English has borrowed (or stolen?) a lot of vocabulary from other languages such as Latin, German, Italian, French and Spanish etc. Most words that are borrowed are anglicized and are pronounce the way English prefers. There are many examples out there.

But nowadays when English borrows words from other languages, it does not always anglicize those new words and pronounce them the way they are pronounced in the language they are borrowed from.

Examples: bon vivant: /ˌbɔ̃ːŋ viˈvɑ̃ːŋ/, mot juste: /ˌməʊ ˈʒuːst/, au fait: /ˌəʊ ˈfeɪ/, pas de deux: /ˌpɑː də ˈdɜː/, c'est la vie: /ˌseɪ lə ˈviː/

Most of them have some silent letters. There are many more.

Why doesn't English anglicize them and give them its own (anglicized) pronunciations? Is there any specific reason for that or it's just a respect for the language English borrow words from? Also, most of them are marked as "formal", why is that so?

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    Many of the people who are familiar with such phrases are also familiar with the languages from which they derive and are not keen to mangle the pronunciation. Having said which, if you travel through continental Europe, you will hear more words borrowed from English than vice versa. Nov 8, 2020 at 9:58
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    Pas de deux is a ballet term; French is regarded as the international language of ballet in the same way that Italian is the language of music. Nov 8, 2020 at 10:27
  • The words are anglicized, particularly the vowels. No native speaker of the source language would have trouble detecting that when an English speaker pronounces them, they sound different, or “off.” Apr 27 at 0:25

2 Answers 2


I think you have some selection bias in your observation. For example, none of your example loanwords were added to English "nowadays", but rather during the 1700s and early 1800s, per quick google searches.

As a general rule, it depends a) who is using the loan word, and b) what languages they are familiar with. If the loanword is primarily used by people with a passing knowledge or familiarity of the source language (at least until it becomes "established"), then it is more likely to be non-anglicized.

For example, all of your examples are from French, deal with relatively high society concepts, and were brought into English (specifically British English) in a time period when the upper classes were taught French (as it was Europe's lingua franca, another example of the same class of words).

In contrast there are loan words from Spanish, that are physical/"lower class" concepts, that frequently came via sailors, soldiers and explorers, from both before and after the above period period that have completely anglicized in terms of pronunciation. For example, "tobacco", "anchovy", and "alligator" came into English from Spanish in the late 1500's, but are all anglicized, as are "canyon", and "tuna", which were borrowed in the mid to late 1800's.

This division even happens within the same language, most notably Latin. For example, the following list of legal terms are not anglicized. However, English has anglicized many Latin roots, as well as whole words, such as "comet"(from cometa), "infant"(from the Latin for "not speaking") or servant/serf(from servus).

So to summarize: Most foreign-origin phrases in English are used by "common people", and become anglicized. Loan words that are tended to be used by people familiar with their original languages tend to not be anglicized.

  • Tabak was from the Arawaks, the native Caribbean tribe of Puerto Rico and Hispanola. And keeping pronunciations preserves the original feelings conveyed by the terms. Nov 8, 2020 at 21:49

It wouldn't be possible to "Anglicise" pure foreign words like tobacco, anchovy, or alligator, bungalow or pyjama, kangaroo or boomerang which leapt into English precisely because we had no relevant native term.

Bon vivant, mot juste, au fait, pas de deux, la vie might seem pretentious because they do have equivalents, but the French phrases tend to be shorter, sharper and better suited to the purpose. In French, bon vivant might be a tiny twist away from "good living/liver" but a real English equivalent would clutter itself up with "a person who enjoys (living) the good life” or "a connoisseur of food and drink…" quite a jumble even without "… and of the other things that go along with a life of leisure and luxury…" (dictionary.com/browse/bon-vivant)

Others simply take a long time to bed themselves in. Even 60 years ago, we Brits chose on the spot whether to spell hôtel with a French accent and silence the "H"; whether a theatrical part was a rôle, and either might still have been written in italics. Nowadays, who minds?

The meaning might be obvious but could "long chair" be as warm or cosy as chaise longue?

In general, it's a question of usage. If it's taken up by fewer people, the loan-term will keep its original associations. The more it's taken up, the more it makes itself at home, as when the phrase "de bon aire" collapsing into "debonair".

I think "we all know" that today, "debonair" is having a gay or light-hearted atmosphere about one… "gay" in its traditional sense

I think "we all know" that French "de bon aire" translates literally as "of/having a good air/atmosphere"…

Please note, though, most of Google's resources insist the original French "… aire" referred to family, breeding or manners, leaving only a faint trace of itself.

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