Language Is a Virus: How Loanwords Move the World’s Tongues
There are an estimated 6,700 to 6,900 languages in the world today, and they drift through the air like a meteorological echo — Hello! Hallo! Allô! — a roll of thunder or a set of bird calls off in the corner of the ear and the eye. And accompanying every tongue are loanwords, or, rather, lehnwerts, the tin-eared telephone line tossed from house to house, the improvised bridge of a tree knocked across a river’s expanse, or, more prosaically, words one “borrows” from one language into another. Loanwords explain how and why English speakers can say things like Frankfurter, pretzel, hinterland, dreck, or kaput without their conversational co-conspirator batting an eye.