Mixing languages

Qué es ese code-switching?


THANKS for the many comments on the last post, suggesting topics (and keep them coming).

Omulu and Human Child asked a few related questions about mixing languages. This happens at several different levels, for different reasons.  Omulu asked about untranslatable words like the oft-cited German Gemütlichkeit.  Gemütlichkeit is a kind of barroom cosiness with good friends, Bratkartoffeln and a nice local beer, or maybe a family dinner with intimate conversation and a good few laughs at the holidays. The Dutch have a similar word, gezellig, an adjective. The Danes like to call things in this category hyggeligHyggelig, like the others, is common, it’s laden with associations, and it doesn’t have an easy one-for-one English equivalent, so I hear my Danish mother-in-law calling things “cosy” all the time when I know she means hyggelig. I, for one, knowing cosy doesn’t cover it, often say things are hyggelig to my wife, even when we’re speaking English. This is one of the perks and joys of language-learning. My colleague posted a while back asking people to name words they’d like to import from foreign languages into English, and got quite a few answers.

Then there’s another level of this: borrowing completely ordinary words from another language for play, because the other language is prestigious, or for no good reason at all. There is no reason to say Weltanschauung for “worldview”, unless you just don’t get enough chances to type two u’s in succession and have tired of writing about vacuums. Many foreigners borrow English words like this these days, and it drives purists who speak those languages crazy pointing out the perfectly good native substitutes.  Probably my favorite is the handful of European languages that have borrowed “baby”:das Baby in German for example. (The word Säugling, cognate to “suckling”, is now quaint or old-fashioned.)