Reborrowing is the process where a word travels from one language to another and then back to the originating language in a different form or with a different meaning. This path is indicated by A→B→A, where A is the originating language, and can take many forms. A reborrowed word is sometimes called a Rückwanderer (German, a 'returner').

The result is generally a doublet, where the reborrowed word exists alongside the original word, though in other cases the original word may have died out. Alternatively, a specific sense of a borrowed word can be reborrowed as a semantic loan; for example, English pioneer was borrowed from Middle French in the sense of "digger, foot soldier, pedestrian", then acquired the sense of "early colonist, innovator" in English, which was reborrowed into French.[1] In other cases the term may be calqued (loan translated) at some stage, such as English ready-to-wear → French prêt-à-porter (1951) → English prêt-à-porter (1957).[1]

In some cases the borrowing process can be more complicated and the words might move through different languages before coming back to the originating language. The single move from one language to the other is called "loan" (see loanword). Reborrowing is the result of more than one loan, when the final recipient language is the same as the originating one.


Old Norse: klubba English: club   Norwegian: klubb ("association of people")
French: tenez[a] English: tennis French: tennis (the sport)
French: cotte  English: riding coat French: redingote English: redingote
Greek: κίνημα  (kínēma, movement) French: cinéma(tographe) Greek: σινεμά (sinemá, cinema)
Dutch: bolwerk (bulwark, bastion) French: boulevard Dutch: boulevard ("broad avenue")
Dutch : manneken "little man"[b] French: mannequin Dutch: mannequin ("catwalk model")
Middle Dutch : snacken[2] "to gasp/bite at" /ˈsnɑkən/ English: to snack[3] Dutch: snacken /ˈsnɛkən/
English: crack (fun) Irish: craic (fun) English: craic (fun of a quintessentially Irish type)
English: animation Japanese: アニメ[c] (anime) English: anime (Japanese animation)
English: professional wrestling Japanese: プロレス[d] (puroresu) English: puroresu (Japanese professional wrestling)
Hebrew: תַּכְלִית /taχˈlit/ (purpose) Yiddish: תכלית /ˈtaχləs/ (result; purpose; serious business[4]) Hebrew: תַּכְלֶס /ˈtaχles/ (directly, matter-of-factly, cutting the crap)
Spanish: tronada (thunderstorm) English: tornado Spanish: tornado
Chinese: 革命 (dynastic changes) Japanese: 革命 (revolution) Chinese: 革命 (revolution)[5]
Chinese: 共和 (Gonghe Regency) Japanese: 共和 (republic) Chinese: 共和 (republic)
Chinese: 抹茶 (A lost way of tea making) Japanese: 抹茶 (matcha) Chinese: 抹茶 (Japanese style matcha)
Japanese: 神風 (しんぷう/Shinpū; divine wind; name of one naval suicide unit in WW2) English: kamikaze (broad term for all suicide attacks) Japanese: kamikaze (かみかぜ; suicide attack)
Hokkien or Cantonese: 鮭汁 (kôe-chiap/kê-chiap) (type of fish sauce) English: ketchup (table sauce/tomato ketchup) Cantonese: 茄汁 (ke4 zap1) (ketchup)
Old Turkic: ülüş (share, portion) Mongolian: ulus (country, division) Turkish: ulus (nation)
Turkish: bey armudu (bergamot, "lord's pear") Italian: bergamotto French: bergamote Turkish: bergamot
Middle Mongol: jarlig (royal decree) Russian: yarlyk (label, price tag) Mongolian: yarlyk (price tag)

Reborrowed morphemes

A similar process occurs when a word is coined in a language based on roots from another language, and then the compound is borrowed into this other language or a modern descendant. In the West this primarily occurs with classical compounds, formed on Latin or Ancient Greek roots, which may then be borrowed into a Romance language or Modern Greek. Latin is sufficiently widespread that Latinate terms coined in a non-Romance language (such as English or German) and then borrowed by a Romance language (such as French or Spanish) are not conspicuous, but modern coinages on Ancient Greek roots borrowed into Modern Greek are, and include terms such as τηλεγράφημα telegrafíma ('telegram').[6]

This process is particularly conspicuous in Chinese and Japanese, where in the late 19th and early 20th century many terms were coined in Japanese on Chinese roots (historically terms had often passed via Korea), known as wasei kango (和製漢語, Japanese-made Chinese-words), then borrowed into modern Chinese (and often Korean) with corresponding pronunciation; from the mid 20th century such borrowings are much rarer. Often these words could have been coined in Chinese, but happened to be coined first in Japanese; notable examples include 文化 bunka ('culture') and 革命 kakumei ('revolution').[6]

See also


  1. ^ Imperative form of the verb tenir, "to hold".
  2. ^ figuratively used in the Flemish textile industry for a model of a human figure on which clothing was created or displayed
  3. ^ Borrowed from English directly as アニメーション (animēshon) and usually abbreviated to アニメ in a manner quite common in Japanese.
  4. ^ Borrowed from English directly as プロフェッショナル・レスリング (purofesshonaru resuringu) and usually abbreviated to プロレス in a manner quite common in Japanese.


  1. ^ a b The Oxford Guide to Etymology, by Philip Durkin, 5. Lexical borrowing, 5.1 Basic concepts and terminology, pp. 212–215
  2. ^ De Vries, Jan W.; Willemyns, Roland; Burger, Peter (2003), Het verhaal van een taal (6th ed.), Amsterdam: Prometheus, p. 248, ISBN 90-5333-423-8
  3. ^ Etymology of "to snack" at www.etymonline.com
  4. ^ Yiddish Dictionary Online
  5. ^ [1]
  6. ^ a b Chung, Karen Steffen (2001). "Some Returned Loans: Japanese Loanwords in Taiwan Mandarin". In McAuley, T. E (ed.). Language change in East Asia. Psychology Press. pp. 161–163.

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