Examining the integration of borrowed nouns in immigrant speech: the case of Canadian-Greek

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Societas Linguistica Europaea 50th Annual Meeting - Zurich
Date of reference: 
Sunday, 10 September, 2017 to Wednesday, 13 September, 2017
Vasiliki Makri, University of Patras
Vasiliki Mouchtouri, University of Patras
Angela Ralli, University of Patras

This presentation investigates noun borrowing in a language-contact situation involving Greek as recipient and English as donor in Canada. In line with Ralli (2012 a, b) and Ralli et al. (2015), we argue that the accommodation of loan nouns in a language is not only the product of extra-linguistic factors (e.g., among others, degree of bilingualism, Thomason 2001, Matras 2009) but also follows and heavily depends on specific linguistic constraints, mostly due to language-internal factors, which are of phonological, morphological and semantic nature.

By examining the integration of English nouns in Canadian Greek, we deal with the following issues: (a) the reason why a considerable number of loan nouns bear Greek inflection (1-5) - in addition to other nouns whose integration necessitates a derivational suffix (6) - in contrast with others which remain uninflected (7); (b) the basic properties of gender assignment which makes loan nouns to be accommodated in the recipient language as masculine, feminine or neuter, depending on the case, in alignment to Greek gender properties, where a tripartite gender distinction characterizes nouns, adjectives and determiners, but in opposition to the donor language (English), which is a grammatically gender-neutral language retaining features relating to natural gender; (c) the recipient’s inherent tendencies to classify native and loan nouns into different categories and distribute them into specific inflection classes; (d) the high degree of integration evidenced by loan nouns which are also attached a derivational suffix on a further stage of integration (8-9); (e) the role of structural (in)compatibility between the donor and the recipient into accommodating nouns.

In order to illustrate arguments and proposals, we investigate evidence from Greek spoken in two Canadian provinces, Quebec and Ontario, where the bulk of Greek immigrants reside. For an illustration, consider the following data, which are drawn from both written (e.g., among others, Aravossitas 2016, Maniakas 1991, Seaman 1972) and oral sources, within the framework of the Project “Immigration and Language in Canada: Greeks and Greek-Canadians”:


Canadian Greek                                English                       Greek

(1)        bosis. MASC                                       boss                             afediko. NEU

(2)        leki.NEU                                             lake                              limni.FEM

(3)        vakesio. NEU                                      vacation                       δiakopes. FEM.PL

(4)        mapa. FEM                                         mop                             skoupa. FEM

(5)        fritza. FEM                                         fridge                          psiγio. NEU

(6)        basatzis. MASC                                  bus driver                    leoforiatzis. MASC

(7)        futbol. NEU                                        football                        poδosfero. NEU

(8)        karo. NEU > karaki. NEU.DIM           small car                      aftokinitaki. NEU.DIM

(9)        marketa. FEM > marketula. FEM.DIMsmall market               aγora. FEM. DIM


We propose that it is possible for the morphology of a language (in this case, the fusional Greek) to be affected by a linguistic system of distinct typology (i.e. the analytical English), provided that certain morphological conditions are met.

Conference paper

Aravossitas, Th. 2016. The hidden schools: mapping Greek heritage language education in Canada. Ph.D. Thesis. University of Toronto.

Maniakas, Th. 1991. The ethnolinguistic reality of Montreal Greeks. Ph.D. Thesis. University of Montreal.

Matras, Y. 2009. Language Contact. Cambridge: CUP.

Ralli, A. 2012a. Morphology in language contact: verbal loanblend formation in Asia Minor Greek (Aivaliot). In: M. Vanhove, T. Stolz, A. Urdze and H. Οtsuκa (Εds), Morphologies in Contact. Berlin: Akademie Verlag, 177-194. 

Ralli, A. 2012b. Verbal loanblends in Griko and Heptanesian: a case study of contact morphology. L’ Italia Dialettale LXXIII: 111-132.

Ralli, A., M. Gkiouleka & V. Makri 2015. Gender and inflection class in loan noun integration. SKASE 12: 422-460.  

Seaman, D. 1972. Modern Greek and American English in Contact. The Hague: Mouton.

Thomason, S. 2001. Language Contact: An Introduction. Edinburgh: EUP.

The ImmiGreC project is sponsored by the Stavros Niarchos Foundation.

McGill University: Modern Greek Studies

University of Patras: Laboratory of Modern Greek Dialects (LMGD)

York University: Modern Greek Studies

Simon Fraser University: Department of Linguistics