About the project

Adaptation, perception and reception of verbal loans in Polish and Czech – linguistic, psychological and historic-cultural factors

The aim of the APPROVAL project is to investigate various factors bearing on loanword reception and adaptation. We assume that such factors are diverse in nature: some of them may be connected with human perception, hence relatively culture-independent, others may result from the structure of the recipient language, while still others may be related to the writing tradition of a nation or its openness to foreign influences.

We adopt a broad notion of loanword adaptation, including not only alterations in spelling, pronunciation and morphology, but also the processes by which the meaning of a loanword is established in the recipient language. Therefore we have undertaken detailed and extensive research on lexical pairs consisting of a synchronically foreign word and its native synonym, as well as pairs of variants differing in the degree of adaptation to the recipient language. The distinctions observed are intended to be explained in terms of linguistic, psychological and historical-cultural factors; the relative strength of particular factors will likewise be examined.

An important part of the project will consist in searching for such factors bearing on loanword reception and adaptation that are related to the word form itself (its pronunciation and spelling). We posit the hypothesis that the form of a word is relevant to its functioning in a language. In particular, a strange form evokes associations different from those evoked by a native form, and such differences may result in different development of loanwords compared to their native equivalents or they may slow down the process of lexical adaptation.

Psychological experiments have revealed that words of a structure typical of a given language are perceived differently from words which by their very structure sound alien to the addressee (the denotata of the latter may, for instance, be perceived as more difficult or involving more risk). We plan to use the methods of psycholinguistics to investigate the reception of synchronically foreign words against native words and to examine the results in the context of previous findings concerning the reception of familiar and unfamiliar words.

Parallel to the study of loanword reception, a corpus-based study will be carried out on loanword perception and adaptation in the Czech and Polish languages. These languages are similar structure-wise, but their history is different and their divergent historical experience have made their users adopt different attitudes to borrowed words.

The project is supported by the Polish National Science Centre, under registration number DEC-2011/03/B/HS2/02279.


The name APPROVAL – from Adaptation, Perception and Reception of Verbal Loans – is meant to serve as a reminder that borrowed words contribute to the wealth of a language and in normal circumstances do not pose a threat to it. While puristic attitudes may have historical justification, often they result from a lack of understanding that foreign words – if only on account of their foreign origin and unfamiliar form – are not functionally equivalent to their native or well-assimilated synonyms. Even when a loanword and its native equivalent have the same referent, they differ functionally in other respects, and so not surprisingly a loanword often remains in a language and is used on a par with its native synonym by which it was to be replaced. By inventing native substitutes for borrowed words, purists often fail to achieve their intended objective, yet paradoxically further enrich the language.