Language Contact and the Lexicon of Romance Languages
- André ThibaultAndré ThibaultUniversite de Paris Sorbonne
- and Nicholas LoVecchioNicholas LoVecchioUniversite de Paris-Sorbonne
The Romance languages have been involved in many situations of language contact. While language contact is evident at all levels, the most visible effects on the system of the recipient language concern the lexicon.
The relationship between language contact and the lexicon raises some theoretical issues that are not always adequately addressed, including in etymological lexicography. First is the very notion of what constitutes “language contact.” Contrary to a somewhat dated view, language contact does not necessarily imply physical presence, contemporaneity, and orality: as far as the lexicon is concerned, contact can happen over time and space, particularly through written media. Depending on the kind of extralinguistic circumstances at stake, language contact can be induced by diverse factors, leading to different forms of borrowing.
The misleading terms borrowings or loans mask the reality that these are actually adapted imitations—whether formal, semantic, or both—of a foreign model. Likewise, the common Latin or Greek origins of a huge proportion of the Romance lexicon often obscure the real history of words. As these classical languages have contributed numerous technical and scientific terms, as well as a series of “roots,” words coined in one Romance language can easily be reproduced in any other. However, simply reducing a word’s etymology to the origin of its components (classic or otherwise), ignoring intermediate stages and possibly intermediating languages in the borrowing process, is a distortion of word history. To the extent that it is useful to refer to “internationalisms,” related words in different Romance languages merit careful, often arduous research in the process of identifying the actual origin of a given coining. From a methodological point of view, it is crucial to distinguish between the immediate lending language and the oldest stage that can be identified, with the former being more relevant in a rigorous approach to comparative historical lexicology.
Concrete examples from Ibero-Romania, Gallo-Romania, Italo-Romania, and Balkan-Romania highlight the variety of different Romance loans and reflect the diverse historical factors particular to each linguistic community in which borrowing occurred.