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In linguistics, an internationalism or international word is a loanword that occurs in several languages with the same or at least similar meaning and etymology. These words exist in "several different languages as a result of simultaneous or successive borrowings from the ultimate source" (I.V.Arnold). Pronunciation and orthography are similar so that the word is understandable between the different languages.

It is debated how many languages are required so that a word is an internationalism. The term is uncommon in English linguistics, although English has contributed a considerable number of words to world languages, e.g. the sport terms: football, baseball, cricket, and golf.



European internationalisms originate primarily from Latin or Greek, but from other languages as well. Many non-European words have also become international, often by way of one or more European languages.


Internationalisms often spread together with the innovations they designate. Accordingly, there are semantic fields of internationalisms that are dominated by specific languages, e.g. the computing vocabulary which is mainly English with internationalisms such as computer, disk, and spam. New inventions, political institutions, foodstuffs, leisure activities, science, and technological advances have all generated new lexemes and continue to do so: bionics, cybernetics, gene, coffee, chocolate, etc..

Some internationalisms are spread by speakers of one language living in geographical regions where other languages are spoken. For example, some internationalisms coming from the English in India are bungalow, jute, khaki, mango, pyjamas, and sari.


Internationalisms that occur in many languages are usually eligible to be included in Interlingua. Early internationalisms, such as those from French and German, tend to be part of Interlingua's basic vocabulary. Later internationalisms, often from English, tend to be Interlingua loanwords. Among Asian languages, Arabic most often provides basic vocabulary, while Japanese contributes recent loanwords.


See also

Further reading

  • Peter Braun, Burkhard Schaeder, Johannes Volmert (eds.): Internationalismen II. Studien zur interlingualen Lexikologie und Lexikographie (Reihe Germanistische Linguistik. Band 246), Tübingen: Niemeyer 2003, ISBN 3-484-31246-7.

External links

  • EuroLex - Wiki-project on European internationalisms, directed by Joachim Grzega

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