German 'Baby': How is it that very basic concepts, such as the word for "baby", can be very nearly replaced by a loanword?

Discussion in 'Etymology, History of languages, and Linguistics (EHL)' started by LMorland, Jan 5, 2011.

  1. LMorland

    LMorland Senior Member

    Back in Berkeley for the time being.
    American living in France

    In most languages, words are borrowed either because the language doing the borrowing did not have a word to express the concept (e.g., Schadenfreude) or because the speakers of the language had no previous experience with the concept to begin with (e.g., Japanese supuun, fooku).

    Or the entire language was completely dominated (politically) by a 2nd language for a very long time, as happened with the Norman Conquest of England, causing Middle English to lose such basic words as aunt & uncle < Old French ante & oncle ... the latter substitution causing a loss of distinction, as Old English had two words for uncle (ēam "maternal uncle" and fædera "paternal uncle").

    None of these situations applies in the case of Hochdeutsch (Standarddeutsch?) Baby. What was the original German word for baby, and why and how was such a fundamental concept replaced by an English word?
  2. ErOtto Senior Member

    38º 35' 32'' N - 0º 03' 59'' O
    Bilingual: Spanish (Spain) / German (Germany)

    Ba|by be:bi, das; -s, -s [engl. baby, Lallwort der Kinderspr.]: 1. a) Säugling, ...
  3. LMorland

    LMorland Senior Member

    Back in Berkeley for the time being.
    American living in France
    Yes, unless German speakers have somehow been able to reproduce for the past several hundred years without making babies. :D

    P.S. "What was the original German word for baby?" is perfectly good English, by the way. But your suggested alternative works as well, ErOtto. :)
    Last edited: Jan 5, 2011
  4. ErOtto Senior Member

    38º 35' 32'' N - 0º 03' 59'' O
    Bilingual: Spanish (Spain) / German (Germany)
    I know. :)

    I only wanted to notice that Säugling is the German word. It has not been replaced by an English word. It still exists. ;)

    Sorry for not being clear enough. :)
  5. berndf Moderator

    German (Germany)
    Or (which is the case here) your premise is wrong. All kind of languages borrow all the time left, right and centre for all kinds of reasons, not only when they are missing a concept or are dominated by another culture.
  6. LMorland

    LMorland Senior Member

    Back in Berkeley for the time being.
    American living in France
    Oh, well, that explains a lot. Except that it is unusual to have two words for baby. Are they used interchangeably? Is there a social preference for one over the other? Is Säugling seen as old-fashioned in certain areas?
    Säugling appears to be cognate to English suckling, most often used as an adjective (if memory serves): e.g., suckling child. I'm trying to determine at what point baby entered the English language, and I'm stuck at the moment, except that I've learned that as late as the mid-19th century the word babe was preferred to baby, 'baby being a word of the nursery'.

    Therefore the word must have entered German fairly recently, no?
  7. LMorland

    LMorland Senior Member

    Back in Berkeley for the time being.
    American living in France
    Really? What are these "all kinds of reasons", please?

    I would love to see a few examples of borrowings that have truly entered a culture, and are not just advertising-speak or temporarily popular slang. If a new word is adopted on a wide scale, it's there to fill a gap.

    French, for example, has no word for fun. So the French lately come to adopt the English word fun. It fills a gap.
  8. Savra Senior Member

    Es gibt noch ein weiteres gebräuchliches Wort: Kleinkind.

    Warum wir auch noch Baby haben? Eine gute Frage. Es klingt vielleicht niedlicher. :)
  9. Gernot Back

    Gernot Back Senior Member

    Cologne, Germany
    German - Germany
    Das ist aber gerade ein Kind, das dem Baby- oder Säuglingsalter entwachsen ist.

    Ich vermute, dass wir neben dem Begriff Säugling auch den des Babys benutzen, hat vor allem damit zu tun, dass Kleinkinder letzteres leichter aussprechen können und es ähnlich silbenreduplizierend ist wie die Bezeichnungen Mama und Papa.
    Last edited: Jan 5, 2011
  10. Hutschi

    Hutschi Senior Member

    Es ist dann auch analog zu "Mami" und "Papi".
  11. berndf Moderator

    German (Germany)
    This is because the roots are cognates but the words themselves are not. The morphological analyses are Säug-ling and suckl-ing, respectively. The German cognates of suckling are Säugung for the noun and säugend for the adjective (the original English suffixes -ing for the noun/gerund and -ent for the adjective/participle merged in ME; therefore there are two German cognates).

    A true cognate suck-ling exists in English as well but is to my knowledge only used for animals. It is derived from ME suken/souken from which both, ModE to suck (German saugen; from OHG sugan) and to suckle (German säugen; originally probably an i-umlauting of an unattested causative form *sugian of sugan), are derived. The extra "l" in the ModE verb to suckle might be a back-formation from this suckling. In OE, we also find, as in German, both, the original and the umlauted forms of the verb: sucan and sycan; the latter probably also being an i-umlaut of an original causative form *sucian. As a result of the loss of [y] in late OE/early ME (/y/>/u/ in West Saxon, /y/>/e/ in Kentish and /y/>/i/ in Anglian), the forms merged in ME into only one verb suken (in late ME mainly spelled souken).

    This is a good example of a word imported into a sub-culture language, in this case youth-language, to express the feeling of a group. Semantically, French doesn't have a gap, there are enough ways to express fun in standard French. It might be that the word will eventually enter standard French - maybe in a specialized meaning - but this remains to be seen (of course, I am not speaking of Quebecois here where it is already a standard word).

    But this is getting increasingly off-topic here. If you are interested, I will gladly continue this discussion in our Etymology and History of Language forum.
  12. LMorland

    LMorland Senior Member

    Back in Berkeley for the time being.
    American living in France
    I was astounded at your suggestion that English "suckling" comes from "suckl-" + "ing", and not "suck'" + "ling". Because "-ling" is a standard English suffix for a small thing; a diminutive, in other words. Ex: duckling, yearling, foundling. Unfortunately I'm an ocean away from my dictionaries, but I found this citation online:
    On the other hand, you're in good company with this suggestion:
    The below is from the same online etymological dictionary:
    And as for fun:
    I beg to differ. I should have been more specific: there is no noun to express the concept fun. If you want to say we had fun, you have use a verb form: nous nous sommes bien amusés or nous avons bien rigolé. Sometimes not having a noun at one's disposal is no fun! ;)

    Anyway, now that this thread has been moved, perhaps somebody will answer my questions above: Are Baby and Säugling used interchangeably? Is there a social preference for one over the other? Is Säugling seen as old-fashioned in certain areas?

    Not to mention that it would be nice to know the history of Baby in German! :)
    Last edited: Jan 7, 2011
  13. sokol

    sokol Senior Member

    Vienna, Austria; raised in Upper Austria
    Austrian (as opposed to Australian)
    Moderator note: Split from this thread in German forum.

    The question resulted from loaning English "baby" to German, where it exists besides native words for the same concept and even has become more frequent than the latter - so English "baby" nearly has replaced native German words. Thus, the question of this thread should be (re-formulated in accordance with LMorland):

    How is it that very basic concepts, such as the word for "baby", can be very nearly replaced by a loanword?

    Contributions about similar phenomenons in other languages than German are welcome if they relate to the same topic.
    Last edited: Jan 7, 2011
  14. Hutschi

    Hutschi Senior Member

    It may be of interest that only the noun exists in this form in German.
    The verb "to baby" is not transferred, also not the noun "babe" - the word "baby" is derived from as diminutive in English according to OED.
    This means only the name of one or some concepts is transferred, not the whole set of concepts connected to Baby.
  15. artion Senior Member

    It seems that in Greek the word "baby" filled a vacuum: The official Gr. vrefos and the general and colloquial moro are neuter in gender and common for girls and boys. Strangely, the Greeks instead of giving gender to these words, they borrowed the neutral baby and gave it genders: bebis (m.) and beba (f.). The Italian did the same with babino and babina. These forms (bebis/-a) are mostly used in singular and when referring to a particular baby known to the speakers (e.g. the baby of the family) and also in vocative when talking to the baby himself.
    Last edited by a moderator: Jan 7, 2011
  16. berndf Moderator

    German (Germany)
    I didn't say suck-ling didn't exist but that suck-ling and suckl-ing were separate words. To my knowledge, suck-ling is today only used for animals but I may be wrong. At least Webster agrees with me.

    You explicitly mentioned the use as an adjective and I mainly reacted to that because only suckl-ing can be an adjective. Suck-ling can only be a noun.
  17. hadronic Senior Member

    New York
    French - France
    I need say : French has a noun for "fun", it's "amusement".
    But funnily enough, it's English that misses a verb to say "s'amuser" ==> "to have fun", and moreover, "fun" in French is 99% of the cases an adjective : "c'etait fun", "une histoire fun", "que faire de fun?", and a noun in one expression figée : "pour le fun".
    Thread also :
  18. berndf Moderator

    German (Germany)
    This seems to be specific problem of foreigners living in a different cultural environment that they feel the need to export their way of formulating certain things into the other language. Being like you a foreigner living in a French speaking area, I think I know the phenomenon.

    French people seem perfectly happy expressing the notion with adjectives only. As hadronic wrote, the word is restricted to certain set phrases where it is mainly used as if it were an adjective.
  19. LMorland

    LMorland Senior Member

    Back in Berkeley for the time being.
    American living in France
    Oui, mais ça ne se dit pas assez souvent ! ;) Moreover, according to this dictionary, it doesn't really mean fun.
    Thank you, hadronic: you're quite right to point out that English doesn't have a verb for fun -- I never thought of that! :D And I thank you also for pointing out that fun is primarily used as an adjective in French.

    However, my point obtains whether or not fun is used as a noun or an adjective. (It is both in English: We had fun last night! It was a fun evening.) I believe that it fills a gap. Of course, one can say c'est amusant, or c'est le pied, but evidently they don't quite suffice -- otherwise why would the French have adopted the word fun ?

    * * * * *

    In any case, berndf, I do not believe that I am glomming my anglophone perspective onto French. That is, while it's kind of you to share your experience of being a foreigner living in a francophone country, I don't think that this is a case of my "export[ing my] way of formulating certain things into the other language."

    The adoption of the English word fun into French is a phenomenon; it exists! All I'm trying to do is to deconstruct it. The fact that hadronic can quickly cite 4 uses of fun testifies to the fact that it's becoming rooted into French soil. A Google search of fun restricting to French (France) brings up 3,600,000 results! Here are some (all commercial sites, as it happens) selected at random:

    Fun Radio, Videos Fun, Trop Fun, Fun Parc Aventure, Fun Chryzode, Annuaire Fun,, Fun Style, Fun XP, Fun Rider ....

    Further, the link hadronic gave reveals that the word fun was adopted into Quebecois French half a century ago at least: C'est l'fun!

    So it's incontestable that the French language has adopted the word fun. My question is 'why'?

    If the "need" wasn't there, that leaves only one other explanation: the sole factor for lexical borrowing that I omitted in my original post is called "prestige". It's possible that the taste for English words is so very high among French young people that it has driven the adoption of this word into the lexicon.

    But the same wasn't true among Germans at the time Baby was brought into the language. Or was it? We still have not resolved my original question. :)
    Last edited: Jan 8, 2011
  20. berndf Moderator

    German (Germany)
    I said it was a youth-culture term but not a standard language word and I still think this is true. Commercial terminology is stuffed with Anglicisms all over Europe. That doesn't prove much.
    No disagreement. I wrote earlier:
    I agree with you that this is the explanation here and in many other cases:
    Indeed, because it is not the "sole" other reason. I think many factors might have played a role. One of them being "fashion" or "prestige" but it was probably only an accelerating factor as the word started to gain currency already in the 19th century before it became fashionable to use English loans (click). Gernot probably gave the most important reason:
  21. апопумоуs New Member

    bad English
    Folks, throw a look at ngrams googlelabs dot com. Bébé first appears 1820s and becomes truly big in the 1850s. Baby, in the English language corpus, parallells this developement tenfold lower frequency. The baby of German, resembles that but is even rarer. Question is: why did they borrow bébé all of the sudden from their baby talk? Knowyourmeme doesn't reach as far back yet. Too bad.
  22. Baby (bébé) clearly started as "baby-talk", like the other repetitive words: mama, dada, papa, nana, baba etc.

    I wonder whether it's absorption into German is a post-WWII phenomenon, when the country was influenced by modern American and British culture, with so many pop songs containing the word "baby".

    Others may know better.
  23. berndf Moderator

    German (Germany)
    It was clearly an accelerating factor but the word existed before (see chart in #20).
  24. swift

    swift Senior Member

    Spanish – Costa Rica (Valle Central)
    Excusez que je m'incruste ici.

    En espagnol, nous avons un cas similaire à celui évoqué dans le premier message : le mot bebé est en effet un emprunt au français « bébé ». Ce mot est retenu pour la première fois dans l'édition de 1927 du Diccionario Academia Manual de l'académie espagnole, et il porte la marque gallicisme. « Bebé » a pratiquement remplacé le mot nene dans de nombreux pays hispanophones. Ce mot est lexicalisé à tel point que dans certains pays, comme le Vénézuéla et le Chili, on trouve la forme féminisée beba pour les petites filles. Nous avons aussi le mot rorro qui appartient au registre familier et qui désigne non pas le nourrisson mais tout "petit enfant".

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