In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Structural Borrowing

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews on Borrowing
  • General Overviews on Structural Borrowing
  • Morphology
  • Syntax
  • Semantics and Pragmatics
  • Phonetics and Phonology

Linguistics Structural Borrowing
Vincent Renner
  • LAST MODIFIED: 21 February 2023
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199772810-0302


The concept of structural borrowing stands in a binary contrast to that of matter borrowing, which entails the copying of any concrete linguistic element, which prototypically corresponds to the borrowing of lexical units, but also comprises that of function words, bound morphemes, and phonemes. In contrast, structural borrowing can thus be explained as the copying of any abstract linguistic element (i.e., pattern) from one language to another. A crucial difference between the two types of borrowing is that matter borrowing is overt and thus, usually, easily identifiable, while structural borrowing is covert, because of its abstract nature, and this abstractness necessarily leads to broadening the definition of the concept so as to include all cases of significant contact-induced change in frequency of use of an abstract pattern. The dichotomy between matter and structural borrowing has been widely discussed in the contact linguistics literature and is expressed through a variety of oppositive terms including matter v. pattern replication, MAT v. PAT borrowing, global v. selective copying, direct v. indirect diffusion, and direct v. indirect transfer. This bibliography starts with a select number of suggested readings that offer general overviews of the field of linguistic borrowing and contact studies, and then, more narrowly, of structural borrowing. The subsequent sections introduce the various linguistic domains in which structural borrowing can be found. Each of them includes both a general overview of structural borrowing in the given domain and a select number of exemplary case studies. For a broader view of linguistic borrowing, readers may also consult the Oxford Bibliographies in Linguistics articles “Loanwords” and “Language Contact.”

General Overviews on Borrowing

Haugen 1950, Weinreich 1979, and Thomason and Kaufman 1988 are three classic introductory readings in the fields of linguistic borrowing and, more broadly, language contact. Thomason 2001, Winford 2003, and Matras 2020 are three classic textbooks. Curnow 2001 and Aikhenvald 2007 are two dense overview chapters discussing borrowability. Sankoff 2013 provides an overview of the field from a sociolinguistic perspective, and so does Backus 2014 from a usage-based perspective. Lucas 2015 proposes a lucid typology of contact-induced language change phenomena.

  • Aikhenvald, A. Y. 2007. Grammars in contact: A cross-linguistic perspective. In Grammars in contact: A cross-linguistic typology. Edited by A. Y. Aikhenvald and R. M. W. Dixon, 1–66. Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press.

    An overview article on linguistic borrowability, with a particular focus on structural borrowing and areal diffusion.

  • Backus, A. 2014. Towards a usage-based account of language change: Implications of contact linguistics for linguistic theory. In Questioning language contact: Limits of contact, contact at its limits. Edited by R. Nicolaï, 91–118. Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill.

    DOI: 10.1163/9789004279056_005

    Discusses a number of essential theoretical and methodological issues in the study of contact-induced change from a usage-based perspective.

  • Curnow, Th. J. 2001. What language features can be “borrowed”? In Areal diffusion and genetic inheritance: Problems in comparative linguistics. Edited by A. Y. Aikhenvald and R. M. W. Dixon, 412–436. Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press.

    An overview article on linguistic borrowability that notably distinguishes fifteen different types of (matter and structural) borrowing.

  • Haugen, E. 1950. The analysis of linguistic borrowing. Language 26.2: 210–231.

    DOI: 10.2307/410058

    A classic introduction to the concept of borrowing.

  • Lucas, Ch. 2015. Contact-induced language change. In The Routledge handbook of historical linguistics. Edited by C. Bowern and B. Evans, 519–536. Abingdon, UK: Routledge.

    DOI: 10.4324/9781315794013.ch24

    Discusses the usefulness of a distinction between four types of contact-induced change—borrowing, imposition, restructuring, and convergence—on the basis of the directionality of the influence between source and recipient language and of the three possible forms of bilingualism in the agents of change.

  • Matras, Y. 2020. Language contact. 2d ed. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge Univ. Press.

    DOI: 10.1017/9781108333955

    The latest classic textbook introduction to the field, whose ninth chapter is devoted to structural borrowing. Originally published in 2009.

  • Sankoff, G. 2013. Linguistic outcomes of bilingualism. In The handbook of language variation and change. 2d ed. Edited by J. K. Chambers and N. Schilling, 501–518. Malden, MA: Wiley-Blackwell.

    DOI: 10.1002/9781118335598.ch23

    An overview article that reviews the outcomes of language contact at all linguistic levels from a sociolinguistic perspective.

  • Thomason, S. G. 2001. Language contact. Edinburgh: Edinburgh Univ. Press.

    A classic textbook introduction to the field.

  • Thomason, S. G., and T. Kaufman. 1988. Language contact, creolization, and genetic insights. Berkeley: Univ. of California Press.

    DOI: 10.1525/9780520912793

    A classic monograph that notably proposes correlated scales of intensity of language contact and type of linguistic borrowing (from lexical only to heavy structural borrowing).

  • Weinreich, U. 1979. Languages in contact: Findings and problems. Berlin: De Gruyter Mouton.

    DOI: 10.1515/9783110802177

    A classic book-length introduction to the field. Originally published in 1953.

  • Winford, D. 2003. An introduction to contact linguistics. Malden, MA: Blackwell.

    A classic textbook introduction to the field, with a third chapter devoted to structural borrowing.

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