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Is there a word for when someone uses words wrongly, or uses outright nonexistent words, due to influence from foreign languages? Examples:

  • I thought she loved me, but she bedragged me. (<- bedra(ga) in Swedish means "to deceive" and is equivalent to the prefix be-, which also exists in English, and dra(ga), cognate of English drag and draw); compare betray.

  • I'm planning to bedrive business in Australia. (<- bedriva in Swedish means "to run, to do [business]", and is equivalent to be- + driva, cognate of English drive.)

  • I tried to drag a joke, but I couldn't think of any. (in Swedish, you'd say dra ett skämt, lit. "drag a joke", to mean "make a joke.")

The erroneous words or phrasings don't necessarily have to be cognates or come from a language related to English.

Note that I'm not referring to false friends per se, although they can absolutely feature in such speech:

  • She can eventually come to the party, but eventually not. (eventuellt in Swedish/eventuell in German means "possibly".)

Also note that the sentences are otherwise grammatical. The erroneous words are incorporated into the sentence in a "natural" way and inflected correctly.

I'd love to know if there is a word to denote the concept of heavily foreign-influenced speech, or a person that uses such speech (preferably a native speaker of English who, for example, spent a lot of time in Sweden to the point that it affects their phrasing in English).

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  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.
    – NVZ
    Jul 6 at 17:38

7 Answers 7

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For the language phenomenon where the English language is heavily influenced by another language, a portmanteau term combined from the name of two languages is used. In your specific example, it is Swenglish (also called Swinglish, Swedlish and Sweglish):

Swenglish is a colloquial term referring to the English language heavily influenced by Swedish in terms of vocabulary, grammar, or pronunciation. - Wikipedia

As with most non-native speech, native Swedish speakers may pick the wrong word when speaking English based on what sounds right in their own language. While Swedish and English share many words, both from their Germanic origins, and from later French and Latin influence, there are several Swedish-English false friends, such as nacke (similar to English "neck") meaning 'nape, back of the neck', and eventuellt (similar to "eventually") meaning 'possibly'.

Note: Spanglish (combining Spanish and English) is possibly the most popular one but it also has an extended sense which can include hybrid languages, pidgins and creoles based on the extensive interactions between Spanish and English. There are also other colloquial portmanteau terms (with various alternative forms) like Chinglish (Chinese and English), Danglish (Danish and English), Dunglish (Dutch and English), Denglisch/Denglish/Germanglish (Deutsch/German and English) etc.

In your examples, you are specifically asking for the foreign language influence on vocabulary. In linguistics, the general term for the word substitution/selection errors you've provided is a lexical selection error. It can occur within the same language or between two languages (within bilingual lexical access by bilinguals).

Several forms of speech error involve problems with selecting the correct word (lexical selection). A simple kind of lexical selection error is semantic substitution (the correct word is replaced by a word of similar meaning, e.g., "Where is my tennis bat?" instead of "Where is my tennis racquet?"). In 99% of cases, the substituted word is of the same form class as the correct word (e.g., nouns substitute for nouns). Verbs are much less likely than nouns, adjectives, or adverbs to undergo semantic substitution (Hotopf, 1980).
Cognitive Psychology: A Student's Handbook by Michael W. Eysenck, Mark T. Keane

In your first two examples, the word formation is called a blend and the process is called blending. Blending can occur as a speech error in lexical selection by erronously blending two words (usually with semantic similarity) within the same language or two words from different languages in bilinguals. Although it can be called a portmanteau too, there is a distinction between a portmanteau and a blend in linguistics; and the term blending is used in lexical errors of this type.

In linguistics, a blend (sometimes called blend word, lexical blend, portmanteau or portmanteau word) is a word formed from parts of two or more other words. At least one of these parts is not a morph (the realization of a morpheme) but instead a mere splinter, a fragment that is normally meaningless - Blend word / Wikipedia

In linguistics, a blend is an amalgamation or fusion of independent lexemes, while a portmanteau or portmanteau morph is a single morph that is analyzed as representing two (or more) underlying morphemes. - Portmanteau morph / Wikipedia

Blend word article in Wikipedia also includes the explanation below for the lexical selection error, citing the book "An Introduction to Language (8th ed.)" by Fromkin, Victoria; Rodman, R.; Hyams, Nina (2007):

Blending may occur with an error in lexical selection, the process by which a speaker uses his semantic knowledge to choose words. Lewis Carroll's explanation, which gave rise to the use of 'portmanteau' for such combinations, was:

Humpty Dumpty's theory, of two meanings packed into one word like a portmanteau, seems to me the right explanation for all. For instance, take the two words "fuming" and "furious." Make up your mind that you will say both words ... you will say "frumious."

The errors are based on similarity of meanings, rather than phonological similarities, and the morphemes or phonemes stay in the same position within the syllable.

The book Handbook of Bilingualism: Psycholinguistic Approaches (edited by Judith F. Kroll, Annette M. B. De Groot) provides an in-depth analysis on bilingual lexical selection processes and errors. Here are the relevant excerpts where word intrusions, semantic substitutions, blends, code-switching, ugly sisters/blocking words in bilingual access are explained:

First, bilinguals speaking in their L2 may accidentally insert words from their L1. In line with the above argument, Poulisse and Bongaerts (1994) related these "performance switches" to semantic substitutions in L1. Even blends of words from two languages have been observed (e.g., "springling" from English spring and German Frühling).

...

Access is complex in the sense that the preverbal message contains all the relevant information, including the intended language. During lexical access, not only the sought-for word, but also many semantically related words become activated, including words in the nonintended language. Lexical selection is a simple, local process that is only based on the activation levels of words.

...

Interestingly, as argued by the authors, this model also provides a satisfactory account of three phenomena pertinent to any model of bilingual access: the ability to separate languages, code switching (rapid switching between the two languages), and accidental intrusions from the nonintended language. The ability to separate languages follows from the use of a language cue at the conceptual level. For example, when the speaker intends to use L2, L2 words receive more activation than the corresponding L1 words. Code switching can be fast because there is no active inhibition of words in one of the two languages, and intrusions may either result from the failure to use the correct language cue or from incidental cases in which the word in the unintended language reaches a higher activation level than the intended word (e.g., because of priming effects).

...

A nice illustration of this assumed automaticity is the ‘‘ugly sister’’ phenomenon that speakers in a tip-of-the-tongue state may experience (Reason & Lucas, 1984). The attempt to find the correct word sometimes leads to the activation of an incorrect word (the ugly sister) that is immediately rejected by the speaker. However, each new attempt to retrieve the correct word only leads to the reactivation of the ugly sister, which for that reason is also referred to as a blocking word. This phenomenon is exactly what may be expected if lexical selection is an automatic process only based on activation levels: Given a certain input (the preverbal message) and the current levels of activation of the lexical representations, the same output will be produced time and time again.

There are two other broad linguistics phenomena that can play a role in foreign-language influence; although they are very comprehensive and cover many factors:

  • The first one is crosslinguistic influence where speakers transfer aspects from their native language (or another language they know) when using a second or foreign language. This can result in production errors involving substitutions as it influences vocabulary as well.

Crosslinguistic influence (CLI) refers to the different ways in which one language can affect another within an individual speaker. It typically involves two languages that can affect one another in a bilingual speaker.

Substitution is when the L1 speaker takes a structure or word from their native language and replaces it within the L2. Odlin (1989) shows a sentence from a Swedish learner of English in the following sentence.

  • Swedish Structure on English:
        • But sometimes I must go bort.

Here the Swedish word bort has replaced its English equivalent away.
- Crosslinguistic influence - Wikipedia

  • The second one is language attrition where a native speaker loses fluency in their native language as a result of increased use of a foreign language. As the OP mentioned: "a native speaker of English who, for example, spent a lot of time in Sweden to the point that it affects their phrasing in English". In this process, vocabulary is the first thing that is affected which is called lexical attrition.

Language attrition is the process of losing a native or first language. This process is generally caused by both isolation from speakers of the first language ("L1") and the acquisition and use of a second language ("L2"), which interferes with the correct production and comprehension of the first.

The first linguistic system to be affected by first language attrition is the lexicon. The lexical-semantic relationship usually starts to deteriorate first and most quickly, driven by Cross Linguistic Interference (CLI) from the speaker's L2, and it is believed to be exacerbated by continued exposure to, and frequent use of, the L2.
- Language Attrition / Wikipedia

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  • Thank you for the detailed answer! I was aware of "Swenglish" and the like - I was rather looking for a "language-agnostic" term for bilinguals committing speech errors through portmanteaus. Sadly, page 301 seems to be unavailable in the book you posted, but thank you for all the effort you put into your answer.
    – x22
    Jul 3 at 13:40
  • @x22 I've provided the language agnostic term also which is blending and it can occur as a lexical selection error in speech. I've now added the relevant excerpt from the book as well.
    – ermanen
    Jul 3 at 14:09
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    There is also tag-switching * for switching words or phrases from one language to another but your examples are, more specifically, a type of lexical selection (or substitution) errors.
    – ermanen
    Jul 3 at 14:53
  • @ermanen Sorry, I wrote "speech errors through portmanteaus" in an earlier answer, but on second thought, I meant a hypernym that includes using existing words wrong (like in the 3rd example in my original post), instead of blending two words together. Still, I'd say "lexical selection error" comes closest to what I had in mind, even though it's missing the fact that it happens due to influence from a foreign language.
    – x22
    Jul 3 at 18:44
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    I've also found a study titled "Language selection contributes to intrusion errors in speaking: Evidence from picture naming" where the term "intrusion error" is used, but it might be less prevalent.
    – ermanen
    Jul 3 at 22:38
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I would call these things Swedishisms. I'm generalizing from Germanism, a term I use on a regular basis at my house.

Merriam-Webster

1: a characteristic feature of German occurring in another language

For some languages, consider using an alternate root in forming the -ism word. For examples, it is possible to say Frenchism, but more common is Gallicism.

Side comment. It's challenging to avoid these mistakes, true, but the flip side is a creative use of language. The native German speaker at my house sometimes comes out with lovely inventions, such as "the tougheties of life."

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  • I think that use of the “ism” form depends on the language it applies to, and how easy the word is to say. Anglicism and germanism are different on the tongue than swedishism. Jul 4 at 17:11
  • 2
    @GlobalCharm - agreed, it can be awkward with some language names -- I dislike Frenchism, for example -- but personally I don't have any trouble saying "Swedishism." I guess one could informally shorten it to "Swedism" -- but maybe that would be better for cultural differences rather than language bloopers. Jul 4 at 18:27
  • 2
    I only wrote examples with Swedish for the reason that it has verb stems that are cognates of English stems and thus can be easily understood by English speakers on this forum. I was mainly looking for a language-agnostic word. In any case, your answer pointed me to "foreignism", which, according to my research, does have a meaning of "any trait, deviating from accepted speech standards, derived from a foreign language", so thank you!
    – x22
    Jul 4 at 20:07
  • @x22 - I thought about foreignism but rejected it, and I can't remember why! Glad you found a word that works. I think any reasonable listener will understand foreignism. Jul 5 at 3:34
4

How about

Broken English is a name for a non-standard, non-traditionally spoken or alternatively-written version of the English language. ... broken English consists of English vocabulary grafted onto the syntax of a non-English speaker's native language, including word order, other aspects of sentence structure, and the presence or absence of articles in the speaker's native language. Typically, the non-English speaker also strips English phrases of linguistic markings that are definite articles or certain verb tenses.
Wikipedia

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  • 1
    I wrote in my question that the hypothetical speaker of this blended language variety should "preferably [be] a native speaker of English who, for example, spent a lot of time in Sweden to the point that it affects their phrasing in English". As stated in another comment, "lexical attrition" is more in line with what I was looking for, although I didn't want to distinguish between making such mistakes in one's L1 due to influence from the L2 or making the mistake in one's L2 due to influence from the L1. In any case, I don't think "broken English" covers the first case.
    – x22
    Jul 4 at 20:11
  • No, broken English is something else. "broken x" [language] just means you don't really master the forms of the language at all. In fact, often, it is not the English (L2) grafted onto the other language. It's the other language (L1 for the speaker grafted onto English. This can occur between any two languages where there is an L1 and L2.
    – Lambie
    Jul 8 at 15:19
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In Montreal, it’s common to refer to a convenience store as a dep, from the French dépanneur. It’s not a “real” word in English.

https://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/dépanneur

In a multilingual environment, expressions tend to show up in multiple languages.

In Quebec, at least, these are mostly referred to as calques.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Calque

This is probably due to the influence of the Office de la langue française, where calqué sur l’anglais is used frequently to label the use of English terms translated literally into French. The word now gets used by anglophones and allophones as well.

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  • 4
    Personally, I'd say "dep" is a loanword/borrowing. Also, AFAIK (and according to the Wikipedia link you posted), a calque in the linguistic sense is when you actually translate a word from another language root-by-root, so using dépanneur or even dep in English wouldn't qualify as one. And my original question was if there's a way to refer to lexical errors due to foreign language influence, rather than codeswitching or established loanwords. (Then again, calques probably start out as foreign language-influenced lexical errors before becoming established.) But thank you for your answer!
    – x22
    Jul 3 at 20:34
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    Worth mentioning the term Franglais for a blend of français + anglais, especially by fluent bilinguals amongst each other, sometimes switching language for a phrase. (I've seen this in person in New Brunswick, especially Moncton, where fully bilingual francophones are common) Jul 3 at 20:59
  • I’ve always thought of a calque as a literal translation of the components of a word. For example, whirlybird from helico-pter.
    – Davislor
    Jul 4 at 20:49
  • @Davislor I speak only of how the word has come to be used in Montreal. Jul 4 at 22:30
  • dep is not a "real" word? It must be a mont-real word!
    – vectory
    Jul 6 at 5:13
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This can be called a pidgin, defined by Merriam-Webster as:.

a simplified speech used for communication between people with different languages

Individual loanwords from another language, used in a way most would not consider correct, are slang. If they’re deemed correct within a small community, they’re jargon. A polite term for less-than-fluent English is ESL (from “English as a second language”).

If the people’s children grow up speaking it, and it becomes a real language, linguists call it a creole or dialect instead. You might also hear, lingua franca, but this has multiple meanings.

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  • 1
    To me, the terms pidgin, slang, jargon, creole, dialect and lingua franca would mean that the "erroneous" words are, in fact, established parts of the linguistic variety and/or help the communication process instead of hindering it, being mere lexical/intrusion errors (which is what I had in mind).
    – x22
    Jul 4 at 20:15
  • @x22 To me, creole, jargon and dialect all imply that there’s some community that understands and uses the terms. Pidgin, however, implies that someone is trying to do the best they can with a very limited common vocabulary.
    – Davislor
    Jul 4 at 20:47
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A weak one word answer is "shining through" (see @JKnappen for more on what's essentially the same question in linguistics). This applies to more than neologisms. Actually, those aren't just shining through but glaring "errors" (Wikipedia: Error).

The answers given here so far are not satisfying. The word is not a blend, portmonteau or anything. It is a phono-semantic match, a phono-semantic calque gone wrong. Nor is it Swedelish unless it were typical for Swedes to commit such errors, in which case one had to ask if there is a conservative Norse-English register, which would be a different problem not unlike any other regional English variation. A single word is surely not a pigeon language, as pigeon has to be conventionalized among speakers to whom it is not, in contrast to creoles, a native language.

(This part gonna need work). The comparison to drag itself is quite a drag. Between [treachery], [betray], and [Betrügen], it is pretty much out of the question that "bedra(ga)" is to be explained exclusively via "to drag", but any broken descent (cf. Ringe 1994) complicates matters significantly.

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Some common ways of describing this style of speech that are language agnostic and I remember reading in books, are borrowed from the language of food.

You can say that one's language was contaminated or peppered with, had generous sprinklings of, or lashings of (other language).

I'm afraid I don't have the resources to provide quotations, but I'm sure somebody else here can provide a relevant example or two.

1
  • language agnostic is a programming term not a natural language term. And lashing is simply wrong. I mean....
    – Lambie
    Jul 8 at 15:22

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