Bilingualism: Language and Cognition

Research Article

Testing the nonce borrowing hypothesis: Counter-evidence from English-origin verbs in Welsh*


a1 ESRC Centre for Research on Bilingualism in Theory and Practice, Bangor University


According to the nonce borrowing hypothesis (NBH), “[n]once borrowings pattern exactly like their native counterparts in the (unmixed) recipient language” (Poplack & Meechan, 1998a, p. 137). Nonce borrowings (Sankoff, Poplack & Vanniarajan, 1990, p. 74) are “lone other-language items” which differ from established borrowings in terms of frequency of use and recognition. Lone other-language items are singly occurring words from the “donor” language which are preceded and followed by words or phrases from the “recipient” language. Whether such other-language words belong only to the donor language (and are classed as codeswitches) or to both the donor and the recipient language (and are classed as borrowings) is both a theoretical and a practical issue. Poplack & Meechan (1998a) suggest that this question can be settled by measuring the linguistic integration of donor-language words, so that infrequent donor-language words which behave like their recipient-language counterparts are categorised as (nonce) borrowings. This suggests that frequency of use need play no role in the extent to which other-language items are linguistically integrated into the recipient language. We challenge this hypothesis with an analysis of soft mutation on English-origin verbs in Welsh, which shows that integration is related to frequency.

(Received August 25 2010)

(Revised May 27 2011)

(Accepted July 01 2011)

(Online publication December 15 2011)


c1 Address for correspondence: Margaret Deuchar, ESRC Centre for Research on Bilingualism in Theory and Practice, Bangor University, College Road, Bangor, Gwynedd LL57 2DG, Wales, UK


* This research was funded by award no. 112230 from the AHRC (Arts and Humanities Research Council) in the UK to the second author. The work presented in this paper was part of the programme of the ESRC Centre for Research on Bilingualism in Theory and Practice at Bangor University. We would like to thank Gwen Awbery, Ad Backus, Phylip Brake, Peredur Davies, Marcel den Dikken, Eva Eppler, Carl James, Bob Morris Jones, Siân Lloyd-Williams, Kara McAlister, Carol Myers-Scotton, Shana Poplack, Elen Robert and Alberto Rosignoli for commenting on an earlier version of the paper, and two anonymous reviewers. In addition, we would like to thank Diana Carter, Edward Carter and Hans Stadthagen-Gonzalez for help with statistics.