It’s well known that because the British have come into contact with more cultures than any other country in history, they have had good reason to adopt some foreign words into the English language. But the exportation of the English language through British and American popular culture has meant that many English words have found a new home in foreign languages around the world. They quickly adapt to their new environments though, and we find that the influence of English on foreign languages is not a linear process. Soon these once English words become unrecognizable to native English speakers.
One such transformation occurs with languages that don’t allow two consonants together so will either remove one of the consonants or add a vowel between them to break up the sounds and make them easier to pronounce. We find examples in Japanese such as beisuboru for baseball or suriruthrill because th becomes s, l becomes r and you can’t have the s and r together. Borrowed English words in Japanese sometimes have bits removed too, so ballpoint pen has become boorupen. Popular usage of the English term “salary man” has led to high earning Japanese office workers being called sarariman.
In African languages there are some interesting sound changes to borrowed English words such as kwanaa for corner and sukundireebaa for screwdriver in Hausa and baafu for bath, faaloo for parlor, and sitadiomu for stadium in Yoruba. There are times when the word changes its meaning in the new language for example in Hausa, when you refer to a faadaa, from father, you mean a priest not your Dad.
The Chinese language is very restrictive in the way English words can be used. You can only use a specific set of sounds to start a syllable and specific sounds make up the rest of the syllable and these can only be written with certain characters. In Mandarin, chocolate has become qiaokeli (pronounced “chow kuh lee”), and brandy, because you can’t start a syllable with two consonants and can’t start a syllable with “r”, is bailandi. In Thai the English cigarette is kaaráet with an added noun-type prefix yaa to make yaakaaráet.
The Tamil language has pilavus for blouse and tákkutar for doctor. Tamil also demonstrates an older influence from English by using náram for orange, taken from the previous English word for orange, norange. In Arabic we find English adjectives have been turned into Arabic verbs as in the case of nervous turning into narvas, meaning “become nervous,” and late is now Arabic layyat, meaning “be late.”
The way that English words are adapted reveals a lot about the cultures and languages that change them to suit their needs. The changing and adaptable nature of language is part of what makes languages so interesting and is something that anyone offering translation services has to keep in mind.