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  • Linguistic borrowing in bilingual contexts by Fredric W. Field
  • Peter Bakker
Linguistic borrowing in bilingual contexts. By Fredric W. Field. Foreword by Bernard Comrie. (Studies in language companion series 62.) Amsterdam: John Benjamins, 2002. Pp. xviii, 255. ISBN 1588112853. $110 (Hb).

Fredric Field intends in this book to come to grips with universals of borrowing; he proposes a number of hierarchies and constraints and applies them to a corpus of recorded texts in which borrowings from Spanish are frequent. His book provides a detailed overview of earlier proposals for borrowing patterns and uses semantic and morphological typology to formulate constraints on borrowing.

The introduction (1–24) outlines the background: Borrowing refers primarily to ‘the integration of forms into a recipient language’ (2). F distinguishes between social factors relevant in the study of borrowing (cultural dominance, prestige, lexical gaps, affect) and linguistic factors such as word frequency and equivalence. Words are seen as ‘form-meaning sets’, and concrete nouns can be expected to be more prone to borrowing than verbs because of the latter’s more abstract [End Page 501] meaning and their closer connection with other constituents. Inflectional affixes are even more difficult to borrow due to the rather abstract and language-specific meaning they have. Forms with allomorphs are difficult to borrow because of the form variability.

In bilingual performance people copy forms from one language into another, and what has become a loan must have started earlier as an innovative, spontaneous codeswitching. In extreme cases, the author maintains, languages can borrow so extensively that languages become mixed or intertwined (with, roughly, lexical items from one language and grammar from another).

Ch. 2 (25–48) deals with morphological structure and the impossibility of the borrowing between languages of certain morphological types. F formulates the principles of system compatibility and of system incompatibility, which are grounded on the morphological typology of languages in contact (isolating, agglutinative, fusional/flectional, polysynthetic). Based on scales of synthesis (the number of grammatical concepts expressed in a morphologically complex word) and fusion (the degree to which two or more of these grammatical concepts are merged into one form), he claims that fusional affixes can be borrowed only into fusional languages, whereas agglutinative affixes can be borrowed into both agglutinative and fusional/flectional languages. Isolating languages, however, can borrow only independent words, and no affixes of either kind. In other words, only morphologically compatible words can be borrowed into a language of a certain type. In this chapter, F also discusses word classes from the perspective of their ‘lexicality’. Several lexicality clines are formulated, such as N > V > A > Adv > Prep > Interjection.

Ch. 3 (49–82) discusses form or word classes (parts of speech) and semantic contrasts. Word classes can be distinguished on the basis of their distributional properties and the connection with certain affixes (e.g. tense with verbs and case with nouns). F discusses the whole range of word classes and attempts to make a motivated classification. Contrasts range from content items to inflectional affixes and from material to relational. Inflectional affixes mark grammatical and/or semantic roles and inherent properties (e.g. gender), and they are obligatory and language-specific.

Ch. 4 (83–121) discusses the relations between forms and meanings. Some meanings are easier to grasp on the basis of their forms. Salience vs. nonsalience and transparency (concrete, specific, major word class) vs. opacity (abstract, general, inflectional category) play important roles, as do the uniqueness of word shapes and whether there is a one-to-one link or one-to-many link between forms and meanings. Items with a broad semantic type (e.g. N, V) are easier to borrow than the narrow meaning of inflectional elements. Therefore word class characteristics also play a role in borrowing hierarchies like: content item > function word > agglutinative affix > fusional affix. The author also takes grammaticalization into account: The more grammaticalized an element is, the less likely it is to get borrowed.

Ch. 5 (123–64) applies the theoretical findings to data from a 23,272-word corpus of Nahuatl texts consisting of oral interviews collected by Jane and Kenneth Hill in Mexico during the 1970s and 1980s (Hill & Hill 1986). Almost a third...


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