English Loanwords in Icibemba. Their Semantic Adaption

Essay, 2021

13 Pages




1. Introduction
1.1 Zero Semantic Change
1.2 Semantic Broadening/Expansion
1.2 Semantic Narrowing
1.3 Semantic Shift
1.4 Conclusion




This study examines the various semantic changes that take place in English words borrowed into Icibemba. Icibemba is a language spoken by the majority of the Zambian population. English and Icibemba are two languages from two different language families. The main objective of this study was to examine the various semantic processes involved in the process of borrowing words from English into Icibemba. Data was collected from primary and secondary sources. The data was then analyzed for semantic changes. The discussion concludes that certain words have meanings which correspond with that of the source language and that certain words extend their meaning range whereas others narrow it. Some words extend their meaning range figuratively. Some loanwords also change their emotive value when they are taken over into Icibemba language.


Studies on loanwords have shown that when words are borrowed from one language to another they undergo certain adjustments with regard to their meaning. In most cases, when a language borrows from another language, words are borrowed with a meaning that correctly corresponds to the original SL meaning (Winter-Froemel 2013). In such cases, it can be said that there is no semantic change or there is zero semantic change. There are also cases where loanwords exhibit semantic changes. This semantic shift takes many forms and various degrees or extent of the shift from the SL meaning.

According to Shariq (2013), semantic change, also known as semantic shift or semantic progression describes the evolution of word usage usually to the point that the modern meaning is radically different from the original usage. In historical linguistics, semantic change is a change in one of the meanings of a word. Every word has a variety of senses and connotations which can be added, removed, or altered over time, often to the extent that cognates across space and time have very different meanings. Such change may take place over a period of time. For instance, the Greek word ‘demagogue’ originally meant ‘a popular leader’ but now refers to a ‘politician who panders to emotions and prejudice’ (Akida, 2013).

Efforts were made by semanticists to classify and enumerate different types of semantic change; but attempts to give a comprehensive list of them proved to be very difficult if not impossible (Aitchison, 2007). However, certain aspects, such as expansion of meaning, narrowing of meaning and shift in meaning are constant in many works. It should be mentioned that semantic change in loanwords from English into Icibemba can generally be accounted for within the context of these types.

Icibemba has a lot of borrowings from English incorporated into its vocabulary to such an extent that scarcely does a sentence or a phrase end without one noticing a loanword being used. In discussing the semantic adaptation of English loanwords in Icibemba, this paper looks at meaning correspondence, meaning extension, narrowing of meaning and radical change (shift).

1.1 Zero Semantic Change

As stated earlier, there are cases where words are borrowed with the correct SL meaning (Winter –Froemel 2000). This means that the borrowed words retain the original meaning in the SL. In the case of Icibemba borrowing from English, there exist very many cases where the loanwords bear the original SL meaning. The majority of cases with zero semantic change were found to be among the direct loans. This can be attributed to the fact in direct loans, lexical items are borrowed as they are with little modifications – mainly in the phonological aspect (Haugen 1950). Examples of loanwords with zero semantic change in the case of English- Icibemba include the following:

English Icibemba

bread buleti

sugar shuka

spoon supuni

book ibuku

car motoka

window iwindo

book ibuku

carfernol kafino

The above examples of direct loans are drawn from across various semantic fields. Most of the loanwords that fall into this group are names of foreign objects ideas which have entered the Icibemba speech community. In all the cases, the meaning of the loanwords correctly correspond to the SL meaning. Only the phonology and orthography differ. Nevertheless, besides direct loans, words acquired through other borrowing mechanisms also exhibit zero semantic change. Clippings and abbreviations almost always show zero semantic change because they are normally derived from direct loans. Examples include ‘ekeshi’ (AIDS), ‘tifii’ (TV) and tibii (TB) among others.

1.2 Semantic Broadening/Expansion

This is a process where the meaning of a word becomes more general or more inclusive than its historically earlier form. In other words, semantic expansion is when a lexical item which used to refer to something specific refers to something general or broad (Mogara, 2014). According to Gallová (2009), semantic broadening refers to those English loanwords which, in the course of their semantic adaptation, have acquired a new (broadened) meaning in the recipient language. 'By meaning range or area of meaning of a word, we refer to the totality of meaning it can express' (Mokgokong 1975:26). Although the meaning is extended, the basic meaning is retained and is comparable. There are different ways in which the meaning of a loanword can be extended. First, a loanword can acquire additional meaning in the target language irrespective of the context in which it is used. Secondly, semantic meaning of a loanword may be extended by means of figurative meaning. In this case the loanwords are used in metaphoric and idiomatic expressions.

(a) Additional meaning irrespective of context

The process of additional meaning irrespective of context also takes place during the process of borrowing English words into Icibemba where certain English loans take on extra meanings that were not in the original English word. Here are some examples:

Abbildung in dieser Leseprobe nicht enthalten

An examination of the examples given above indicates that the adapted words have extended their meaning to cover a semantic field wider than that of the source language. In this case, the original meanings in English have been extended in Icibemba. In their source language these words are used to refer to specific types of objects.

In other words, the examples above indicate that the loanwords from English have acquired extra meanings in addition to their original ones in English from which they were borrowed. This is evidence of semantic broadening.

(b) Meaning extension through figurative meaning.

This aspect of meaning change, as indicated above, is still part of meaning extension even though it is discussed separately. The meaning extension in this section differs from the one discussed under (a) in the sense that the one discussed here has to do with the addition of figurative meaning to a loanword. Loanwords are also used in metaphors and idioms to express figurative meaning.

(i) Meaning extension through metaphoric expressions

Metaphors change the meaning of words and create new expressions. Speakers of a language compare two objects or two events which they see and this comparison results in a change in the meaning of the original word. Thus Waldron (1967:169} says:

"Metaphors enlarge the semantic range of words, momentarily or more permanently changing the frontiers of our lexical categories".

What Waldron says above, is also true of loanwords in Icibemba which when used in metaphoric expressions, may acquire new figurative meaning. This change of meaning can be clearly seen from the following examples:

Icibemba English

ifontini 1914 (year in which FWW broke out)

Fetulo federal (1953 Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland)

In both cases above, the terms are used diminutively. If a person is called a “fontina” it means that person is backward. Similarly, if a person is referred to as “fetuto” it means he is thinking like the way things were happening during the federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland; they are backward.

1.2 Semantic Narrowing

According to Fossi and Ouafo (2012), narrowing or specialization is when a general term refers to a more specific thing than the original referent. Semantic narrowing is the opposite of expansion. According to Akida (2013), it is also known as semantic restriction and refers to a situation where a term acquires a narrower meaning. It is a restriction of meaning in the recipient language in the process of borrowing.

Narrowing of meaning of a lexeme is a result of its semantic development from general to individual. Concerning the narrowing of meaning, the original polysemic English words are not borrowed in the whole extent of their meanings, but only in one or some of their meanings.

Shariq (2013) says, this happens when a word with a general meaning is by degrees applied to something much more specific. In English, for instance, the word ‘meat’ which was derived from the Middle English word ‘mete’ initially referred to ‘food’ in general, but is now restricted to ‘processed animal flesh’. Semantic narrowing can also take place as a result of borrowing English words into Icibemba as illustrated in the examples below:

Abbildung in dieser Leseprobe nicht enthalten

Perhaps the reason usually only one meaning is taken is that other meanings of the objects or concepts they refer to are unfamiliar or do not exist in the environment of the Icibemba or that the Icibemba have a term, which they find easy to use.


Excerpt out of 13 pages


English Loanwords in Icibemba. Their Semantic Adaption
English Language
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english, loanwords, icibemba, their, semantic, adaption
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Kennedy Kangwa (Author), 2021, English Loanwords in Icibemba. Their Semantic Adaption, Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/1126806


  • Kennedy Kangwa on 9/20/2021

    Kennedy Kangwa is a lecturer at Kwame Nkrumah University, Zambia. He has been lecturing Linguistic Science in the Department of Literature and Languages since 2009.

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