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An Interdisciplinary Journal of the Language Sciences

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Nonesuch phonemes in loanwords

Holly J. Kennard
  • Corresponding author
  • Faculty of Linguistics, Philology and Phonetics, Clarendon Institute, Walton Street, Oxford OX1 2HG, UK
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/ Aditi Lahiri
Published Online: 2019-11-14 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.1515/ling-2019-0033


Loanwords may or may not affect the phonological system of a language. Much of the loanword literature has focused on the adaptation of “foreign” contrasts to native systems; however, there are certain cases where languages appear to have borrowed new phonemes. We argue that loanwords alone cannot introduce a new phoneme into a language unless there are special circumstances. We examine three case studies of apparently borrowed “unusual” phonemic contrasts: Swiss German initial geminates, Bengali retroflex stops, and English voiced fricatives. In each case, we find that rather than the loanwords introducing brand-new phonemes, an existing allophonic alternation has become phonemic due to a large influx of loanwords. Thus, the phonology rather than the phonetics alone – marked or otherwise – dominates the absorption of loans.

Keywords: phonology; loanwords; Bengali; English; Swiss German


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About the article

Published Online: 2019-11-14

Citation Information: Linguistics, ISSN (Online) 1613-396X, ISSN (Print) 0024-3949, DOI: https://doi.org/10.1515/ling-2019-0033.

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