. and Morozova, N. 42-43). A borrowing is a word taken over from another language and modified in phonetic shape, spelling, paradigm or meaning according to the standards of the language (Strang 173). A borrowing can also be called a loanword. In Merriam – Webster’s online dictionary the word “loanword” is also defined as a word taken from another language. There are also other definitions for loanwords by different scholars. Jesperson (1982:246) defined the borrowed words as the ones that …permit us (show us) to fix appreciatively the dates of linguistic changes.

They show us the course of civilization and give us information of the nations. Another linguist Haugen (1972:212) defines borrowing as the attempted reproduction in one language of the patterns previously found in another. Borrowings enter the language in two ways through oral speech (by immediate contact between the people) and through written speech (by indirect contact through books). Words borrowed orally are usually short and they undergo more changes in the act of adopter. Written borrowings are often rather long and they are unknown to many people, speaking the language. The process of borrowing is complex and involves many events. Generally, some speakers of the borrowing language know the source language too, or at least enough of it to utilize the relevant words. They adopt them when speaking the borrowing language. If they are bilingual in the source language, they might pronounce the word the same or similar to the way they are pronounced in the source language. However words are not borrowed and returned they simply become a part of the target language. Words are generally loaned when two different cultures come into contact with each other.

The historical circumstances stimulate the borrowing process. The nature of the contact may be different. It may be wars, invasions or conquests when foreign words are imposed upon the conquered nation. The process of borrowing is also due to trade, fashion, food, technologies. Throughout its long history, the English language has been marked by the word ‘borrowing’. It has borrowed thousands of words from nearly any language spoken on the earth. The history of the English language is divided into three periods: Old English (450-1150), Middle English (1150-1500) and New English (1500-1800). Each period has its own peculiarities and is characterized by some specific features which can be reflected in its vocabulary (Baugh 52). So English accepted words from almost every language with which it has come into contact. In the Old English period the Celtic influence on the English vocabulary was great.

Despite extensive contacts between Germanic and Celtic speakers on the Continent and both extensive and intensive contacts after Anglo-Saxons came to England, OE had only a handful of loanwords from Celtic languages. Some of these were originally from Latin, and some had been borrowed while the Anglo-Saxons were still on the Continent. Another influence on the language was Old Norse of Scandinavian tribes, whose language was the language of the conquerors. But the major foreign influence on OE vocabulary was Latin, from which Old English had several hundred loanwords. While the ancestors of the English were still on the Continent, Germanic dialects borrowed many Latin words. Because the language of the Church was Latin, Christianization predictably brought Latin loanwords to English. The Middle English period was marked by a number of Scandinavian loans. Many of the Scandinavian words that first appeared in writing during ME were actually borrowed earlier, but, particularly in a society with a low literary rate. By 1400, the English vocabulary had been transformed by the flood of loanwords from French.

For the first hundred years after the Conquest, the speed at which the French loans entered English seems to have been relatively slow. In the New English period it is impossible to give even a reasonable estimate of the total number of words. The Classical languages were the main sources for enrichment of the English vocabulary during NE period. For one thing, the English language often cannot determine whether a word came directly from a Classical language or entered via one of the Romance languages, especially French. Spanish and Portuguese can be treated together because the two languages are much alike and the nature of their loans to NE period is similar, indeed, for many loans. As we can observe the main languages which have had a deep impact on English were Latin, French and Old Norse (or Scandinavian). Along with other European languages Italian also was the source of many borrowed words in that particular period. During the first two centuries of the period the words borrowed from Italian were distributed evenly between words having to do with everyday life, military activities, architecture, and art. It should be mentioned that the English language of the fourteenth centuries is not particularly touched by Italian.

Alternatively the years from 1550 to the whole of the seventeenth century are the most greatly influenced periods in the history of borrowings in English. It is possible to say that the Italian influence in European social life assumes different profiles in the various periods. Thus, Italian influence during the whole period ranging from 1500 to 1800 has come to be considered as being strongly influenced by the customs and traditions of the Italian Renaissance. The Renaissance, with its renewed interest in humanistic studies and in classical languages, brought about among Englishmen a true passion for Italy, considered the cradle of ancient and classical studies. A direct and indirect line of communication between Italy and other countries was set up through ambassadors, clergy, diplomats, tradesmen, and teachers. The new humanistic word came to England not only immediate through Italy but also through other European countries. Contacts between England and Italy increased after the sixteenth century and, not surprisingly, were accompanied by many English loans from Italian.

Borrowings were especially heavy in trade, architecture, and art, with musical terms being particularly prominent. In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, Italians entered the United States. Italian immigrants have started to speak English and influenced American English. A number of words were borrowed into the literary national language and these new words are not to be found in the dialects. There are different ways in which the Italian language acts upon the English language: its action can either be strong and direct in which case it introduces genuine Italian words, or less strong and less direct which provides lexical models for the English language to follow. Yet another way in which the Italian language can act upon the English is indirectly: many words in English have an indirect relationship with their Italian etymologies. This means that the borrowing does not directly penetrate into the English language but via other languages.

Indirect Italian Borrowings in English
The results obtained from the etymological analysis of the Italian borrowings and their selection from John Ayto’s “Word origin” dictionary show that the major language between English words and Italian sources is French. The French language, in fact, acquired many words from the Italian language, moulded them to its system and then passed them onto English. The intense entry of the Italian loanwords into English through French was not accidental. Intermediate geographic position of France towards Italy and England played a significant role in transferring Italian vocabulary into English. Undoubtedly, one of the most significant reasons in the history of the English language was the Norman invasion of 1066, for it provided the impetus for a huge influx of vocabulary from across the English Channel. These new words came both via Anglo-Norman, the dialect of Old French spoken in England by the new dominant classes, which was based on the northern variety of French; and direct from Old French itself. It was this lexical infusion, which lasted from the 11th to the 16th centuries, which truly laid the basis for the hybrid English language of today.

The first entry of Italian borrowings via French can be observed at the beginning of the 14th century, when the influence of Italian culture and language on English was not aggressive. At that period many Italian words, in particular a number of military words came into English via French. They are : alarm, battalion, citadel, colonel. The word alarm originally meant “a call to arms”. It was derived from the O.I. phrase all’arme “to the weapons!”. Later on, this was lexicalized as the noun allarme, which was borrowed into Old French as alarme, and thence into English. It should be mentioned that most of the Italian indirect borrowings have been adjusted to the spelling rules governing the target language. There are a number of Italian borrowings that differ from the orthographies of the original words. These borrowings seem to be determined by the rules that govern the English system. For example, the above mentioned word alarm coming from the Italian ”all’arme” has lost its final /e/ because it has been phonetically remodeled to mute the English sound /e/ which was later elided. The Italian word battalion entered the English language in the 16th century.

It came from M. Fr. bataillon , from It. battaglione ” battle squadron” . Its specific sense of ”part of a regiment” the word got at the beginning of the 18th century. Another military term is the Italian loanword citadel which was derived from M.Fr. citadelle, from It. cittadella “city” . The word poured into English and has the meaning ”fortress commanding a city”. When Belegar arrived he watched the Dwarfs rebuild their citadel but did not attack at first (http://corpus.byu.edu/bnc/). Italian loanword colonel was derived from Italian as the ”compagna colonnella”, literally the ”little-column company”; hence the leader himself took the title colonnella because he commanded the company at the head of a regiment. The word colonnella appears first to have entered English via French in the form of coronel, in which the first /l/ had muted to /r/. Spellings with /r/ have occured in English from the 17th and 18th centuries, and it is the source of the word’s modern pronunciation. The spelling colonel represents a return to the original Italian spelling.

The second group of indirect Italian borrowing involves words relating to politics, trade and economics. Here the following words are included: carat, cartel, gazette, traffic. The Italian loanword carat came from M.Fr. carat ”measure of the fineness of gold”, from It. carato. The sense of measure of diamond weight came from the 16th century. The word cartel came via French cartel from the Italian diminutive form cartello, which meant literally ”placard”. It was used metaphorically for ”letter of defiance”, and entered English with the sense ”written challenge”. The sense of “a commercial trust” the word got at the beginning of the 20th century. It involved an investment cartel in a commodity that always held its value… (http://corpus.byu.edu/bnc/).

The orthographics of the words cartel and carat are another examples of change in the spelling in the target language. The Italian final vowel /o/ is omitted in French spelling variants. Then it passed into the English language preserving French form of spelling. The lexeme gazette belongs to the second group of words. In Renaissance Venice, a ”newspaper” was termed casually gazeta de la novita (gazeta for short), literally a ”pennyworth of news”-for a gazeta was the name of a small Venetian copper coin. Italian took the word over as gazzetta, and passed it on to English via French. The verbal use of gazette ”announce a military promotion officially” arises from the practice of printing such announcements in the British government newspaper, i.e. the London Gazette. The London Gazette has reported that a bankruptcy order was made against Mike Franklin on January 30 this year (http://corpus.byu.edu/bnc/). The ultimate origins of the word traffic “trade, commerce” are not known.

It was acquired from French traffique, which in its turn was borrowed from Old Italian traffic, a derivative of the verb trafficare ”trade”. Since language is a measure of culture, it would not have been possible to disregard the type of cultural relations between Italy and England as presented by the Italian borrowings in English. The third group of indirect Italian borrowings involves terms relating to art (architecture, literature, music). Here we have singled out the following indirect borrowings: balustrade, cartoon, concert, gouache, grotesque, improvise, mezzanine, niche, pastel, porcelain, serenade, stanza. The Italian word balustrade ”row of balusters” from Fr. balustrade has original Italian meaning ”provided with balusters”. In English it denotes ”a railing supported by pillars, especially one forming an ornamental parapet to a balcony, bridge or terrace”.

The Italian word cartoon came via French carton in the 17th century. Italian cartone had the meaning ”strong heavy paper, pasteboard” due to course transferred to the preliminary sketches made by artists on such paper, which was the original and for nearly two centuries the only sense of the word in English. The door itself is by Jan Sokol and the modern mosaic is after a cartoon by Karel Svolinský (http://corpus.byu.edu/bnc/). The word concert “agreement, accord, harmony” came from Fr. concert but has Italian origin concertare “bring into agreement”. The word acquired the sense of ”public musical performance” at the beginning of the 17th century. Indirect borrowing gouache came from Fr. gouachein in the 19th century. The word was derived from It. guazzo “water color”. Originally it had the meaning “spray, pool”. Though the borrowing was of Italian origin, it preserved the French spelling in English. Now in English the word has the meaning “an opaque watercolor prepared with gum’”.

The word grotesque belonges to the group of indirect borrowings relating to architecture. It entered the English language via French noun crotesque, which was derived from It. grottesco, lit. “of a cave”, from grotto. The word first was used of paintings found on the walls of basements of Roman ruins. Another meaning of the word in English is “comically or repulsively ugly or distorted”. But what added most to the grotesque expression of his face, was a ghastly smile… (http://corpus.byu.edu/bnc/). The Italian word improvisare “to sing or speak extempore” was the source for English word improvise which came from Fr. Improviser. Now the word has the meaning “create and perform (music, drama, or verse) spontaneously or without preparation”. In the last ‘From Rock to Jazz’ column I introduced the concept of chromatic approach notes and applying them in order to improvise through chord changes (http://corpus.byu.edu/bnc/). The word mezzanine ”a low story between two tall ones in a building” poured into English in the 18th century.

The lexeme was derived from It. mezzanine, from mezzano “middle”. The word niche ”shallow recess in a wall” came from O.Fr. niche “recess (for a dog), kennel”. The word perhaps has Italian origin nicchia “sea shell”. Italian loanword pastel “crayons, chalk-like pigment used in crayons” came from Fr. pastel “crayon,” in the 17th century which came from It. pastello “a pastel,” lit. “material reduced to a paste”. The word porcelain came from M. Fr. Porcelain from It. porcellana, meaning ”cowrie shell”. An indirect Italian etymology serenade is a musical term. It is strictly a ”song sung in the evening”, but, in fact, historically it has nothing to do with ”night”. Etymologically it is a ”serene” piece of music. The word comes via French but has Italian origin a derivative of sereno ”serene”. In English the word is used in connection with a song sung at night by a beloved man. The word can also be used as a verb. For instance, No oranges will taste the same as those we ate on those Saturday mornings, saving the peel to throw at the screen when Roy Rogers brought out his guitar to serenade Dale Evans across a Texas campfire ( http://www.natcorp.ox.ac.uk/).

Italian borrowing stanza belonges to the sphere of literature. Etymologically, a stanza is defined as “a place where one stands or stops”. The word was borrowed from Italian stanza in the 16th century. Its application to a “verse of poetry” arose in Italian from the notion of “stopping” at the end of a section. Stanza was borrowed into French as stance, and English preserved the French form of the word. The first two lines of the first stanza are symbolic of the suns ability to give life as they refer to a man’s physical awakening, but here the tone changes (http://www.natcorp.ox.ac.uk/). The fourth group of the words we have come across involves borrowings relating to everyday life: bizarre, charlatan, rebuff, risk. The borrowing bizarre can probably be traced back to Italian bizzarro ”angry”.

It passed into Spanish as bizarre, meaning ”brave”, and then found its way into English via French, where its meaning gradually mutated from ”brave” to ”odd”. We shared a laugh at the strange goings on inside, finding it hard to understand why life had taken such a bizarre turn for John and us all (http://corpus.byu.edu/bnc/). The indirect borrowing charlatan is of Italian origin. It comes from the Italian verb meaning “chatter, prattle”. Its original application was to the patter of salesmen trying to sell quack remedies, and hence It. ”ciarlatano” at first referred to such vendors and then by extension to any dispenser of impostures. The word enriched the English vocabulary via French charlatan.

A self-confessed con-artist and charlatan, he used his “nimbleness of wit” to set himself up as a quack doctor and an exorcist (http://www.natcorp.ox.ac.uk/). The word rebuff ”a blunt refusal or rejection” entered English from obs. Fr. rebuffer ”to check, snub”. The word has Italian origin ribuffare ”to check, chide, snide”, from ribuffo ”a snub”. The word risk comes from Fr. risqué and penetrated into the English language from It. risco, riscio (modern rischio), from riscare ”run into danger”. German too has its share in introducing words of Italian origin into English. For example, the word barouche which means ”type of four-wheeled carriage”. It came from dial. Ger. Barutsche in the 19th century. Originally the Italian word baroccio ”chariot” meant ”two-wheeled car”. After wandering for a short time among these various groups, Leicester halted us at last in front of one of those old-fashioned respectable-looking barouches (http://www.wordnik.com/). The word cohl-rabi ”kind of cabbage” came from Ger. Kohlrabi ”a low, stout cultivar of the cabbage that will grow almost anywhere”. Cohl-rabi was derived from It cavoli rape, pl. of cavolo rapo ”cole-rape” and was associated with the swollen stem that resembles rabi. A few Italian loanwords entered the English language through Dutch.

For example the word safflower came via Dutch safflower which was derived from O.It. Saffiore. Now the word has two meanings: the first one denotes an Old World carduaceous ”a subfamily of composite plants that includes the thistle” and has large orange – coloured flower heads. The second meaning is ”a red dyestuff”, also a drug, prepared from these flower heads. Safflower oil is very light and is used extensively in low-fat and special diet foods (http://www.natcorp.ox.ac.uk/). Hungarian also played a role in introducing Italian words in the English language. For example, the word hussar which came from Hung. Husza’r is derived from It. corsaro. Originally it is a member of any European regiment of light – armed cavalry, usually with brilliant dress uniforms. In English the word denotes “a member of any of various light cavalry regiments in European armies, renowned for their elegant dress”. Early that morning a hussar had come in hurriedly, his spurs had caught in the rug at the foot of the stairs…(http://www.wordnik.com).

Thus, the strong impact Italian culture and Italian life had on England and other countries contributed to enrich the English vocabulary by introducing new words and terms directly and via other languages. In this way England and other European countries started to discover the real Italy.

A substantial amount of all English words have been borrowed from many languages during the periods which coincide with times of major cultural contacts between English speakers and those speaking other languages. The waves of borrowings during the periods of especially strong cultural contacts are demonstrated by a number of direct and indirect borrowings which poured into the English language. The major foreign influence on English vocabulary is illustrated by an influx of borrowings in English. Along with other European languages Italian also was the source of many borrowed words in New English period. The years from 1550 to the whole of the seventeenth century are the most greatly influenced periods in the history of borrowings in English. Italian influence during NE period is considered as being strongly influenced by the customs and traditions of the Italian Renaissance. This study has shown that

* Indirect Italian borrowings are less in number compared with direct borrowings. * Among other European languages French, due to its geographic position towards Italy and England, was the major language through which English obtained many Italian borrowings. * Most of the Italian indirect borrowings have been adjusted to the spelling rules of French and differ from the orthographies of the original words. The English language usually adopted the French form of orthography and spelling. * English enriched its vocabulary with many Italian words belonging to different spheres relating to military words, politics, trade and economics, art and at last words of everyday life. * Indirect Italian borrowings did not have much influence on the English vocabulary compared with direct Italian borrowings.


1. Antrushina, G., Afanasyeva, O. and Morozova, N. “English Lexicology”, Moscow, 1985 2. Ayto John. “Word Origins”, 2nd Edition, London, 2005 3. Baugh, Albert and Thomas, Cable “A History of the English Language”, 5th Edition, New Jersey, 2002 4. Haugen Einar. “The Analysis of Linguistic Borrowing”, Linguistic Society of America, 1972 5. Jespersen Otto. “Growth and Structure of the English Language”, Oxford, 1982 6. Strang Barbara. “Modern English Structure”, L.D., 1974

Internet Sources
7. http://www.etymonline.com/
8. http://corpus.byu.edu/bnc/
9. http://bnc.bl.uk/saraWeb.php?qy=serenade&mysubmit=Go 10. http://bnc.bl.uk/saraWeb.php?qy=stanza&mysubmit=Go 11. http://bnc.bl.uk/saraWeb.php?qy=charlatan&mysubmit=Go 12. http://www.wordnik.com/words/barouches/examples?page=1 13. http://bnc.bl.uk/saraWeb.php?qy=safflower&mysubmit=Go 14. http://www.wordnik.com/words/hussar/examples/3

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