Eating lunch in a working man’s restaurant in Hong Kong I hear mostly Cantonese but with occassional English words, "passion," for example.  Borrowed words or loanwords surely tell us something important about ideas or concepts that the first language lacks.  Most loanwords are for things (e.g. mouse for a computer device), it’s pretty easy to explain the adoption of such words.  But what about words for which the thing has always existed but not the word?  Chinese speakers tell me that there is a word for love but passion is more difficult to translate.

What are some of the major conceptual loanwords?  What do loanwords tell us about the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis? What loanwords does English need?  There appears to be a large literature in linguistics on the adoption and evolution of loanwords but less on the cultural significance of loanwords.  Comments?


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