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Project leaders

  • Martin Haspelmath
  • Uri Tadmor

Loanword Typology: Comparative Study of Lexical Borowability

In this project, we studied lexical borrowing patterns in 41 languages from around the world. Each language was the responsibility of a single author, an expert of the language and what is known about its history and its contact languages. For each language, we assembled lexical data for a fixed list of 1460 meanings.

Lexical borrowing is an important aspect of language change, and the study of loanwords can give important insights into the cultural and social history of a language. At the same time, loanwords are often confounding factors in the study of genealogical relatedness of more distantly related languages. For both of these reasons, it is important to have some general knowledge about how lexical borrowing takes place in different languages under different structural and sociocultural conditions.

In the Loanword Typology project, 41 linguists (or teams) who are specialists in a particular language and its history collaborated to build a large lexical database containing between 1200 and 2000 words for each language. The basis of this is a fixed list of 1460 meanings. The resulting combined database allowed us to see which languages borrow the most or the least words, and which meanings are most prone to be represented by loanwords. Such generalizations and comparisons have become available for the first time through this project.

The results of the project were published as book publication plus an electronic database (the World Loanword Database).


Haspelmath, Martin, & Uri Tadmor (eds.). 2009. Loanwords in the World's Languages: A Comparative Handbook. Berlin: De Gruyter Mouton.  

Haspelmath, Martin, & Uri Tadmor (eds.). 2009. World Loanword Database. Munich: Max Planck Digital Library.