Barbarism (modern linguistics)

A barbarism is a non-standard word, expression or pronunciation in a language,[1] particularly one regarded as an error in morphology, while a solecism is an error in syntax.[2] The term is used mainly for the written language. With no accepted technical meaning in modern linguistics, the term is little used by descriptive scientists.


The word barbarism was originally used by the Greeks for foreign terms used in their language. ("Barbarism" is related to the word "barbarian"; the ideophone "bar-bar-bar" was the ancient Greek equivalent of modern English "blah-blah-blah", meant to sound like gibberish — hence the negative connotation of both barbarian and barbarism).[3] As such, Anglicisms in other languages, or Gallicisms (such as using the verb to assist to mean to be present at, cf. the French assister), Germanisms, Hispanisms, and so forth in English can also be construed as examples of barbarisms.

In the Russian language

In the 18th and 19th centuries, the Russian language of noble classes was severely "barbarized" by the French language.[4][5] During this period, speaking in French had become not only fashionable but also had become a distinction of a properly groomed person. One may see a prominent example of this in Leo Tolstoy's War and Peace. While the cream of the high society could afford themselves a genuine French gouvernante (governess, i.e., female live-in tutor), the provincial "upper class" had problems with this. Still, the desire to show off their education produced what Griboyedov in his Woe from Wit termed "the mixture of the tongues: French with Nizhegorodian" (смешенье языков: французского с нижегородским). The French-Nizhegorodian was often used for comical effect in literature and theatre.

See also

Notes and references

  1. Usage note: the term barbarism is contrasted with barbarity as the two terms have different meaning. Barbarism specifically indicates a misuse of language, but also more generally indicates culturally lacking in refinement or distinction. In contrast, barbarity indicates a severity of cruelty or brutality that is generally unacceptable among a civilized people. (See etymology note infra).
  2. "Livy's Patavinitas," Kurt Latte, Classical Philology, Vol. 35, No. 1 (Jan., 1940), pp. 56–60
  3. See Barbarism (etymology) The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language: Fourth Edition. 2000.
  4. Lev Uspensky, A Word about Words, Ch. 8 (Russian)
  5. Карский Е. Ф., О так называемых барбаризмах в русском языке (краткий отчёт Виленской 2 гимназии), Вильна, 1886:

External links

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