The Pervasive Nature of the English Language


Throughout history, British culture has come in contact with nations and cultures throughout the world. In fact, countries like the United States and Australia would be very different were it not for such widespread British influence. It goes without saying that English has been influenced by languages around the globe, but what about the other way around? Has English left its mark on other foreign languages? Indeed it has! So read on to discover 4 languages that have been impacted by English in very different ways.

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1. Chinese

As the language with the most native speakers in the world, Chinese is rivalled only by English in its popularity. It’s interesting to note then that while Chinese has borrowed words from English, it is much rarer to find English-speakers using Chinese loanwords in their day-to-day rhetoric. In a lot of ways the Western world has been on the forefront of technology for quite a few decades which means that many of the words associated with computing and technology originated from the English language. So while the Chinese language has made words like ‘e-mail’ (yīmèier) and ‘hacker’ (hēikè) its own, the English origins are still quite easy to see!

2. Japanese

Baseball is a huge deal in Japan and a sort of national pastime for many Japanese. There’s no better way to wile a way an afternoon than by watching a baseball game, right? Who knows, maybe baseball can be somewhat inspirational too, as proved by the legend behind writing great Haruki Murakami’s decision to become a novelist! Of course, the presence of baseball in Japan is the result of American influence. It was introduced to the country in the late 1800s by an American professor and has been a popular sport ever since. So it’s obvious that the Japanese word for ‘baseball’ would have very distinct English influence. Indeed, the Japanese word for ‘baseball’ is phonetically written as ‘beisuboru’. That’s not the only word that has an English flavour to it though; ‘ballpoint pen’ (boorupen) was an American invention made prevalent the world over, and ‘salaryman’ (sarariman) an English term which became hugely popular in Japan in the 1930s.

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3. Tamil

Not too long ago, the British Empire’s reach was still long and even as late as the 20th century Great Britain was exercising its power and influence in countries like India and Sri Lanka. Tamil, the language spoken by the Tamil people in these two countries (and also one of the national languages of Singapore) experienced its own bit of English influence. Tamil has borrowed and morphed words from the English language like ‘pilavus’ (blouse) and ‘tákkutar’ (doctor). Even more fascinating is the older influence of the word ‘náram’ for ‘orange’. Many Latin based languages around the world have translations for the word ‘orange’ that start with the letter ‘n’, like the Spanish ‘naranja’ and the old French version of ‘norange’, but it is the English who influenced its usage in Sri Lanka and India!

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4. Hausa

In Colonial times, large swathes of Africa were conquered and ruled by outside powers from the West. British rule of modern-day Nigeria ran its course through the 19th and 20th centuries and left plenty of English influence behind. Even in post-colonial Nigeria the government structure is heavily modelled after Western governments like that of Great Britain and the United States. Furthermore, the Hausa language has seen its own fair share of borrowing and English influence as well. Check out the following examples: ‘minister’ (minista), ‘captain’ (kyaftin), ‘garage’ (gareji), ‘corner’ (kwanaa), and the list goes on and on!

The origin of language is always a fascinating study and one you can never get enough of. We know that English has been influenced extensively by a variety of tongues like Latin and Greek, but rarely do we assume that English can influence other languages as well! While a lot of this influence is due to the rather torrid past of Colonial Britain, it also shows how adaptable language can be to culture, history, and political climate. Language is indeed a powerful tool and its influence should not be taken lightly!

Do you think English influence on foreign languages is positive or negative? Can you think of any other languages which have seen this effect? Share your thoughts with us.