Welcome to the Arabic Language Discussion Forum

Being a retired professor of Arabic and Linguistics, I have elected to publish an archive on how the Arabic language is used in America and across cultures.

I hope to establish a dialogue with people interested in the language, the teaching of the language, the learning of the language, and the interaction of Arabic and English while learning the language.

I am also interested in having a discussion as to the use of Arabic within the contexts of globalization.

Arabic is very much a language that binds a culture and defines a people. This blog is dedicated to understanding how American use, learn, and teach the Arabic language, and how Arabic, in Arab countries has been impacted crossculturally.

Nov 2, 2010

Remarks on Linguistic Borrowing

Copyright © 2010 Aleya Rouchdy, All Rights Reserved

A request on the Arabic-L about borrowed English verbs into the speech of Arab Americans triggered the writing of this post. Actually, Arabic-L has inspired more than one post on my blog!

Borrowing usually occurs whenever languages are in contact. It cannot be avoided. It involves the transfer of linguistic items from one language to another. The borrowed items are either unchanged or inflected like items of the same grammatical category in the borrowing language. Interference occurs when grammatical rules of the dominant language affect grammatical rules of the subordinate language,

Borrowing can be examined on both the speech level and language level. Speakers are generally unaware of borrowing on the level of language. They are rarely the first to make the transfer. On the speech level, on the other hand, borrowing occurs when a bilingual consciously or unconsciously integrates elements from one language into another. This is the type of borrowing depicted in the speech of Arab Americans.

The question of what can be borrowed, why borrowing is possible, and how interference occurs have been discussed at great length in the linguistic and sociolinguistic literature. Two majors points of view are common in discussions of borrowing and interference. One point of view stresses the fact that differences in linguistic structures play a major role in borrowing (Derek Bikerton, 1981 & Uriel Weinreich, 1963. The second point of view emphasizes the importance of the “social-cultural context”(Carol Scotton &John Okeju, 1973). I am of the opinion that both the linguistic systems of the languages involved and the social context determine the amount and the types of borrowing and interference, which occur. Both perspectives should be taken into consideration when examining the borrowing between languages in contact.

I have collected data from Arab Americans living in Dearborn, Michigan in order to examine lexical borrowings occurring in their speech and to answer the following questions: what can be borrowed, why is it borrowed, and how does interference at the different linguistic levels occur?

This study is similar to other studies on borrowing. It proceeds according to a universal pattern. Syntactic and semantic restrictions determine the type and amount of borrowing, but sociocultural factors within the linguistic community produce performances unique to that community; they are rarely understood outside its boundaries. This performance should not be considered an erosion of the speaker’s competence in Arabic, but rather as an accomplishment of performance resulting in an ethnic language, or lingua franca, that acts as a bond or maintenance of one’s ancestral language.

If interested, you will find information in my chapter “Language Conflict and Identity: Arabic in the American Diaspora” which is in my edited book Language Contact and Language Conflict in Arabic: Variations on a Sociolinguistic Theme. Curzon, 2002.

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