By Adriana Adarve – Owner of Adarve Translations & Donnamarie Leemann – Head of Marketing at Adarve Translations
All through time borrowing has been part of human existence. We borrow money, ideas, methods, and most of all, words.
The borrowing of words from one language to another is not, of course, a literal lending process as it generally happens when money is borrowed at the bank since there is no borrowing length of time determined, no interest charged, and no return of the borrowed goods or words to the original language.
The process of borrowing words, a consequence of cultural contact between groups or communities with different mother tongues, implies the use of the “borrowed” word by a given group of people, country or community within that country, integrating in this way the new or borrowed word into the language of the country, or the “target language.”
The English language is no exception to this process of borrowing words from other languages. In this way, some of the words borrowed by the English language include the French term “rendez-vous,” which it borrowed in spelling, pronunciation and meaning. The term is non-specific: one can have a rendez-vous with a doctor or lawyer, with colleagues, with a friend or friends.
When speaking of social appointments, one usually uses the word “date.” If two couples arrange to meet for lunch at a certain time and place, they would be likely to say, “It’s a date,” meaning both the calendar date and the rendez-vous itself.
If there is any romantic connotation, the term is “a date.” “My daughter had a rendez-vous with come colleagues, then she had a dinner date with her boyfriend,” or, “My friend ‘met’ a man on an internet chat-site and arranged a lunch date. They like each other very much and have been dating for several months.”
The past tense, “dated,” has two meanings. “My friend dated the chap she met on the chat-site for several months” carries the same sense as rendez-vous. However, something that “is dated” means that it is archaic: “The couple liked the villa they viewed but the 1970’s décor and the appliances were dated. The couple bought the villa and will up-date it to currents styles and standards.”
“A date” is also a fruit that grows on date palm trees in warm climates.
“To date” also has an archeological meaning: “The archeologists found pottery shards that they were able to date to the 4th Century A.D.”
English and French frequently “borrow” words and phrases from each other, and there are no rules at all for the way borrowed French words are used and/or spelled in English. “May Day” is the first day in the month of May (mai) which has long been celebrated as the time of year when one can expect clement weather and, since the early 20th Century, as a holiday celebrating labor and laborers. “Mayday,” however, has been used, again since the early 20th Century, as a term signaling disaster (“Mayday, mayday, the ship is sinking”). It is a simple Anglicization of the French expression “m’aidez,” “help me,” and is pronounced in English exactly the same as it is pronounced in French. A similar borrowing occurred with the French term “dent-de-lion,” though the resulting English word is pronounced slightly different: “dandelion” (dandy-lion).
A more recently borrowed word entered the English language after the financial collapse of 2008: “une tranche” (a slice or a portion), as in “The EU voted another tranche of money in the amount of $5 billion to bail out the Greek government.” At first, the word was used exclusively in a financial sense; one would not offer a “tranche of cake,” for example. However, the borrowed word appears to be creeping into English in other contexts, for example, “The conservationists were able to preserve a large tranche of virgin forest.”
The English language, of course, has not only borrowed words from the French language, and vice versa, but also from German—such as bum, feldspar, loafer, kindergarten, hamburge, noodle, poodle, just to mention but a few, Spanish—such as armada, adobe, enchilada, guitar, marijuana, mesa, taco, tornado, etc., Latin, Greek, Arabic, and many others.
Borrowing has been a practice since ancient times, it continues in our days, and I am sure it will not stop as we move forward in life. I, for one, am extremely glad of this borrowing process, and honestly like it even more than the money-borrowing one, since, as I see it at least, it brings us closer and closer to a better communication and understanding. And, of course, while I am interested, I don’t have to pay interest on borrowed words!
What do you think?
Donnamarie Leemann, La Chaux-de-Fonds, Switzerland, & Adriana Adarve, Asheville, NC
About the Authors: Adriana Adarve is the owner of Adarve Translations and is fluent in three languages (English, Spanish & French), as well as pluri-cultural, multi-cultural, plurilingual and multilingual. Donnamarie Leemann is an artist and writer who has for many years contributed to the BBC and to many other public forums, and who collaborates at present with Adarve Translations as Head of Marketing.