Loanwords vs. Loan Shifts in the Dutch Lexicon

Deborah Schram

State University of New York at New Paltz


Dutch is a language with a lexicon largely made of borrowed words. Although it is not known what indigenous people were in the area we now know as the Netherlands, it is certain that many tribes and groups have invaded and occupied the Netherlands throughout the centuries (Hüning 2009). As a result, Dutch has been exposed to extensive language contact thus enabling the extensive lexical borrowing that has taken place and molded the Dutch lexicon. Focusing on Italian, Spanish, French, English, German, and Scandinavian languages, I explore the following question: why have a certain language’s words resisted morphological and phonological change in the Dutch vocabulary, while words from other languages have assimilated fully?



(1) From French (loanwords):                         (2) From Spanish (loanwords):

baguette (‘baguette’)                                       tequila  (‘tequila’)

art deco (‘art style’)                                        ara (‘macaw’)

rotonde (‘rotunda, roundabout’)



(3) From Norwegian (loan shifts):                  (4) From German (loan shifts):

wervelwind (‘whirlwind’)                               katenspeck (‘bacon’)

                                                                        thematiek (‘theme’)

 (van der Sijs 2009)


In the case of lexical borrowing, languages will typically borrow words for objects that do not already exist in the cultures and societies associated with those languages. Many of the loanwords in the Dutch lexicon deal with subjects such as food, art, animals, and clothing, while the loan shifts deal with more abstract and intangible objects and concepts. By further examining the semantics of these loanwords and loan shifts and by examining the historical context in which these words came into the Dutch lexicon, I am able to answer the question of why Italian, for example, provides a greater number of loanwords than loan shifts and why German primarily provides a greater number of loan shifts than loan words.




Appel, René, and Pieter Muysken. 2005. Language Contact and Bilingualism. Amsterdam, NL:

            Amsterdam University Press.


Hüning, Matthias. 2009. Structure and history of the Dutch language: introduction to the

            linguistics of Dutch. Online:

Van der Sijs, Nicoline. 2008. Chronologisch woordenboek. De ouderdom en herkomst van onze woorden en betekenissen. Online: