Barbarism (linguistics)

A barbarism is a non-standard word, expression or pronunciation in a language, particularly one regarded as an error in morphology, while a solecism is an error in syntax.[1] The label was originally applied to mixing Ancient Greek or Latin with other languages. It expanded to indicate any inappropriate words or expressions in classical studies, and eventually to any language considered unpolished or rude.[2] The term is used mainly for the written language. With no accepted technical meaning in modern linguistics, the term is little used by contemporary descriptive scientists.[3]


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).[4][full citation needed]

The earliest use of the word in English to describe inappropriate usage was in the sixteenth century to refer to mixing other languages with Latin or Greek, especially in texts treating Classics.[2] By the seventeenth century barbarism had taken on a more general, less precise sense of unsuitable language. In The History of Philosophy, for example, Thomas Stanley declares, "Among the faults of speech is Barbarisme, a phrase not in use with the best persons, and Solecisme, a speech incoherently framed" [sic].[5] Hybrid words, which combine affixes or other elements borrowed from multiple languages, were sometimes decried as barbarism. Thus the authors of the Encyclopædia Metropolitana criticized the French word linguistique ("linguistics") as "more than ordinary barbarism, for the Latin substantive lingua is here combined, not merely with one, but with two Greek particles".[6] Such mixing is generally considered standard in contemporary English.[3]

Although barbarism has no precise technical definition, the term is still used in non-technical discussions of language use to describe a word or usage as incorrect or nonstandard.[3] Gallicisms (use of French words or idioms), Germanisms, Hispanisms, and so forth in English can be construed as examples of barbarisms, as can Anglicisms in other languages.[citation needed]

In the Russian language[]

In the 18th and 19th centuries, the Russian language of noble classes was severely "barbarized" by the French language.[7][8] 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. ^ "Livy's Patavinitas," Kurt Latte, Classical Philology, Vol. 35, No. 1 (Jan., 1940), pp. 56–60
  2. ^ a b James Murray, ed. (1885). "barbarism, n.". Oxford English Dictionary. London: Clarendon Press.
  3. ^ a b c McArthur, Roshan (2005). R. McArthur & T. McArthur, ed. Concise Oxford Companion to the English Language. Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0-19-280637-6.
  4. ^ See Barbarism (etymology) The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language: Fourth Edition. 2000.
  5. ^ Stanley, Thomas (1656). The History of Philosophy. H. Moseley and T. Dring. p. 33.
  6. ^ John Stoddart; William Hazlitt (1858). Encyclopædia Metropolitana; or, System of Universal Knowledge.
  7. ^ Lev Uspensky, A Word about Words, Ch. 8 (in Russian)
  8. ^ Карский Е. Ф., О так называемых барбаризмах в русском языке (краткий отчёт Виленской 2 гимназии), Вильна, 1886:

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