Word Mobbing/Borrowing

A delightful phenomenon in translation is the transfer of words from and into other languages. As we all know languages are remarkably flexible systems and it is an enjoyable sight when we see a word break free of one language and migrate into another system and then take on a new life. Making the break from one system and moving to another is the simple part. Putting roots down in another system is a little more complicated.

The hegemony of English has meant that other languages readily steal or are sometimes compelled to borrow from English. New dictionaries that use English, be they Polish-English, German-English, French-English or otherwise often contain false friend sections where we can learn how we should avoid certain words and constructions. Countless lists of such false friends can be easily found on the internet.

An interesting transfer that has occurred relatively recently is the term mobbing. The verb to mob means ‘to jostle, hustle’; ‘to crowd into’ or ‘to attack in large numbers’. However, the word mobbing has decided to burrow into the rich, fertile ground of several other languages including German and Polish wherein it has come to mean something different.

In these two languages, mobbing can refer to mental and physical attacks and generally intimidation found in the workplace. This has led to a situation where German and Polish translators often translate the word mobbing straight into English without considering its context whereas a more appropriate English equivalent for this English loanword would be bullying, intimidation or harassment.

32 Responses to “Word Mobbing/Borrowing”

  1. jessiejaxon Says:

    The last sentence was really important and interesting. I am trying to follow the life of the word bigos and pierogi in the UK and the USA. One basketball coach said he enjoys the pierogies and I’ve heard the British are delighted with bigos. Therefore, I’m waiting for the evolution of these words.

  2. transubstantiation Says:

    The evolution will probably amount to very little with the only additions being plurals and perhaps verb: “pierogies”, “bigoses”, “I’m all pierogied out” or even “Let’s start bigosing” etc.

  3. Luiza Jasińska Says:

    According to me, currently there are too many transfers of words from other languages into Polish. For me it is not a problem when I see an English word in a Polish article, but I know the language, and what about all those people how do not? We can transfer them, but maybe change them slightly, so that they could be understandable for an average reader.

  4. transubstantiation Says:

    Whether we like it or not is of no importance in reality as we have no influence (or say) in the matter.

  5. Monika K. Says:

    There can be no doubt that Polish language borrows a lot of words from English. I agree with Luiza that very often these words are not understood by many Poles, so I think that they should be explained to average Polish reader (I’m writing about those new words, which are not omnipresent in our language yet).

  6. transubstantiation Says:

    How does one go about explaining new words within a text?

  7. Patrycja F. Says:

    The way I see it is that you cannot avoid using SOME English words in Polish for the simple reason that loads of new technologies are invented in America. Whereas I can understand the presence of these English names ( like for example “cd” instead of “płyta kompaktowa”) used in most languages, I cannot justify using such words like “follow up” in Polish if you can simply say “sprawdzić” (one of my lecturer(Polish) used it today – “robić follow-up” when talking about checking how the things shape up.

  8. Kate Says:

    Personally, I agree that we have many borrowings in our language. I want to stress that it’s indispensible factor as far as lg development is concerned.A language is evolving all the time and such phenomenon is unavoidable. How would you say the word “weekend” in pure Polish? – This could be “sobota i niedziela” but of course that’s ridiculous as people tend to simplify things not the other way round.

  9. Kate Says:

    Personally, I agree that we have many borrowings in our language. I want to stress that it’s indispensible factor as far as lg development is concerned.A language is evolving all the time and such phenomenon is unavoidable. How would you say the word “weekend” in pure Polish? – This could be “sobota i niedziela” but of course that’s ridiculous as people tend to simplify things not the other way round. But, there is one danger, as was previously said – false friends. We have to be aware of them, know them so as not to sound funny and irrational.

  10. transubstantiation Says:

    Weekend = “zapiątek”. There are always possibilities for other equivalents but those who would like to fashion language in their own image usually (thank goodness) have absolutely nothing to do with the process.

  11. Małgorzata Olszak Says:

    I enjoy the fact that languages are flexible systems and we can transfer words from one language to another. I don’t mind that nowadays there are more and more borrowings from English into Polish as far as our native language exists in everyday conversations and still lives (and I think it does!). More nad more people speak English so if we have fun with transfering words, why not?:)

  12. agata Says:

    I don’t mind borrowing (because sometimes they are necessary) but to be honest it doesn’t look good when Polish text is flooded with words of English origin. Such texts are not understandable for the general audience, namely for people who don’t speak English. Additionally, I think that we should be especially careful with false friends. Many translators commit errors by choosing the wrong equivalent, and therefore they change the meaning of a phrase, sentence etc.

  13. Łukasz Says:

    Borrowing is indeed a beatiful phenomenon in a language. However,it musn’t be overdone, as sometimes we can observe a situation in which Polish words, which are completely fine and have been used for ages, are replaced with English equivalents. A case in point is a football jargon. Polish words which are short, are easly pronounced, and have been used since Poles started playing football, or longer, such as “bramkarz”, “róg” are being replaced with “goalkeeper”, “corner”. And this is done by professional commentators, e.g. Mr Szaranowicz. Shame on them! They, and especially they, should be meticulous and carefull while commentating sports events, for obvious reasons. I’m not a language purist, but I think there must be some limits.

  14. transubstantiation Says:

    Yes, but how do you limit language borrowing? This surely is not possible.

  15. Paul Says:

    The borrowing of English words and their incorporation into other languages is a common practice. The reason is either the comfort of not inventing/creating new words in our own language (typical of computer terms) or the usage of certain foreign words because of their “coolness” (typical of slang words). Sometimes a situation occurs when the borrowing word/phrase meaning is altered or even lost. In Polish such situation occurred with the English word ‘sorry’ which is used in situations where ‘excuse me’ is the proper one.

  16. Alicja Piotrowska Says:

    I think that borrowings are sometimes simply unavoidable, that is why people should be so careful when using words similar to words in other languages. You gave a brilliant example of false friend (mobbing), I’ve got another, a more funny one. A young Pole in London goes into drug store and asks for ‘preservatives’. The confused chemist replies that they do not sell them here. The young Pole is even more confused as he sees ‘preservatives’ over the counter I hope you all got the point and what the Pole really wanted

  17. Pawel Suwara Says:

    I fully agree with you, and I must say you had a very interesting example:).

  18. Sylwia K. Says:

    After reading the article and all responses I can only add that English is a lucky devil. Is there any language which doesn’t borrow from it? It’s a pity that Polish won’t be sound like Polish soon. Everything is going towards that direction. Unfortunately, Poland doesn’t have many ‘pierogi thing’ words.

  19. transubstantiation Says:

    A wonderful reference is “EMPIRES OF THE WORD” by Nicholas Ostler which charters the ‘lives’ of certain major linguistic empires (like English).

  20. Magda Karaś Says:

    Personally, I don’have any objections to borrowings as I understand most of them but those people who do not have any contact with foreign languages can have some problems with understanding the main idea of the text or somebody’s speech.

  21. Kasia Styczyńska Says:

    I think that borrowing may enrich any language, but also make it sound strange. Too many borrowings in Polish language sound ridiculous. Some people think that using many foreign words will make they sound more serious or qualified, but sometimes it may be confusing for people who do not know, for example English language. People sometimes overuse foreign words, which surely have their equivalents in Polish. Nonetheless, I think that in the case of words like: the names of traditional dishes, we should live it as it is in the original.

  22. Milena M Says:

    We should be very careful with false fiends while translating; the example of mobbing is very common. The translator should be very suspicious because any word could be a genuine surprise. Borrowings are more and more common in Polish language and sometimes it seems to me that they are omnipresent. Nowadays in Poland, the tendency to borrow English words is “trendy”, especially among teenagers. The phenomenon of borrowing is another example of the English language imperialism.

  23. transubstantiation Says:

    An interesting borrowing is the word “trendy” itself. Does this work mean exactly the same in English and in Polish? Will it mean the same in 5 years? In ten years? The change of meaning in “handicap” in English and in Polish is also an interesting example of semantic divergence.

  24. Agnieszka Krysztofik Says:

    Speaking of the Polish language, there are many borrowings from English like, for example, the words ending with -ing (lifting, marketing, mobbing and many many more). Translators usually do not translate them into Polish because they are already rooted in our language and culture. People use as well as hear them in everyday life. When it comes to false friends, a translator should be very careful while dealing with them as they are very confusing. Many translators who have to do with false friends are tempted to translate them without even checking their meaning in a dictionary which is a big mistake because very often a false friend is deceptively similar to a Polish word whose meaning is completely different, for example ‘lecture’ is a talk given by somebody to teach people about a partcular subject and not required reading (lektura) or ‘alimentation’ is the process of giving food to somebody or being fed and not payment of alimony (alimenty).

  25. Marta Zawilska Says:

    Firstly, I think an important topic has been considered in this article – false friends. Most of us (students of English and would-be translators;))should be familiar with the most commonly used false friends. Yet, as we can see on the example of the word ‘mobbing’ we must always be on the alert, even when translating borrowings from English. In my opinion, it’s a very interesting case – a word taken from English, but used in a different context… so nothing can be taken for granted:(

    Secondly, the phenomenon of transferring English words into Polish… Yes, in many cases it’s simply more covenient to use English equivalents of certain Polish words, as e.g., they are much shorter. It’s true that sometimes there are no Polish equivalents for certain phenomena or inventions which were first observed or invented in English-speaking countries or simply were given English names. But to me, some people ‘slightly’ exaggerate. Why change our beautiful and rich language when there’s no reasonable need? Why, for example, before visiting a doctor some people say ‘przyszedłem na CONTROL’ instead of using the word ‘kontrola’? To show off? Interesting that many of such people don’t know English so well… Such cases are very interesting to me. I observe the phenomenon of language borrowing with great interest, and I think it’s amazing how everything changes, but in some cases it makes me a bit worried, when some people simply get it the wrong way.

  26. transubstantiation Says:

    Interesting point here. English is often seen as a cultural high – something that people wish to attain, therefore, adding the odd English word into Polish has the same effect as English people adding the odd French word into their speech.

  27. Iwona Wiśniewska Says:

    I like the fact that the borrowings from other languages exist. It makes translator’s life easier;) Besides the languages must change and develop I think of borrowings as the development.

  28. Iza Pawlak Says:

    I tottaly agree with you Iwona. I think that borrowings from one language into another are very common nowadays(it would be very hard to stop this phenomenon)and they make tanslator life easier:)
    I think it’s quite interesting to ‘think of borrowings as the development’

  29. pawel_b Says:

    Borrowings is a fascinating subject, indeed. Most of them occur in the fields which are developing very fast, i.e. advertising or technology. People who manage to follow up the trends and the development will be able to understand what certain borrowed words mean, whereas others will not – this is as simple as that. If you are up-to-date with new inventions, you will know how to talk about it even if an English name is used.. perhaps, for example, in newspapers, it might be advisable that some borrowings be explained in plain Polish (say, in brackets) – to make a text more understandable for a wider range of readers.
    As many others, I hate people overusing borrowings – the most notable example of which is the one quoted often by Mrs Kaminska (love her!) – “przeforwarduj mi tego mejla” – used in the advertising circles🙂 also, students and professors of English tend to use English words in Polish sentences, adapting the words to Polish phonetic rules🙂 this is our “zboczenie zawodowe” (I guess), which we should get rid of.

  30. Magda Pietkiewicz Says:

    In my opinion there are definitely too many borrowings from other languages. Just like in Polish. I don’t understand this constant use of “sorry” instead of “przepraszam” or “ale masz fajny car” instad of “samochód”. Polish language has so many beautiful words. If know young people don’t know the meaning of rather simple Polish words, what will happen to our language in 10 or 20 years?

  31. transubstantiation Says:

    That is how languages work – they borrow. There is absolutely nothing one can do about it.


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