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In linguistics, an internationalism or international word is a loanword that occurs in several languages (that is, translingually) with the same or at least similar meaning and etymology. These words exist in "several different languages as a result of simultaneous or successive borrowings from the ultimate source".[1] Pronunciation and orthography are similar so that the word is understandable between the different languages.

It is debated how many languages are required for a word to be considered an internationalism.[citation needed] Furthermore, the languages required can also depend on the specific target language at stake. For example, according to Ghil'ad Zuckermann, the most important languages that should include the same lexical item in order for it to qualify as an internationalism in Hebrew are Yiddish, Polish, Russian, French, German and English.[2]

The term is uncommon in English[citation needed], although English has contributed a considerable number of words to world languages, e.g., the sport terms football, baseball, cricket, and golf.

International scientific vocabulary is a class of terms that contains many internationalisms. For some of them it is known which modern language used them first, whereas for others it is not traceable, but the chronologic sequence is usually of limited practical importance anyway, as almost immediately after their origination they appeared in multiple languages.


European internationalisms originate primarily from Latin or Greek, but from other languages as well.[3] However, due to English being the main lingua franca of the Western world, an increasing number of internationalisms originate from English. Many non-European words have also become international.


Internationalisms often spread together with the innovations they designate. Accordingly, there are semantic fields dominated by specific languages, e.g. the computing vocabulary which is mainly English with internationalisms such as computer, disk, and spam. New inventions, political institutions, foodstuffs, leisure activities, science, and technological advances have all generated new lexemes and continue to do so: bionics, cybernetics, gene, coffee, chocolate, etc..

Some internationalisms are spread by speakers of one language living in geographical regions where other languages are spoken. For example, some internationalisms coming from the English in India are bungalow, jute, khaki, mango, pyjamas, and sari.[citation needed]

Use in constructed IALs

See also: Interlingua

Due to their widespread use, internationalisms are often loaned into international auxiliary languages. Many constructed IALs borrow vocabulary that is already known by learners, so that they are as easy as possible to learn.

Internationalisms that occur in many languages are usually eligible to be included in Interlingua. Early internationalisms, such as those from French and German, tend to be part of Interlingua's basic vocabulary. Later internationalisms, often from English, tend to be Interlingua loanwords. Among Asian languages, Arabic most often provides basic vocabulary, while Japanese contributes recent loanwords.


See also

Further reading


  1. ^ Arnold, Irina Vladimirovna (1986). The English Word (PDF). Moscow. Retrieved 2022-07-22.((cite book)): CS1 maint: location missing publisher (link)
  2. ^ Pages 187-188 in Language Contact and Lexical Enrichment in Israeli Hebrew, by Ghil'ad Zuckermann, Palgrave Macmillan, 2003.
  3. ^ Wexler, Paul (1969). "Towards a Structural Definition of 'Internationalisms'". Linguistics. 7 (48). doi:10.1515/ling.1969.7.48.77. ISSN 0024-3949. S2CID 144470730.