In 2007, when I watched Namaste London, the infamous scene where Akshay Kumar schools a British Man about how much India contributes to the world shook me. Not just in a patriotic way, but also from a linguistic point of view. I did not know that words like Trigonometry or Geometry were borrowed from Sanskrit. It made me curious about English itself- what other languages has it borrowed from? I did a little research, and I could not have been more surprised.
With every word of research, my surprise grew. The word ‘Shampoo’ comes from Hindi! It evolved from the word “chaampna”- which means to knead or press. The idea of kneading the skin with oils to clean it was used in Turkish massages as well, which ended with one’s hair being cleaned. If this sounds strange to you, think about hot-oil champis, and it will make complete sense!
Any developing language borrows words from already existing languages, and integrates them into itself. These ‘loanwords’ then become a part of the new language. English has such loanwords from many languages and dialects.
Another such example is the word ‘Angst’. It means a feeling of dread and anxiety, and English borrows the word from its old German origin “angust”.
The word ‘cockroach’ became cockroach by evolving from the term “cucaracha”. This happened through a process called Folk Etymology where common users replace unfamiliar parts of a word with familiar ones. Another example of this is how Thiruvananthpuram in India became Trivandrum, for the ease of the non-native tongue.
The English word ‘passport’ comes from a French origin word Passeport which mean a document that required to let you ‘pass’ through a ‘port’.
One of the most popular such adoptions into English is the word ‘thug’ which comes directly from the Hindi word “thug”- meaning thief.
The more I thought about it, I realised that English is a mixture of so many languages. When posed with this question, our team at LearnEd started discussing this too- is English so variegated because of how democratic its origins are? Or is it so because it was the colonizer’s language across so many countries in the world? Whichever it may be, it helped reduce my fear of the English language significantly – if the language itself could borrow from other languages and just grow from there, what was stopping me from assimilating thoughts from my mother tongue into English? When you have something to say, with enough practice, the right English will come to you, just stay driven!
“English doesn’t borrow from other languages. English follows other languages down dark alleys, knocks them over and goes through their pockets for loose grammar.” James D. Nicoll