PhiN 53/2010: 62

Esme Winter-Froemel (Tübingen)

Les people, les pipoles, les pipeuls: Variance in loanword integration

Les people, les pipoles, les pipeuls: Variance in loanword integration
The standard view on linguistic borrowing can be expressed by the formula "word form X from language A is borrowed by language B, where it is integrated into word form Y", e.g. E. people ['pip(ə)l] → F. people [pi'pœl]. However, if we study this loan in more detail, such a view is revealed to be over-simplified, as many alternative realizations of this loan can be observed in the target language (TL). This becomes particularly clear if we use the Internet as the main corpus of investigation. Building on this observation, this article addresses two main questions: 1) What types of variation can occur in language contact situations? 2) What theoretical implications can be drawn from the variation observed? Concerning the first question, I will propose a distinction of three aspects of variation: lexical alternatives, variation – or variance – with respect to the linguistic levels concerned (spelling, pronunciation, and morphology), and variation on the individual vs. societal level. Concerning the second question, I will maintain that variance in loans potentially undermines the predictability of loanword integration as well as the assumption that loans are necessarily represented as fully specified units in the TL speakers' mental lexicon. Therefore, I will finally argue for a usage-based perspective on language contact and borrowing which builds on individual situations of speaker-hearer-interaction.

1 Lexical borrowing, a well-known phenomenon?

In language contact studies, borrowing has always been a topic of great interest. Traditional research has mainly focused on loanwords in individual languages, which are treated as a key subject of lexicology and lexicography (cf. DEA / Görlach (ed.) 2002; Fischer & Pułaczewska (eds.) 2008 / examples (1) and (2)). More recent studies have emphasized the necessity to adopt a wider perspective and integrate comparative or typological approaches (cf. e.g. the Loanword Typology project and the World Loanword Database / WOLD; Haspelmath & Tadmor 2009 / examples (3) and (4)). Current theoretical discussions are mostly dedicated to grammatical and phonological borrowing and to borrowing phenomena in situations of intense language contact (pidgins, creoles, mixed languages etc.; cf. Matras 2009: 193–233, 275–307). For lexical borrowing in situations of weak language contact, in contrast, studies such as Betz (1949) and Haugen (1950 / example (5)) still are widely used without or with only few substantial theoretical modifications.1

(1) E. fit 'in good health or athletic condition' → G. fit 'id.' (DEA)
(2) E. sandwich 'two or more slices of usu. buttered bread with a filling of meat, cheese, etc., between them' → I. sandwich ['sɛndwitʃ] M. pl. ∅ (DEA)
(3) F. sol → Romanian sol 'the soil' ("clearly borrowed") (WOLD)
(4) F. montagne → E. mountain 'the mountain or hill' ("clearly borrowed") (WOLD)
(5) F. charivari → Amer.E. shivaree (Haugen 1950)

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We may thus conclude that lexical borrowing is a fairly well-known and well-understood phenomenon. The basic assumption in most traditional approaches can be stated as follows (cf. examples (1) to (5) above):

(6) Lexical borrowing is a process in which a word form X from language A is borrowed by language B, where it is integrated into word form Y.

Several points are noteworthy here. Lexical borrowing is viewed as a relatively simple process in which a new word is introduced into language B (hence, the target language or TL), and this word can be traced back to another word in language A (hence, the source language or SL). The process of borrowing may be accompanied by certain formal changes which are generally treated as loanword integrations; these integrations are mostly regular and therefore predictable. Finally, borrowing is analyzed as a process which takes place between two languages.2

Yet a closer look at recent borrowings challenges these basic assumptions in various respects: in many cases, alternative realizations of the loan coexist, at least for a certain time, in the TL (see example (7), where DEA lists different pronunciations and plural morphemes for the Spanish borrowing of E. sandwich). These alternations affect aspects such as spelling, pronunciation, gender assignment and inflection (see examples (8) to (11)). This phenomenon is particularly frequent if we look at recent loans in the Internet, but lexicographic data shows that such hesitations between alternative TL realizations are also frequent in older loans (see examples (12) and (13)). We can speculate that such variation mainly occurs in a relatively early stage of propagation, when the loans are not yet fully conventionalized or lexicalized in the TL. Even then, however, this fact seems highly important, as variation between different realizations of the loan has to be considered the normal case – and not an exception – in the process of lexical borrowing.

(7) E. sandwich 'two or more slices of usu. buttered bread with a filling of meat, cheese, etc., between them' → Sp. sandwich ['sanwitʃ / 'sanwiʃ] M. pl. -s / -es (DEA)
(8) E. fuel → F. fuel / fioul (PR, TLFi, DHLF)
(9) E. fuel → F. fuel [fjul] / [fy'ɛl] (PR, TLFi)
(10) E. e-mail → G. E-Mail f. / n. (Duden)
(11) I. pizza → G. Pizza, Pl. Pizze / Pizzas / Pizzen (Wegener 2004, EWDS)
(12) (A)F. soil → E. soil; early occurrences: soyle / soyl / soile / soil (OED)
(13) E. bowling-green boulingrin; early occurrences: F. poulingrin (1663) / boulingrin (1664) (DHLF)

Similar alternatives are at most attested by traditional lexicographic studies on loans, but they are generally not systematically analyzed, and they are not treated as problematic cases. In this paper, I will argue, in contrast, that the observation of loanword variants puts into serious question the possibility of strong predictions about loanword integration. In order to capture such variation and account for it, it seems necessary to go beyond lexicological investigations of fully established loans in the TL and to take into account corpus data, i.e. individual examples of how the loans are in fact used by the TL speakers. I will focus on the recent loan F. people (← E. people) with some of its French derivations (most notably F. pipolisation) using the Internet as the main corpus of investigation. From the data gathered I will argue that in an inherently usage-based view, which assumes the perspective of the speakers who actually introduce the loans into the TL and propagate them within the TL, borrowing is revealed to be a much more complex process than suggested by the formula given in (6). In fact, lexical borrowing is characterized by an interplay of a wide range of both structural / functional and social factors. Its inherent dynamics and the important role of speakers' creativity which is at play here make it a highly intriguing phenomenon which permits us to address certain key questions of linguistic analysis.

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2 Overview: The evolution of F. people and the Internet as a corpus

The English word people has recently been borrowed into French, where has become enormously successful, and it has already been entered into standard dictionaries such as PR. Concerning the chronology of this borrowing, PR indicates the year 1998 for the first occurrence in French. A more widespread propagation of this loan in the TL can be observed from the year 2000 on. However, at least at present time, F. people is only rarely attested in traditional corpora such as Frantext. In order to study this borrowing and to linguistically analyze the various kinds of variance / variation which occur here, I will therefore use the Internet as the main corpus of investigation.

An immediate advantage of the Internet as a corpus can be seen in the fact that the occurrences appear in authentic utterances and that in many cases information on the situation of communication and on the communication partners is provided (voluntary indications about age, sex, knowledge of languages, residence, etc.).3 Moreover, a central characteristic of language usage in the Internet can be seen in the fact that it also contains utterances with a low degree of planning, i.e. relatively spontaneous language. More specifically, certain text genres or discourse traditions bound to the Internet (blog entries, comments to blogs, postings in discussion forums, etc.) seem to foster linguistic innovations, as these can function as positive signs of creativity and inventiveness. At the same time, language in the Internet is characterized by a low degree of normativity, as (contrarily to standard dictionaries, etc.) there is no overall control mechanism which selects between accepted and non-accepted linguistic forms (see also example (14)).4 This fact seems particularly relevant if we investigate the use of linguistic forms which are not fully lexicalized or conventionalized, as in early stages of the propagation of F. people and other TL forms which have developed out of this loan.

(14)[…] @JB : People, pipole, pipeule ... tu connais la politique (mon dieu quel mot !) de ce blog, t'écris comme tu veux du moment que tu te crois pas sur un skyblog ;) (reaction to a comment on a blog entry, 05.03.2008, author: Stitch, <>, last access 2010-05-22)

At the same time, however, it has to be acknowledged that in the case of F. people, certain developments are not yet concluded. This means that the results of the present study may have to be completed or refined by later analyses. Moreover, the Internet as a corpus does not allow for an exhaustive linguistic analysis of all occurrences of a loan like F. people because of the extremely high number of occurrences and because new Internet pages and contents are permanently being added, and existing pages or contents may be deleted or changed (furthermore, the search algorithms used by popular search engines are constantly reworked, so that the results for a given query may equally change). Another fundamental difficulty in using the Internet as a corpus for diachronic studies results from the fact that it only offers restricted research options concerning the date of single occurrences. Therefore, for issues of dating, I have used special research instruments provided by WebCorp and AltaVista. However, even here the research options are limited by the lack of a unitary norm for encoding the date of Internet pages (Kehoe 2006; Renouf, Kehoe & Banerjee 2007).5

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Concerning the uses of the variant F. pipole, some early occurrences can be traced back to 2002, and most of these early uses are clearly humoristic (in many cases, the spelling <pipole> is used as a playful variant of the spelling of the English word people). The real propagation of F. pipole begins only in 2006 and gains in strength in 2007, that is, neatly after the borrowing of F. people and its large-scale propagation in the TL. Today, however, both variants can be considered established in French (see PR, where both spellings are listed, as well as a further variant, pipeule, to which I will return in section 3.2.1 below).

This is also confirmed if we study the diachrony of the different entries in the French encyclopedia Wikipédia and in the dictionary Wiktionnaire.6 Both of these platforms rely on the principle that any Internet user can contribute new information or add corrections to existing articles, so that the information given is in principle highly up-to-date. Moreover, if a piece of information remains unchanged for a longer period of time, it can be assumed that it has been ratified to a certain degree by the readers of the articles. Both forms, people and pipole, appear in Wikipédia. Yet the latter form is only mentioned in different other articles ("People (homonymie)", "Olivier Lejeune", etc.), whereas the first form directly redirects the user to the article "Personnage public", and this redirection exists since 21st April 2007. Furthermore, there is another article "People (homonymie)" (see <>, last access 2010-05-15). In Wiktionnaire, the picture is slightly different. Here, people appears only as an English word, but in this article the French form pipole is mentioned, which has a separate entry. This latter entry exists since 14th January 2007.7

Furthermore, WebCorp provides additional research options for retrieving collocations, which are equally helpful for the present study: especially in an early stage of propagation, F. people frequently appears in adjectival form in the expression presse people. It can thus be assumed that this loan is first restricted to this particular domain of usage (issues concerning the celebrity press), and that, at least at a first stage, its propagation is closely related to the development of the celebrity press. In later stages of propagation, in contrast, the loan appears more and more frequently in other expressions or as a single noun (les people, etc.).

A final remark has to be added concerning the diatopic spread of F. people. The evolution of this loan in Canadian French appears to be partially different, and the expression presse people is not recognized as a French expression by all Canadian Internet users (see (15)).8 Moreover, it can be shown that puristic institutions in Canada make efforts to avoid the derivated noun F. pipolisation (cf. 3.1). The observations made above are thus mainly valid for the situation of France.

(15)Note i had never heard about people whatever... In Québec that is, or even on France's tv, or movies. (contribution in a discussion forum on the subject "Celebrity magazine", 24.02.2007, author: alain larochelle [native speaker of French living in Montréal], <>, last access 2009-05-08, emphasis original)

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3 Types of variation in borrowing

What types of variation can occur in situations of language contact? In this section, I will study more in detail the different uses of the loan people in French, and I will propose a distinction of three basic aspects of variation: lexical alternatives, alternative realizations of structural patterns of the loan, and variation on the individual vs. societal level. The first two types represent phenomena of variation within a given linguistic system, so that they can be analyzed as manifestations of polymorphy. The third kind of variation, in contrast, concerns the speakers who make use of the forms; this latter type thereby includes a comparison of different linguistic systems such as the varieties of French spoken in France and Canada. Concerning the loan F. people, the second aspect of variation seems particularly important. As it has basic theoretical implications for the study of loans in general (see section 4), I will introduce the term variance to label this specific kind of variation.

3.1 Lexical alternatives

A first type of variation which can be observed in the context of the borrowing of F. people concerns the lexical level. In French, this expression designates the concept CELEBRITIES, which means that the meaning has been restricted in the process of borrowing (celebrities being a sort of subcategory of people, namely famous people). First of all, how can this striking semantic change with respect to the SL be explained? As the word people is attested in French only with this more restricted meaning, it seems possible to assume that the semantic change has occurred in a situation of language contact between a SL speaker (or writer) and a TL hearer (or reader).9 Then, we have to refer to the fact that the loan occurs in the specific domain of the press (see the high frequency of the expression "presse people", especially in the early stage of propagation of the loan in the TL, which is confirmed by the study of Woolridge 2006–2007 as well as by a search with WebCorp from December 2008; see also Winter-Froemel 2009a: 389–390). In this context, it seems possible for the (SL) speaker to use expressions like E. people journalism, understanding the element people in its conventional sense (i.e. as referring to PEOPLE). At the same time, however, similar expressions can be interpreted by the (TL) hearer as referring to CELEBRITY JOURNALISM, which means that the element people is interpreted in a more specific sense. As people journalism is typically dedicated to celebrities, this diverging interpretation is possible without affecting at all the success of communication (see also Winter-Froemel & Zirker 2010: 86–88).10

In order to designate the concept CELEBRITIES, there also exist other expressions in French which are partly synonymous: célébrité(s), vedette(s), personage(s) public(s).11 From an onomasiological perspective, F. people and F. vedette, célébrité(s) can thus be considered as alternative ways to designate the concept CELEBRITIES, and we are dealing here with a first kind of variation.

Furthermore, the loan F. people has become highly productive in the TL. Besides the great number of variants in spelling, pronunciation, and inflection which have recently developed (cf. section 3.2 below), various derivations have been coined, among which F. pipolisation can be considered the most established form.12 Here again, we also find an equivalent TL expression, F. vedettisation, which exists in Canadian French. In this case, however, we are not dealing with a form which already existed in French at the moment of the derivation F. people → F. peopolisation / pipolisation, but this term has been created and proposed with motives of linguistic purism (namely, the motive of avoiding the anglicism F. pipolisation). This becomes clear, for example, in the Grand dictionnaire terminologique: the user who searches "pipolisation" or "peopleisation" is directed to the article "vedettisation", where the form peopleisation is marked as a term that should be avoided ("terme […] à éviter", with reference to the Office québécois de la langue française, 2005).13 For institutions and publication organs in France which are oriented towards linguistic purism (Commission générale de terminologie et de néologie, Journal officiel, France Terme), in contrast, for the moment being, no official efforts are made to avoid the forms people or peopolisation / pipolisation etc.14

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For current Canadian French, the form vedettisation can thus be treated as a lexical alternative to peopleisation / pipolisation as well, but we have to bear in mind its different kind of origin (a deliberate effort to introduce a TL equivalent in order to avoid a given loan vs. a preexisting lexical alternative like in the case of F. célébrité(s); for F. vedette(s), the situation is even more complex, as this form already exists in French at the moment of the borrowing, but it is then strongly supported by Canadian institutions in order to replace F. people).

To conclude, the first type of variation which can occur in the context of borrowings represents an example of polymorphy, as there are several TL expressions which can be used to designate a given concept (e.g. CELEBRITIES).

Moreover, we can distinguish various kinds of polymorphy according to the origin of the lexical alternatives, and, more specifically, according to 1) their time of introduction into the TL, 2) the type of innovation / language change concerned, and 3) the linguistic strategy realized in order to coin the innovation. It should be noted, however, that the various subtypes of polymorphy do not necessarily exclude each other, see the example F. people vedette(s).

Concerning the first aspect, we have seen that the lexical alternative can be a form which already exists in the TL at the moment of language contact and borrowing (e.g. F. célébrité, F. vedette). In other cases, the equivalents are newly coined at the moment of language contact or even at a later stage (e.g. F. vedettisation).

Second, for newly coined equivalents, we can distinguish between two fundamental types of innovation and language change which are possibly relevant here. On the one hand, the innovations can be proposed by the speakers in everyday language. In this case, the innovations are guided by the speakers' communicative intentions as well as by cognitive factors, but the speakers do not have any intention to initiate a process of language change. In this case, the introduction of the new equivalent may thus lead to a language change which represents an unconscious change from below (Kabatek 2006). On the other hand, however, the example of F. vedettisation has shown that lexical alternatives may also be proposed by institutions with the goal of changing the language, that is, to replace the loan with the new, equivalent expression which is supposed to become a stable element in the lexicon. This type of change, which essentially concerns terminological change, can be analyzed as a conscious change from above and thereby be opposed to the first type (Kabatek 1996). For France and Canada, institutions such as the Commission générale de terminologie et de néologie and the Office québécois de la langue française play a potentially important role in devising lexical alternatives to loans, as the avoidance of loans is an explicit goal of these institutions. For the moment being, however, no efforts have been made by puristically oriented institutions in France to avoid F. people or pipolisation.

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Third, we can distinguish different strategies of lexical innovation which can be used to coin a new TL item. Here again, these strategies are of main interest for TL equivalents which are newly created in the context of a situation of language contact or after the introduction of the loan into the TL. We can, in principle, distinguish three main strategies by which a speaker can innovate in the TL in the context of a situation of language contact (Winter 2005, Winter-Froemel 2008c: 19–24), and these main strategies correspond to three main types of contact-induced innovations. The first group are direct borrowings, where the SL word is imported into the TL; and in this process, various types of loanword integration can occur (see examples (16) and (17), for various degrees of loanword integration in such direct borrowings, see section 3.2 below). The second type is represented by calques or analogical innovations, which are characterized by the fact that the speaker proposes a semantic or morphological innovation in the TL which is coined from native TL material but has, at the same time, a model in the SL. This strategy can be realized by processes of either word formation or semantic change (see examples (18) and (19) respectively). The third and last type can be labelled independent innovations in the TL, which are stimulated or induced by a situation of language contact, but which are coined from native TL elements without any SL model; here again, these can be realized by processes of either word formation or semantic change (see examples (20) and (21) / (22) respectively).

Direct borrowings (by importation):

(17)E. off-line OFF-LINE → F. off-line OFF-LINE

Analogical innovations:

(18)F. hors OUT OF + F. ligne LINE → F. hors ligne OFF-LINE (in partial analogy to E. off OFF + E. line LINE → E. off-line)
(19)F. souris MOUSE → F. souris COMPUTER MOUSE (in analogy to E. mouse MOUSE → E. mouse COMPUTER MOUSE)

Independent innovations:

(20)F. témoin WITNESS + F. connexion CONNECTION → F. témoin de connexion INTERNET COOKIE (innovation induced by contact with E. cookie INTERNET COOKIE)
(21)F. mouchard SNITCH, TELLTALE → F. mouchard INTERNET COOKIE (innovation induced by contact with E. cookie INTERNET COOKIE)
(22)F. autonome AUTONOMOUS → F. autonome OFF-LINE (innovation induced by contact with E. off-line OFF-LINE)

As we can see from the examples, the different strategies of lexical innovation can be realized side by side in order to propose TL expressions for a given concept (INTERNET COOKIE for examples (16) / (20) / (21) and OFF-LINE for examples (17) / (18) / (22)), so that situations of polymorphy may result.15

As a final point, let us ask what effects may arise in the TL from similar cases of polymorphy. In this context it seems interesting to have a look at the traditional distinction of two principal motives of borrowing, namely necessity / need / gaps vs. luxury / prestige (cf. Matras 2009: 149–151),16, and to the corresponding distinction of two main types of loans, namely necessary loans and luxury loans (see examples (23) and (24) respectively; cf. Öhmann 1961: 3; Tagliavini 1973: 214; Tesch 1978: 214).

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(23)E. computer COMPUTER → I. computer COMPUTER
(24)E. people PEOPLE → F. people CELEBRITIES (besides F. célébrité(s), vedette(s), personage(s) public(s))

These alternatives have been largely taken into account in traditional studies on linguistic borrowing. However, as the categories bear a markedly prescriptive flavour, it seems desirable to redefine them by a neutral linguistic criterion, which can be formulated in terms of the question formulated above: does the loan introduce a new concept into the TL, or is the concept designated by the loan already expressed by another lexical unit in the TL at the moment of the loan's introduction into the TL? The two possible options arising from this alternative can be labelled catachrestic vs. noncatachrestic innovations (lexical equivalent inexistent vs. existent), and it can be shown that the two kinds of innovations are pragmatically interpreted in a different way. While catachrestic innovations do not, a priori, generate marked inferences (most of all, there may be inferences towards a stereotypical reading, e.g. I. computer is normally interpreted in the sense that we are dealing with an ordinary exponent of a COMPUTER), noncatachrestic innovations regularly convey inferences towards a non-stereotypical interpretation (e.g. F. les people are, so to speak, special exponents of CELEBRITIES,17 and the speaker's choice of the loan seems to be motivated by the intention of producing an eye-catching, extravagant message; cf. Winter-Froemel 2009a: 293–316).18 This observation is equally confirmed by the following judgments made by two native speakers of French:

(25)[…] "pipole" became the "in" way to say celebs in french. […] (contribution in a discussion forum on "pipolisation", 25.10.2007, author: mogador [native speaker of French and American English living in Marseille], <>, last access 2010-05-20)
(26)[…] il semble qu'en France "people" soit plus "glamour" [que vedettes, EWF]. [...] (contribution in a discussion forum on the subject "Celebrity magazine", 24.02.2007, author: Nicomon [native speaker of French living in Montréal, 55 years old],<>, last access 2010-05-20)

3.2 Variance on different linguistic levels and divergent degrees of loanword integration

Another fundamental type of polymorphy which occurs in loans is represented by alternative realizations of the structural features of a loan. As we have already seen in section 1, these variants can affect spelling, pronunciation, or morphological features (gender assignment, inflection). In the remainder of this paper, I will refer to this specific kind of polymorphy as variance in loanwords. Let us now investigate more in detail the various levels on which such manifestations of variance occur.

3.2.1 Spelling

In contemporary French, different spellings of the loan people coexist. The variants <people>, <pipole>, and <pipeul> occur with a relatively high frequency and can therefore be analyzed as variants which have attained a certain degree of propagation in the TL. These spelling variants are attested in the following examples:

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(27)Le Nouvel An des people. Les célébrités aiment à se retrouver pour réveillonner. (article dated 01.01.2009, < people-01-01-2009-358873.php>, last access 2009-01-12, emphasis added)
(28)Dis AD, c'est une "pipole" la fille sur la photo ? ou une star de qq chose ? tu l'as vue où ? (posting in an Internet discussion, author: MAJOR TOM, 16.12.2005, <>, last access 2009-01-12, emphasis added)
(29)Une vrai [sic, EWF] célébrité, un pipeul ! […] (posting in an Internet discussion, december 2008, author: ???, < >, last access 2009-01-12, emphasis added)

A query based on common Internet search engines (google, yahoo, ask, lycos) confirms that these variants are relatively widespread (see Table 1), with a clear predominance of <people>.19 For the derivations, in contrast, variants in <pipol-> are well attested: here <pipolisation>, <pipoliser>, etc. are the most frequent variants, followed by variants in <peop(o)l-> (<peopolisation>, <peopoliser>, etc., and <peoplisation>, <peopliser>, etc.).20

Table 1: Comparison of the number of hits for F. people and widespread variants

Let us first focus on the variants for people. We can observe that the consonants <p p l> remain stable in all occurring variants, and that variance only affects the graphic realization of the vowel segments.21 In order to evaluate the different forms with respect to the degree of loanword integration into the TL, two main criteria can be used: 1) conformity to the SL form, and 2) conformity to the TL system (Winter-Froemel 2008b; 2009a: 83–108). Each of the criteria can assume two values (conformity vs. non-conformity), so that their combination results in four main options:

TRANSFERENCE = conformity to the SL form and non-conformity to the TL system

INTEGRATION = non-conformity to the SL form and conformity to the TL system

CORRESPONDENCE = conformity to the SL form and conformity to the TL system

ALLOGENISM = non-conformity to the SL form and non-conformity to the TL system

The spelling <people> remains fully faithful to the English source form. However, it contains a structural pattern which does not conform to the system of the TL, namely the graphic segment <eo>. This means that the form is characterized by a transference in the segment <eo> and by correspondences in the other segments (<p>, <l>, <e>). Furthermore, for the widespread pronunciation variants [pi'pɔl] and [pi'pœl], some of the correspondences between the phonic segments of these forms and the graphic segments of <people> ([i] ↔ <eo>, [ɔ] ↔ <–> / [œ] ↔ <–>) do not conform to the grapheme-to-phoneme correspondence rules of French.

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For the other spelling variants, the first locus of variance concerns the replacement of <eo> by <i> in French <pipol(e)> and <pipeul(e)>. This replacement can be analyzed as a loanword integration, as <i> conforms to the system of the TL. At the same time, the correspondence [i] ↔ <i> conforms to the grapheme-to-phoneme correspondence rules of French.

Then, we can observe that a new graphic segment is inserted in the variants <pipol(e)> and <pipeul(e)>. On the graphic level, the insertions of <o> and <eu> can equally be analyzed as loanword integrations (<o> and <eu> do not conform to the SL form, but they conform to the French orthographic system). These insertions are clearly motivated by the pronunciations [pi'pɔl] and [pi'pœl], as the new graphic segments introduced render the phonic segments [ɔ] and [œ], and the correspondences [ɔ] ↔ <o> and [œ] ↔ <eu> conform to the system of French.

Finally, in all cases we find variants with and without final <-e>, so that we obtain the following pairings: <people> – <peopl>, <pipole> – <pipol>, <pipeule> – <pipeul>. The deletion of the final segment <-e> implies a deviation from the SL form, but for <pipol(e)> and <pipeul(e)>, both realizations (with and without final <-e>) conform to the system of the TL, as regularly, no phonic realization is assigned to final <-e>. The form <peopl>, in contrast, contains a word-final consonant cluster which is not part of the system of French.

Yet the quite complex results discussed up to now do not exhaust the great extent of variance which occurs in F. people with respect to spelling. Even more variants were attested in an additional research with google22 (cited in order of decreasing frequency): <popol>, <popole>, <popaul>, <pipaule>, <peopole>, <pipaul>, <peapole>, <peopel> (these forms were attested between 428 and 40 times, which corresponds to a relative frequency of less than 0,1 %), and <pipoule>, <peapol>, <pipel>, <pople>, <paupaul>, <peopol>, <popaule>, <peopele>, <peopeule>, <paupaule>, <pipele>, <paupole> (for all of these latter forms there were only ten hits or less in the whole Internet, which corresponds to a relative frequency of less than 0,01 %). From a quantitative point of view, it is thus perfectly clear that these variants have a marginal status, and it could be assumed that they represent just mistakes (typing errors, slips of the pen, or errors which result from lacking knowledge of the "correct" spelling of F. people).

However, for some occurrences it can be shown that the speakers use these diverging spellings intentionally, with precise communicative goals, e.g. expressivity (they intend to present themselves as witty, creative and / or innovative)23 and / or in order to catch the readers' attention (see examples (30) and (31)). For example, the diverging spellings frequently appear in headings. Headings are a part of the text where we can assume a relatively high degree of planning, and it thus seems plausible to assume that if a diverging spelling appears here, it is intentionally used by the speaker.

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(30)Au lieu de faire une revue de presse people comme j'ai fait il y a 2 semaines, je préfère faire une revue de presse popole c'est plus humoristique.
(blog entry, 07.03.2006, author: Baby Junkie [male, provenance: Amiens], < mode=threaded>, last access 2010-05-21, emphasis added)
(31)Bon les niouses pipole la? (title of a thread in an Internet forum, 13.09.2006, < niouses-pipole-la-t128802>, last access 2010-05-21, emphasis added)

Moreover, from a methodological perspective it seems difficult to make a clear-cut distinction between mistakes and intentional deviations from a given convention in a corpus study which is mainly based on the linguistic material attested. In addition, it is possible that speakers' mistakes are reinterpreted as intentional deviations by the readers, so that the distinction is further blurred. And, as a basic principle, the present study deliberately adopts a descriptive view in order to avoid normative positions which have a long tradition in linguistic research on linguistic borrowing.

Finally, concerning the relative low number of occurrences for some variants, another point of general importance can be made. If we consider loans in the larger context of language change, taking into account the different stages of change (language contact – innovation in the TL – adoption by other TL speakers / propagation in the TL – new convention; Winter-Froemel 2008a), forms which are only rarely attested can be also seen as innovations (or as forms in a very early stage of propagation) which might undergo a further process of propagation in the TL and eventually become part of the (new) linguistic convention of the TL. New variants which are only rarely attested can therefore be seen as particularly interesting forms whose usage is still being negotiated in the speech community.

If we analyze the structural patterns of the various additional spellings cited above, we can observe that the consonant segments still remain stable, and variance is limited to the realization of the vocalic segments. The great number of variants arises from the fact that all (or nearly all) possible combinations between the different realizations for each vowel segment are combined. I will therefore limit the following observations to three particular realizations – the forms in <-paul(e)> and <-pel(e)>, and the variants beginning with <pau-> and <po->.

The realizations in <-paul(e)> can be explained by application of another phoneme-to-grapheme correspondence rule to the pronunciation [pi'pɔl] / [pipol], namely [o] ↔ <au>, so that these forms can equally be analyzed as integrated. For the forms in <-pel(e)>, in contrast, we have to assume another pronunciation, [pi'pɛl], from which this graphic realization can easily be derived (cf. the French phoneme-to-grapheme correspondence rule [e/ɛ] ↔ <e> / <__K $ >; Meisenburg 1996: 191).24

In order to explain the spelling variants in <po-> and <pau->, we have to take into account the pronunciation variant [pɔ'pɔl] / [po'pol], which is equally attested (cf. 3.2.2). Both of the alternative realizations can be explained by phoneme-to-grapheme correspondence rules of French ([o / ɔ] ↔ <o>, [o] ↔ <au>), so that both spelling patterns conform to the system of the TL.

PhiN 53/2010: 73

Before passing over to pronunciation variants, it seems interesting to have a look at two more spelling variants: <peopole> and <peapole>. In the first of these forms we can observe an adaptation of the spelling to the integrated TL-pronunciation by insertion of <o>, according to the correspondence rule [ɔ] ↔ <o>. However, loanword integration remains only partial in this variant, as the graphic segment <eo> is kept, which does non conform to the system of French (see also the correspondence [i] ↔ <eo>).

The spelling <peapole> can equally be associated with the pronunciation [pi'pɔl], but leads to a very different analysis. The segment <ea> does not conform to the SL form, but at the same time it diverges from the TL system, so that it does not represent a case of integration, but an allogenism. This spelling can be explained by application of the SL phoneme-to-grapheme correspondence rule [i(ː)] ↔ <ea> (cf. E. pea Brit. [piː], U.S. [pi], peace Brit. [piːs], U.S. [pis], peach Brit. [piːtʃ], U.S. [pitʃ], etc.), i.e. a certain (yet imperfect) knowledge of the SL has to be assumed for the TL speakers who introduce the new spelling.25

3.2.2 Pronunciation

We have seen that many different spelling variants of F. people are attested in the Internet, and some of these have already indicated that there are also different pronunciation variants of this loan. The two most common variants are [pi'pœl] and [pi'pɔl] (or [pi'pol], cf. 3.3). The first of these variants is the only pronunciation indicated in PR, and it is equally confirmed by French speakers in metalinguistic comments (see example (32)). The pronunciation [pi'pɔl] (or [pi'pol]), in contrast, is to be expected for spelling variants like <pipole(s)>. It is also attested in a video recording and mentioned in metalinguistic utterances by French speakers (see examples (32) to (35)).

(32)Décidément, « les people » n'ont pas fini de devenir fous.
Note de Nil : on prononce le mot People « Pi-peul », pas « Pi-Pole. » Merci de ne pas répéter cette faute de prononciation stupide xD (posting under the heading "L'actualité informatique et multimédia", 25.02.2007, author: Nicolas.G, < encheres.htm>, last access 2010-05-21)
(33)les magazines [pi'pɔl]
(Laurent Ruquier in a dialogue with Florence Foresti in the TV broadcast "On a tout essayé", title of the video recording: "Florence Foresti brigitte et les people", < les-pe>, 00:05–00:06, last access 2010-05-21)
(34)"people chics" (prononcer "pipole") ("Le Monde: populisme ou «pipolisme»?", article dated 15.04.2004, author: Patrick Lemaire, <>, last access 2010-05-21)
(35)les "people" (prononcer pipol)
(contribution in an Internet discussion of the article "Mazarine Pingeot mère d'une petite fille", Nouvel Observateur / NOUVELOBS.COM, 24.06.2008, author: leah, 18.10.2008,
< liste_reactions00e5.html?l=0>, last access 2009-05-08)

PhiN 53/2010: 74

The pronunciations [pɔ'pɔl] ([po'pol]) and [pi'pɛl], in contrast, are more marginal variants, but they are equally attested (see examples (36) and (37)). These forms can be associated to certain spelling variants (e.g. <popol(e)> and <pipel> respectively).

(37)parce que toute belle-mère de Laurent Ruquier que je suis moi on me ferme la porte dans les soirées [pɔ'pɔl] (Florence Foresti in the role of "Belle-maman Myriam" in the TV broadcast "On a tout essayé", title of the video recording: "Florence Foresti Les Soirées People", <>, 00:25–00:29, last access 2010-05-21)

How can the different forms be analyzed with respect to loanword integration? It seems plausible to take the American English pronunciation ['pip(ə)l] as the source form, as we have already seen that for this loan, language contact essentially takes place between American English and French.

Like in spelling, the consonants [p p l] remain stable in the pronunciation of all variants of the loan, that is, variance is limited to the realization of the vocalic segments.26 Moreover, all TL realizations of the loan show ultimate stress (σ 'σ), which means a divergence from (or a non-conformity to) the SL form. At the same time, the stress pattern obtained corresponds to the system of the TL, so that we are dealing with a phenomenon of loanword integration.

For the substitution of E. schwa, there are two main options in the TL. The choice of [œ] can easily be motivated by its physiological production and acoustic properties, which are very close to those of E. schwa. This substitution equally corresponds to a common pattern of loanword integration (see examples (38) and (39)).

(38)F. battle-dress [batœl-] (← E. ['bæt(ə)l-]) (PR)
(39)F. puzzle [pœzœl] (← E. puzzle Brit. [pʌzl], U.S. ['pəz(ə)l]) (PR)

The substitution of [ɔ] for E. schwa, in contrast, is more remarkable, as these sounds show a greater divergence in their physiological production and acoustic properties. Nevertheless, from the speakers' perspective, this pattern of substitution still seems sufficiently plausible, that is, the speakers can still associate the SL and TL forms.27 For the pronunciation variant [pi'pɛl], the same observations hold, that is, in spite of the relative distance between [ə] and [ɛ], the substitution still seems sufficiently plausible for the TL speakers.

In the variant [pɔ'pɔl], the pronunciation of the first vowel is assimilated to the second vowel, so that the syllable [pɔ] is reduplicated. The resulting form can be associated with a playful alteration of the name Paul as [pɔ'pɔl] and with other reduplicative forms such as F. foufou, fofolle 'un peu fou' (PR), which are particularly frequent in French child language (cf. F. bobo BOO-BOO, dodo SLEEP, lolo MILK, nounou NANA, nounours TEDDY BEAR). In this case, the TL pronunciation thus seems to be motivated not only by phonetic aspects, but also by lexical associations, and we can assume that a playful or a satirical tone is intended by the speaker and / or can be interpreted by the hearer. This explication is also confirmed by example (37) above, as the use of puns is an important characteristic of the role of "Belle-maman Myriam" (cf. the puns "la jet-set, la jet-huit, la jet-neuf" and "un laissez-pas-passer", which equally appear in this video recording). An additional confirmation is given in the following comment, where the speaker explicitly remarks the comic effect of the pronunciation [pɔ'pɔl]:

PhiN 53/2010: 75

(40)"Les soirées popoles" mdrr [mdr = mort de rire, mdrr = intensification] (comment on the video recording in (37), 2007, author: RestaInAscolto,
<>, last access 2010-05-21)

What conclusions can be drawn from the analyses of the spelling and pronunciation variants of the loan F. people? First of all, the large number of variants is striking. From a usage-based perspective, it seems plausible to assume many different situations of language contact and borrowing, where the TL speakers may adopt different integration strategies. As I will try to show in the remainder of this section, some of these integrations can be explained by assuming a situation of oral contact (that is, the SL spelling is not relevant to the TL realization of the loan, and we only have to refer to the SL pronunciation of the loan and to the rules of the TL system in order to explain the TL pronunciation and spelling).28 In other cases, in contrast, it becomes necessary to assume a situation of both written and oral contact.

Let us therefore return to the most common and interesting realizations of the loan in French and ask what types of contact situations and integration strategies can be postulated in order to explain the different variants. Their degree of integration into the TL can be evaluated in terms of the two types of conformity proposed in 3.2.1 and the four options resulting from their combination (TRANSFERENCE, INTEGRATION, CORRESPONDENCE, ALLOGENISM). On these grounds, scenarios of language contact and borrowing can be proposed for the different variants.

The two most common kinds of pronunciation, [pi'pɔl] and [pi'pœl], can be associated with two of the most common spellings, namely <pipole> and <pipeul> (see (41) and (42)). These spellings can be regularly derived from the phoneme-to-grapheme correspondence rules of French, so that these variants of the loan can be explained as integrations of an orally borrowed form. This result is surprising, insofar as for current borrowings a similar strategy of integration (i.e. integration of an orally borrowed form, then adaptation of the spelling to the TL pronunciation) is normally considered unusual (Roudet 1908: 253, 258–260, 265–266; Pergnier 1989: 36).

For the spelling F. <people>, in principle, both pronunciations [pi'pɔl] and [pi'pœl] (as well as other, less common variants) are possible (see (43) and (44)). It seems plausible to analyze this spelling as an importation from the SL form in a situation of written contact; the pronunciations, however, cannot be explained by TL-grapheme-to-phoneme correspondence rules, but have to be analyzed as integrations based on the SL pronunciation (in an oral contact situation). This result again challenges traditional views on lexical borrowing, as these assume normally either oral or written contact situations, but not a combination of both. In general, this pattern of integration, which seems central to many recent loans in French, can lead to TL forms which have undergone certain adaptations in their pronunciation, but which conserve the SL spelling (or remain close to the SL spelling) and thus show correspondences between graphic and phonic segments which do not conform to the system of the TL (in the case of <people>, e.g. <eo> ↔ [i]).29

PhiN 53/2010: 76

Furthermore, the spellings <peopole> and <peapole> (which can be both associated with the pronunciation [pi'pɔl]) are particularly interesting, as they show a partial loanword integration and a case of allogenism respectively (see (45) and (46)).

The analyses proposed for these different variants can be summarized as follows:

(41)E. <people> ['pip(ə)l] → <pipole> [pi'pɔl]: CORRESPONDENCE (phonetic and graphic level: [p], [i], [p], [l]; <p>, <p>, <l>, <e>) and INTEGRATION (phonetic and graphic level: [ɔ], σ 'σ; <i>, <o>) => fully integrated loan, oral contact situation
(42)E. <people> ['pip(ə)l] → <pipeul> [pi'pœl]: CORRESPONDENCE (phonetic and graphic level: [p], [i], [p], [l]; <p>, <p>, <l>) and INTEGRATION (phonetic and graphic level: [œ], , σ 'σ; <i>, <eu>) => fully integrated loan, oral contact situation
(43)E. <people> ['pip(ə)l] → <people> [pi'pɔl]: TRANSFERENCE (graphic level: <eo>), CORRESPONDENCE (phonetic and graphic level: [p], [i], [p], [l]; <p>, <p>, <l>, <e>) and INTEGRATION (phonetic level: [ɔ], σ 'σ) => partially integrated loan, oral + written contact situation
(44)E. <people> ['pip(ə)l] → <people> [pi'pœl]: TRANSFERENCE (graphic level: <eo>), CORRESPONDENCE (phonetic and graphic level[p], [i], [p], [l]; <p>, <p>, <l>, <e>) and INTEGRATION (phonetic level: [œ], σ 'σ) => partially integrated loan, oral + written contact situation
(45)E. <people> ['pip(ə)l] → <peopole> [pi'pɔl]: TRANSFERENCE (graphic level: <eo>), CORRESPONDENCE (phonetic and graphic level: [p], [i], [p], [l]; <p>, <p>, <l>, <e>) and INTEGRATION (phonetic and graphic level: [ɔ], σ 'σ; <o>) => partially integrated loan, oral + written contact situation
(46)E. <people> ['pip(ə)l] → <peapole> [pi'pɔl]: CORRESPONDENCE (phonetic and graphic level: [p], [i], [p], [l]; <p>, <p>, <l>, <e>), INTEGRATION (phonetic and graphic level: [ɔ], σ 'σ; <o>) and ALLOGENISM (graphic level: <ea>) => allogenism / hyper-foreignism, oral contact situation

3.2.3 Morphology I: Gender assignment

According to standard dictionaries such as PR, the loan F. people has only masculine gender. In Internet documents, however, both masculine and feminine gender is relatively common, as can be shown from the following examples (the last example illustrates that even within a single utterance, gender assignment may vary).

(47)Un people c'est une personne qui fait l'actualité au niveau médiatique. (contribution in an Internet discussion on the subject "C'est quoi un People ?", 30.08.2007, author: Ley [female, 22 years, from France / Lille], <,3842. ihtml>, last access 2010-05-22, emphasis added)

PhiN 53/2010: 77

(48)A l'ère du tout-people, faut-il étaler sa vie privée pour exister?
– Je ne me considère pas comme une people et je n'étale pas ma vie privée. (from an interview with Rosalie von Breemen, published 12.05.2009, <>, last access 2010-05-22, emphasis added)
(49)Paris Hilton : n'est pas un pipole qui veut ! […] La pipole par excellence, c'est Paris Hilton ! (< -pipole-qui-veut->, last access 2010-05-22, emphasis added)

How can these divergent gender assignments be explained? A first potential explanatory factor for gender assignment in loans is the gender of the loan in the SL. This factor, however, is inoperative here, as the category of grammatical gender is not existent in the SL English. The gender assignment in French must therefore be explained by other factors.

Another factor of central importance is the fact that the assignment of masculine gender can be considered the most common and unmarked integration pattern (Humbley 1974: 67, 2002: 116, Jabłoński 1990: 97, Pulcini 2002: 159).

Moreover, gender assignment can also be influenced by the phonetic similarity and / or semantic proximity to other TL forms. Thus, the assignment of masculine gender may also have been influenced by the TL form F. peuple m. PEOPLE, FOLK, NATION (which is also genetically related to E. / F. people). Some occurrences of the loan in French show that the TL speakers really establish a relationship between these forms (see examples (50) and (51)).

(50)Tout le monde a relevé, certains pour s'en offusquer, d'autres pour le déclarer insignifiant, la coloration très people de la soirée électorale. […] le fait marquant reste encore ce qu'il est désormais convenu de nommer peopolisation de la vie politique. […] On remarquera pourtant ce glissement qui, du peuple, nous entraîne vers le people, vers la célébrité! (from the article "People", in: "Lexique 2007" / "Petit abécédaire du quotidien", author: Pierre-Michel Simonin, <>, last access 2010-05-22, italics original, bold print added)
(51)Jamais rassasié, le peuple se nourrit de people. (from the article "Le virus de l'actualité people gangrène de plus en plus le web", 19.08.2008, author: Régis Soubrouillard, < plus-en-plus-le-web_a90427.html>, last access 2010-05-22, emphasis added)

On the other hand, however, TL forms such as F. star f., vedette f., célébrité f. and personnalité f. are also semantically related to F. people (they can even be considered as near semantic equivalents), so that an assignment of feminine gender seems equally explainable. In the following examples (52) and (53), F. people appears with feminine gender beside one or several of these forms, so that a certain influence can be assumed. Example (53) indicates, however, that this factor need not be determining for all occurrences of F. people, as we can observe here a variable gender assignment.

(52)Et vous Charlotte, êtes-vous plutôt une star, une célébrité ou une people ? (from an interview with Charlotte Baut, contribution in the radio broadcast "2007: La vie privée des stars", diffused on RTL TVI, 24.12.2007, 19:45, text version: Mara UM, <>, last access 2010-05-22)

PhiN 53/2010: 78

(53)Devenir une "people" ou rester discrète ? / Aux Etats-Unis, la tentation de devenir une star est très forte. […] Devenir un "people", et écrire un livre pour en vendre les droits à Hollywood. (from the article "Albert de Monaco a également une fille", authors: Thiébault Dromard & Léna Lutaud, <>, last access 2009-05-25)

A further factor which plays a potential role here are structural patterns of the TL. On the one hand, the suffixes F. -ol and -eul as well as words like F. bol m., vol m. and seul m., filleul m., etc. motivate masculine gender assignment for variants like <pipol> and <pipeul>. On the other hand, the feminine gender assignment which frequently occurs in variants like <pipole> and <pipeule> can be explained by an assimilation to the suffix -ole and words like F. parole f., bagnole f. and seule f., aïeule f., etc. The following example (54) shows that these structural patterns can even be exploited in order to establish an additional morphological differentiation between un pipol and une pipole.

(54)[…] cette femme [Cécilia Sarkozy, EWF] est une pipole, c'est normal, elle a commencé avec un pipol, elle a séduit un politique qui s'est lui-même pipolisé, puis elle est retourné [sic, EWF] au monde des pipols. (posting in an Internet discussion, 2007, author: Kolderov, < >, last access 2010-05-22)

The last example introduces another factor which is important here, the natural gender of the referents. For female celebrities, we frequently find une people / la people (see also example (55)), whereas male celebrities are generally designated as un people / le people (see examples (54) and (56)). In some cases, masculine gender assignment can also be explained by reference to mixed groups including both male and female celebrities; here, the choice of masculine gender corresponds to the general rule of French (see example (57)). However, example (58) shows that natural gender is not the only determining factor in gender assignment, as we find here feminine gender for pipole referring to a male referent ("un ancien journaliste député européen et candidat malheureux").

(55)Dis AD, c'est une "pipole" la fille sur la photo ? ou une star de qq chose ? (posting in an Internet discussion, 16.12.2005, author: MAJOR TOM, <>, last access 2010-05-22, emphasis added)
(56)Il ne faut pas oublier Nicolas Sarkozy, lui aussi c'est un people ! (posting in an Internet discussion on the subject "C'est quoi un People ?", 30.08.2007, author: Mana [female, 22 years, from France / Lille], <,3842.ihtml>, last access 2010-05-22, emphasis added)
(57)Les people les plus influents (title of an article about the 100 most influential persons of the year 2008, among these male and female celebrities, published 12.06.2008, author: Anne-Laure-Buffard, <>, last access 2010-05-22, emphasis added)

PhiN 53/2010: 79

(58)on nous montra tout de même une "pipole" : un ancien journaliste député européen et candidat malheureux, dernièrement, à Paris XII (blog entry, 17.12.2008, <>, last access 2010-05-22, emphasis added)

To conclude, different factors are potentially relevant to the gender assignment of F. people and its variants. A particularly important factor seems to be the natural gender of the referents. The various factors may interact and some of the factors yield contradictory results (some factors favour masculine gender, others feminine gender). The variance in gender assignment observed can therefore be explained by the fact that individual TL speakers give priority to different of these factors in certain situations of communication. Concerning the TL speech community as a whole, the gender of the French loan is not yet entirely fixed.

3.2.4 Morphology II: Inflectional patterns

We have already seen that some speakers of French introduce an inflection for gender by distinguishing between pipol m. MALE CELEBRITY and pipole f. FEMALE CELEBRITY. Furthermore, it is interesting to analyze inflection for number. For F. people and its variants, this kind of inflection only concerns written realizations of the loan, as in oral realizations, the plural is marked by other means only (e.g. the form of the article, cf. [ləpipɔl]Sg vs. [lepipɔl]Pl).

Standard dictionaries such as PR consider the form invariant, for both nominal and adjectival uses. Once again, however, a more complex picture is suggested by corpus studies, as for nominal uses, we can find both uninflected and inflected forms with the plural marker -s (see examples (59) and (60)). Some examples also show that certain TL speakers are aware of the variance occurring here (see examples (61) and (62)).

(59)Le Nouvel An des people. Les célébrités aiment à se retrouver pour réveillonner. (article dated 01.01.2009, < people-01-01-2009-358873.php>, last access 2010-05-22, emphasis added)
(60)Peoples – Le site des peoples (<>, last access 2010-05-22, emphasis added)
(61)on écrira : les vedettes ou les célébrités plutôt que les people (ou les peoples) ou les pipoles. (posting in an Internet discussion of the article "Mazarine Pingeot mère d'une petite fille", Nouvel Observateur / NOUVELOBS.COM, 24.06.2008, author: leah, < /liste_reactions00e5.html?l=0>, last access 2009-05-08, emphasis added)
(62)Enfin ... il s'adapte, travailler plus pour gagner plus, ça marche aussi pour les people (ou peoples, je ne sais pas si on met le S pour ces anglicismes !). (blog entry, 08.02.2008, author: moussakaonline [French nationality, born in 1978, residence: Athens; cf.], <>, last access 2010-05-22, emphasis added)

How can this variance in inflection be explained? An explanation for invariant uses can be seen in the fact that E. people is a collective noun which designates a group of persons. In principle, it is therefore possible to assume that the word is borrowed in this uninflected form with a plural meaning. Yet we have also seen that the loan can designate individuals in French (un people, une people, etc.; PR), and for similar uses it is plausible to add a plural marker if the loan refers to several persons (this implies, however, a greater divergence from the SL).

PhiN 53/2010: 80

In addition, a more detailed analysis reveals significant differences in plural marking for certain variants of the loan in French. For the spelling <people>, which remains very close to the SL, invariant uses occur clearly more frequently than inflected forms (86,12 % invariant vs. 13,88 % inflected). For the strongly integrated variant <pipole>, in contrast, the proportions are reversed, and the distribution is even more clear-cut (0,86 % invariant vs. 99,14 % inflected; see Table 2).30

Table 2: Occurrences for F. peoplePl – peoplesPl, pipolePl – pipolesPl, pipeulPl pipeulsPl

Interestingly, the proportions for the variant <pipeul> are less clear. This shows that further factors come into play here. Compared to F. <pipole>, which can easily be associated with the most widespread variants of several derivations of the loan (F. pipolisation, pipoliser, pipolerie, pipolette, etc.), F. <pipeul> remains more isolated in the TL lexicon. At the same time, we have seen in 3.2.2 that with respect to pronunciation, <pipeul> remains closer to the SL form than <pipole>. The overall status of <pipeul> can therefore be analyzed as mixed: on the one hand, the form shows clear marks of integration into the TL (above all, in spelling) – and these can motivate the application of the TL pattern of inflection for number –, but on the other hand, on the phonetic level the form remains relatively close to the SL, and it conserves a relatively isolated status in the TL lexicon – and these latter aspects can motivate an uninflected use of the form which corresponds to the SL pattern.

For adjectival uses of F. people and its variants, a similar distribution of inflected and uninflected forms could be expected. Interestingly, however, the corpus data shows different results, insofar as for both variants studied, uninflected uses largely prevail (see Table 3).31

Table 3: Occurrences for F. peoplePl – peoplesPl, pipolePlpipolesPl

Finally, in the context of inflection for number, another kind of use of F. people and its variants seems interesting: the loan can also be used in singular form with a generic meaning. More specifically, in some cases it designates the TOTALITY OF CELEBRITIES, in other cases it stands for an abstract phenomenon, which could be paraphrased as the growing INTEREST FOR CELEBRITIES or an INFLUENCE OF THE CELEBRITY PRESS (see examples (63) to (65)).32

(63)le pipole nous irrigue (from the article "Le bal des hypocrites", 20.06.2007, author: Guillermo, <>, last access 2010-05-22, emphasis added)
(64)Le pipole, c'est en effet un système de références qui envahit la masse. Les bourges, intellos et autres assimilés s'inquiètent plutôt de la fascination que suscite le pipole. (comment to the article "Le bal des hypocrites", 20.06.2007, author: Marie, <>, last access 2010-05-22, emphasis added)

PhiN 53/2010: 81

(65)Or, plus encore que l'autonomie de la sphère publique, c'est ce lien entre amour et vérité que le "people" affaiblit considérablement. […] Ce marchandage à but médiatique est ce qui, dans le people, échappe presque nécessairement au glamour. Tous les efforts de mise en scène n'évitent pas qu'on imagine un tel dialogue. Car dans le "people" ce n'est évidemment pas ce que l'on voit qui importe : les téléspectateurs ont appris à regarder au-delà de ce qu'on leur montre. (from the article "La pipolisation de la vie privée", 20.12.2007, author: Michaël Foessel, <>, last access 2008-12-27, emphasis added)

3.3 Variation on the individual vs. societal level

The two types of variation examined up to now – polymorphy by lexical alternatives and variance or polymorphy by alternative realizations of structural patterns – have been defined from the linguistic material attested. A further dimension of variation concerns the speakers who make use of the forms, and we can distinguish between variation on the individual vs. societal level.

The first case can be described as a variation which arises from the heterogeneity of the speech community. In this case, the single variants are used by different speakers or groups of speakers, so that variation arises on the level of the speech community as a whole. It is mainly geographical and social factors which are central to define such groups of speakers, and we can speak here of diatopic and diastratic variation (cf. Coseriu 1981: 302–305; Koch & Oesterreicher 1985: 16, 1990, 2001).33 This phenomenon is also labelled "variety according to the user" or dialect (Halliday 1978: 35, 110). For F. people, we have seen that the pronunciation [pi'pɔl] is well attested, and it can be analyzed as one of the two standard pronunciations of the loan. However, in some cases we also find the pronunciation [pi'pol]. As the opposition between [ɔ] and [o] is diatopically marked in France, the alternative realizations [pi'pol] – [pi'pɔl] can therefore be reinterpreted in terms of diatopic variation ([ɔ] marking a variety from Southern France; see example (66)). Moreover, different pronunciation variants can also be associated with the varieties of French spoken in France and North America (see example (67)).

(66)pipole ou pipaule si tu préfères.. / Bon après c'est une question de prononciation régionale. / Chez moi, auto se prononce comme otto, mais je sais que ce n'est pas le cas dans toute [sic, EWF] les régions de France.. (posting in an Internet discussion, 26.02.2007, author: arsinoe, < encheres.htm?vc=1#vc>, last access 2010-05-22)
(67)Pour avoir vécu aux états-unis "Pi-pole" ou "pi-peul" est dépendant plus du coin où tu vis qu'autre chose, AMHA [= à mon humble avis, EWF]. En l'occurence, ma prononciation est entre les deux, et tourne plus vers le "pole" que le "peul", qui, LUI, me semble, pour le coup, vachement français. / EN tout cas, si je devais le dire, instinctivement, je sortirai avec mon accent un truc bien plus proche de "pi-pole"... (posting in an Internet discussion, 26.02.2007, author: Tetedeiench, < encheres.htm?vc=1#vc>, last access 2010-05-22)

Similarly, the spelling <peopleisation> is mainly diffused in Canadian French, whereas <pipolisation> is judged as a diatopic variant occurring in France only by the Office québécois de la langue française (see Grand dictionnaire terminologique s.v. pipolisation).

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The second fundamental type of variation, in contrast, is a "variety according to the use" or register (Halliday 1978: 35, 110). In principle, this kind of variation concerns diaphasic variation and variation with respect to parameters of communicative immediacy vs. distance (Koch & Oesterreicher 1985, 1990, 2001). In this case, individual speakers use different realizations of a given loan in different situations of communication, and the fundamental question arising here is what factors determine the choice of a certain form, depending on the overall conditions of communication. Yet one more partly different type of variation can be seen in occurrences where single speakers use several variants in the same or at least similar conditions of communication (same speaker, same hearer(s), etc.). In this case, the speaker often intends to convey an additional pragmatic effect by switching to another variant (see example (68)).

(68)Au lieu de faire une revue de presse people comme j'ai fait il y a 2 semaines, je préfère faire une revue de presse popole c'est plus humoristique. (blog entry, 07.03.2006, author: Baby Junkie [male, provenance: Amiens], < mode=threaded>, last access 2010-05-22, emphasis added)

4 Theoretical implications

4.1 Interaction of functional and social factors and the predictability of loanword integration

The great extent to which variation occurs in loans like F. people on all levels of linguistic description (lexical, phonetic / phonological, graphic / graphematical, and morphological level) has important implications for the theory of linguistic borrowing as well as for linguistics in general.

We have seen that the evolution of loans in the TL can be analyzed as dependent on a broad range of factors: proximity to the SL form and to the TL system (cf. the two criteria of conformity presented in 3.2.1), the convention of the SL (in cases of a relatively good knowledge of the SL by TL speakers), the convention of the TL, common patterns of loanword integration (cf. the phonological integration of F. puzzle, etc.), TL-internal functional aspects (e.g. the correspondences between phonic and graphic segments in loans, or the possibility to morphologically analyze inflected forms of loans), proximity to other lexical units of the TL (F. pipole, pipolisation, pipoliser, pipolette, pipolade, etc., as well as F. peuple, etc.), pragmatic factors such as prestige, playfulness, humorous uses, and, more generally, expressivity and creativity. According to these potentially conflicting factors, different options of loanword integration may be chosen by the speaker who uses the loan in the TL. A central factor of overall importance thus seems to be the speaker's orientation towards the hearer: the choice of a certain variant (characterized by a specific degree of loanword integration) is partly determined by the SL knowledge the speaker attributes to the hearer (the speaker may use a more or less integrated variant depending on whether he assumes the hearer to have good or rather bad knowledge of the SL), as well as by the hearer's presumed attitude towards the SL and the TL, etc.

In this respect, different degrees of loanword integration can be differently interpreted on a pragmatic level. On the one hand, if the variant chosen by the speaker deviates from the usual degree of integration by remaining closer to the SL, it can function as a prestige variant (see example (69)). Similarly, strongly integrated variants can be interpreted as a sign of lacking education or stupidity (see example (70)). On the other hand, we have also seen that forms which are strongly integrated (to a degree which exceeds the common degree of integration) can be intentionally used in order to convey additional pragmatic effects of playfulness, etc. (see example (71)).

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(69)Je vais arrêter là cette croisade donquichottesque contre la pipolisation (ou peopolisation, pour du frangliche de plus haut vol). (article dated 30.06.2008, author: Captain Gloo, <>, last access 2010-05-22)
(70)Note de Nil : on prononce le mot People « Pi-peul », pas « Pi-Pole. » Merci de ne pas répéter cette faute de prononciation stupide (posting under the heading "L'actualité informatique et multimédia", 25.02.2007, author: Nicolas.G, < encheres.htm>, last access 2010-05-21)
(71)PIPEUL adj. inv. Orthographe plaisante de people. (Antidico)

To sum up, a great variety of factors have to be taken into account in order to explain the different variants attested in the corpus. These factors interact, and they refer to both linguistic / functional / structural and pragmatic / social aspects. In this respect, the findings challenge traditional views which argue for a strict separation of these two groups of factors (e.g. Croft 2000: 38).

Moreover, we have seen that we can at most describe certain language-specific tendencies in loanword integration and try to motivate the choice of certain variants by individual TL speakers in certain contexts of communication. In this respect, the results also put into question the predictability of loanword integration in general which is presumed in many traditional approaches. For example, optimality theoretic (OT) accounts for phonological loanword integration assume a fixed hierarchy of constraints in the TL which is applied to the input forms of loans, so that the TL output form (that is, one single output form) can be derived.34 If, however, several TL variants occur, this variance strongly challenges the theoretical framework of OT: even if one of the occurring variants can be correctly predicted by the constraint hierarchy, the question arises why there are also other processes and degrees of loanword integration which can be realized in the TL. It thus seems necessary to conceive more flexible and dynamic frameworks in order to account for the different kinds of variation in loanword integration.

4.2 Loans as underspecified linguistic units

In some examples from the Internet, TL speakers state that they are not certain about the "correct" form in which a given loan should be used (e.g. concerning inflection for number, or the pronunciation of a loan which they have encountered in written utterances only). This finding suggests that in some cases speakers have different representations of the loan, or that they can spontaneously generate several variants of a given loan by applying different patterns of integration or inflection. It can be concluded that loans need not necessarily be borrowed as fully specified linguistic units, but it equally seems possible that certain features of loans (e.g. inflectional patterns) are only determined (if at all) at a later stage of their re-utilization in the TL. This assumption also easily accounts for the great extent of variance observed: if all structural features of a given loan were fully determined in the situation of borrowing proper, a priori, we should not expect variance in an individual speaker's representation of the loan (at most, there could be variation on the level of the speech community as a whole, if different speakers borrow the word in a parallel way, making different choices of integration, etc.). However, we have seen from many corpus examples that this is not the case, and that we can frequently observe phenomena of variation within single speakers and their utterances. The mental processing of loans thus seems to be co-determined by local conventions and computational mechanisms, and we can assume a sort of division of labour between computational processing in usage on the one hand and stable storage mechanisms in the mental lexicon on the other hand. For the moment being, it is not clear how this division of labour is organized, so that interesting paths for future research are opened here.

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4.3 A usage-based approach to language contact and borrowing

What conclusions can be drawn from the findings of this corpus study for the theory of language contact and borrowing in general? We have seen that loanword integration is guided by a number of heterogeneous factors, and that it is at least in part negotiated between speaker and hearer in concrete situations of communication. These observations call for an approach which takes into account the flexibility and the dynamic character of loanword integration. From a methodological point of view, it seems thus fundamental to adopt a usage-based perspective. Instead of the formula cited in (6) in section 1, which expresses the traditional focus on the level of linguistic structures and systems, the variation phenomena encountered require a perspective which is, in contrast, focused on the level of the individual utterances and which analyzes single acts of communication between speakers and hearers.

This methodological claim can not only be advanced for analyses of borrowing situations proper (that is, for the moment when a speaker innovates in the TL), but also for the subsequent stage of propagation. Instead of studying propagation as a global and uniform process (which is, to some extent, suggested by models as the S-curve), it seems interesting to concentrate on the single acts of adoption instead, where a TL speaker takes over the innovation and uses it him-/herself (for the distinction between adoption and propagation, see Winter-Froemel 2008a; 2009a: 198–199).

As we have seen, in many cases it is unrealistic to aim for strong predictions about loanword integrations, but a realistic goal is to explain the use of a given loan in a concrete situation of communication, where its realization is negotiated between speaker and hearer. In this sense, loanword integration is not a static phenomenon which can be described and analyzed on the level of the languages involved, but it can only be explained by referring to the level of the individual language users. In other words, for situations like the borrowing of F. people, there seems to be no overall "perfect" strategy of loanword integration, but only certain strategies and principles of integration, among which the speakers can choose, and different solutions can be judged optimal in different situations of communication.

To sum up, the explanatory framework required includes speaker and hearer, the conditions of communication, and a series of different factors: factors related to the SL and to the TL, that is, to the two different linguistic systems involved, cognitive and communicative factors, and structural as well as social factors. Only a similar approach seems sufficiently flexible and comprehensive in order to account for phenomena of variation in loanword integration as they have been encountered in our study of F. people.

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5 Conclusion: F. people – an exceptional case?

With respect to loanword integration, F. people is a very interesting example, as it shows many different kinds of variation (lexical alternatives; variance in spelling, pronunciation, and morphology; variation on the individual and on the societal level). It has to be acknowledged that this example represents perhaps an extreme case, but it is certainly not an exceptional case, in the sense that all types of variance and variation observed can also occur in other borrowings into French, especially in recent borrowings and in those at an early stage of propagation within the TL. Variance can thus be considered as a central characteristic of current loans, which is, however, neglected to a large extent in traditional approaches to linguistic borrowing.

I have argued that different theoretical implications arise from the variance observed: the over-simplification necessitated in the attempts to make strong predictions about loanword integrations, the necessity to take into account various explanatory factors which may interact, and the advantages of a genuinely usage-based approach to borrowing and loanword integration.

Summing up, studies on recent loans like F. people which are mainly based on the Internet as a corpus remain to a certain extent partial and preliminary, as an exhaustive analysis of all occurrences cannot be guaranteed, and as the evolution of the loan in the TL continues. At the same time, however, this means that we can gain insights into authentic facets of a process of language change "in the making", which reveals certain fluctuations and hesitations, but also a great dynamics and productivity. In this sense, F. people can be seen as a striking example which illustrates the creative potential which can be exploited by speakers in concrete situations of communication.


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1 Certain controversies have arisen about the question whether particular categories such as so-called loan creations and pseudo-loans represent instantiations of borrowing at all (cf. Duckworth 1977; Kiesler 1993; Höfler 1981, 1990; Heller 1980; Eisenberg & Baurmann 1984; Winter 2005, Winter-Froemel 2009b).

2 Some studies explicitly state that such a representation has to be conceived as metaphorical, as it is only speakers, not languages, who can actually borrow word forms (Alexieva 2008: 47–48). Nevertheless, I will argue that the theoretical implications of this observation have not yet been properly exploited.

3 As a methodological remark, I will continue to use the terms 'speaker' and 'hearer', even if most of the data analyzed concerns written documents (i.e. communication between writers and readers).

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4 As a corollary, there are also many "mistakes" attested in the Internet (e.g. realizations such as F. <j'ai demander>, <j'ai demandez>, etc.). Yet especially for cases like F. people and its variants, a clear-cut distinction between mistakes and innovations is not possible, as in both cases we are concerned with deviations from a given convention, and in principle, all of these deviations can result in language change and in a new convention.

5 This observation mainly concerns automated research in a large numbers of documents. For manual analyses of individual Internet pages or contents, in contrast, very precise dating information is frequently available (e.g. day, month, year, and even the exact time of postings).

6 The French versions of these Internet platforms exist since March 2001 and March 2004 respectively (cf. <> and < Historique_du_Wiktionnaire>, last access 2009-04-23).

7 Cf. <> and <> (last access 2010-05-15).

8 The comment cited is a contribution in a discussion at This forum is mainly dedicated to discussions of linguistic questions as well as questions of translation. Information about the dating of the postings is regularly provided, and in many cases we find additional information about the authors of the comments (native language(s), region of residence, age).

9 Alternatively – or in a parallel way –, the word can also have been borrowed in its original meaning by a TL speaker. In this case the loan must then have been reinterpreted in the more specific sense by other TL speakers at a very early stage of its propagation.

10 A parallel explication could be given with respect to uses of "people" for the name of the American magazine People and uses of "people" as a heading in magazines, which also seem to have influenced the semantic change in this loan (cf. <>, <>, last access 2010-05-20).

11 In the following remarks, I will refer to F. célébrité(s) and F. vedette(s) only, as F. personage(s) public(s) can be seen as a kind of paraphrase and thus represents no fully lexicalized equivalent of F. people. It has to be added that F. vedette is recommended by official institutions in Canada with motives of linguistic purism.

12 Other derivations attested in the Internet are F. pipoliser, pipolerie(s), pipolade(s), pipolette, pipoler, pipolesque, peopleisable, peopleiser, and pipolising. Yet these forms differ considerably with respect to their propagation in French (cf. Winter-Froemel 2009a: 398–420).

13 < gt; (last access 2010-05-15). The early date of institutional intervention in Canada seems noteworthy.

14 Cf. <> (last access 2010-05-15).

15 It has to be acknowledged, however, that the different lexical alternatives have not necessarily acquired an equal degree of conventionalization and lexicalization (e.g. F. témoin de connexion is much more common than F. mouchard INTERNET COOKIE).

16 Cf. also Deroy (1956: 137 and 171), who opposes borrowings by practical necessity ("practical necessity") and by affective reasons ("raisons de cœur").

17 Yet this observation does not hold for noncatachrestic innovations which are proposed by institutions with puristic motives in order to initiate a linguistic change from above, as in this case, the innovation is coined precisely with the intention of providing a lexical equivalent with the same semantic and pragmatic interpretation.

18 Cf. also "Necessary loans – luxury loans? Explaining the pragmatic dimension of borrowing" (talk presented by Alexander Onysko & Esme Winter-Froemel at the workshop Language contact and multilingualism as a challenge for sociolinguistics and theoretical linguistics, 37. Österreichische Linguistiktagung, 5th–7th December 2009, Salzburg).

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19 The queries were made on 31st December 2008 with an additional restriction to pages written in French ("pages francophones", "pages en français"). In spite of this restriction, there is a certain number of false hits (false positives) for the expression "pipol", as the queries returned many occurrences of the names of the computer games "Pipol Destinations" and "Pipol Lemmings" in English documents. Furthermore, the search engines use different search algorithms, and the numbers of results for a certain query sometimes vary considerably (see especially for lycos). For this reason, four different search engines were used in this study. Another important fact is the duplication of Internet pages (i.e. certain Internet pages are duplicated and made accessible on various servers; Lüdeling, Evert & Baroni 2005). This implies that the results may include many occurrences of one single document. Yet such duplications especially concern Internet pages which are judged as interesting for a broad readership. In many cases, a high number of duplications thus seems to correlate with a high degree of diffusion of the document within the Internet community and the TL readership. Nevertheless, Internet search engines are not designed with the aim of facilitating linguistic research, but they are guided by commercial interests, and it has to be acknowledged that linguistic frequency counts based on Internet searches remain, to a certain degree, problematic.

20 The queries were conducted on 18th December 2008.

21 I speak here of phonic and graphic segments (and not of phonemes and graphemes), as it cannot be taken for granted that imported segments immediately assume a phonologically or graphematically distinctive status in the TL.

22 The queries were conducted on 19th May 2009, again with a restriction to pages written in French. Additionally, because of the elevated number of false positives (e.g. occurrences in English documents), the queries were limited to certain French expressions containing "people" in order to optimize the search: "presse people / pipole / etc.", "actu ~", "politique ~". For the following queries, no hits were found at all: "[presse / actu / politique] peopeul", "~ pipoul", "~ paupol", "~ pipl", "~ popl", "~ pauple", "~ paupl", "~ peapeule", "~ peapeul".

23 This observation equally holds for some occurrences of the pronunciation [pɔ'pɔl] (cf. 3.2.2).

24 The given correspondence rule is restricted to contexts where <e> is followed by a consonant (<K>) and a syllable boundary (?). The pronunciation [pi'pɛl] exhibits an uncommon substitution pattern (cf. 3.2.2), but it is still explainable as an integration of the English source form.

25 Still another interesting variant is <pipoule> [pi'pul], which shows a marked divergence from the SL spelling and pronunciation. In this case, the creation of the TL variant can be analyzed as a deliberate deviation from F. (une) people CELEBRITY OF FEMALE SEX, which is influenced at the lexical level by F. poule POPPET, FLOSSY and F. poupoule as a variant of this latter form in familiar French (cf. PR s.v. poule).

26 The following analyzes mainly concentrate on pronunciation features which are phonologically relevant, and further differences between the SL and the TL pronunciation, e.g. the loss of aspiration (E. [ph-] vs. F. [p-]), are not discussed in detail here.

27 It has to be added that there are also additional regional variations for this pronunciation, that is, the loan can also be pronounced as [pi'pol] (cf. section 3.3).

28 However, the analysis proposed here, which is based on the methodological assumption of an oral contact situation, is not meant to imply that the TL speaker who borrows the SL form does not know the SL spelling.

29 Cf. the examples of E. <baby> ['beɪbɪ] → F. <baby> [be'bi] (PR; <a> ↔ [e]) and E. puzzle Brit. [pʌzl], U.S. ['pəz(ə)l] → F. puzzle [pœzl] (PR; <u> ↔ [œ]). Another possible result of a combination of written and oral contact are forms like F. <knock-out> [knɔkawt] (← E. <knock-out> ['nɒk'aʊt]; PR), where the pronunciation is influenced both by the SL pronunciation (F. [-awt] ← E. [-aʊt]) and by the TL spelling (which has been imported from the SL spelling; [kn-] ↔ <kn->).

30 The queries were made on 27th May 2009 with google (with a restriction to pages written in French). Only the three most frequent spelling variants were analyzed.

PhiN 53/2010: 92

31 The expressions "news ~" and "infos ~" are widely diffused in the TL, so that they were chosen for this analysis. The queries were made on 27th May 2009 with google (with a restriction to pages written in French). The queries for "les news pipeul", "les news pipeuls", "les infos pipeul" and "les infos pipeuls" gave no exact matches, so that this variant is not included in Table 3.

32 This last meaning of F. people thus comes close to the meaning of the derivation F. pipolisation.

33 For methodological reasons, however, it is difficult to analyze diastratic variation from the corpus data studied here.

34 In current loanword phonology, it is much debated whether loanword integration is guided by the phonology of the individual TL (cf. Jacobs & Gussenhoven 2000; LaCharité & Paradis 2005) or whether it is, in contrast, phonetic and perceptually driven (cf. Peperkamp & Dupoux 2003). According to the latter position, loanword integration would be differently described, by referring to general principles of perception. Without discussing this controversy in more detail here, it can be noted that both approaches share the basic assumption of a predictability of loanword integration.