Suppose someone is learning words in a foreign language, and uses an "uncommon" word in his target language that is similar to one in his own language.

For instance, the Spanish word for "mortgage" is "hipoteca." So the Spanish-speaker learns and uses the nearest English equivalent, and says, "I have a hypothecation on my house." Or he says, "I have a coronary/pulmonary/renal problem," because these are analogous to the Spanish words for heart, lung, and kidney.

The constructions are all linguistically correct, but are "misleading" because the average native (English) speaker is confused by the use of words that are uncommon in his language.

Is there a term for this phenomenon and if so, what would it be?

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    This does not look any different than introducing a loanword to the language. It does not matter whether the equivalent existed in the target language, the two begin to coexist and compete. Commented Jan 28, 2017 at 22:55
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    @bytebuster: I'm talking about a situation where a student knows an "advanced" word because it's similar to one in his own language, but doesn't know the "everyday" word.
    – Tom Au
    Commented Jan 28, 2017 at 23:20
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    Note that this is not an example of "false friends". False friends happen when the chosen word in the person's L2 has a different meaning than the L1 word that sounds similar. A famous example is an English speaker choosing the Spanish word "embarazada" as a translation of the English word "embarassed" when it actually means "pregnant". Also note that "heart" and "coronary" are in fact cognates via Grimm's Law.
    – Robert Columbia
    Commented Jan 29, 2017 at 1:08
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    Marked lexical transfer? Commented Jan 29, 2017 at 4:27
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    @RobertColumbia: Yes, both heart and coronary are cognates, but heart is a cognate to the "Germanic" word, while coronary is a cognate to the Latin word, which is why the Spanish speaker would use it.
    – Tom Au
    Commented Jan 29, 2017 at 8:37

1 Answer 1


In the paper "Lexical Inventions: French Interlanguage as L2 versus L3" (Applied Linguistics, 19.4 (1998)), Jean-Marc Dewaele refers to a paper by E. Haugen ("The Analysis of Linguistic Borrowing", Language, 1950), who proposed a taxonomy of crosslinguistic borrowings (emphasis added):

He distinguished loanwords (without morphemic substitution), loanblends (with partial morphemic substitution) and loanshifts (with total morphemic substitution). He observed that some loanblends were in fact 'hybrid creations' (1950 221), not part of the borrowing process but presenting evidence 'of an intimate fusion into the language of the borrowed material, since it has become productive in the new language' (ibid ).

Haugen mentioned "bordo" (boarder) as an example of a loanblend by a Puerto Rican learner of English. (The term loanblend is also in Wiktionary, where it is defined as "A compound word or expression consisting of both native and foreign elements.")

"Hypothecation" looks like the Spanish word "hipoteca" that has become productive in English, i.e. by adding the common suffix "-ation".

Loanblends are a specific example of the more general phenomenon known as lexical transfer, which also includes false friends, and calques or literal translations from the L1. (See also An Overview of Variables Affecting Lexical Transfer in Writing: A Review Study by María Pilar Agustín Llach, International Journal of Linguistics, 2010).

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