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Phono-semantic matching (PSM) is a term in linguistics that refers to camouflaged borrowing in which a foreign word is matched with a phonetically and semantically similar pre-existent native word/root. It may alternatively be defined as the entry of a multisourced neologism that preserves both the meaning and the approximate sound of the parallel expression in the source language, using pre-existent words/roots of the target language.


Phono-semantic matching is distinct from calquing. While calquing includes (semantic) translation, it does not consist of phonetic matching (i.e. retaining the approximate sound of the borrowed word through matching it with a similar-sounding pre-existent word/morpheme in the target language).

The term "phono-semantic matching", also known as PSM, was introduced by Ghil'ad Zuckermann in 1999. Zuckermann's analysis of multisourced neologization challenged Einar Haugen's classic typology of lexical borrowing . While Haugen categorized borrowing into either substitution or importation, camouflaged borrowing in the form of PSM is a case of "simultaneous substitution and importation". Zuckermann proposed a new classification of multisourced neologisms, words deriving from two or more sources at the same time. Examples of such mechanisms are phonetic matching, semanticized phonetic matching and phono-semantic matching.

Zuckermann concludes that language planners, for example members of the Academy of the Hebrew Language, employ the very same techniques used in folk etymology by laymen, as well as by religious leaders. He urges lexicographers and etymologists to recognize the widespread phenomena of camouflaged borrowing and multisourced neologization and not to force one source on multi-parental lexical items.


Mandarin Chinese

PSM is frequently used in Mandarin borrowings.

An example is the Taiwanmarker Mandarin word 威而剛 wēiérgāng (weiergang), which literally means "powerful and hard" and refers to Viagra, the drug for treating impotence in men, manufactured by Pfizer.

Another example is the Mandarin form of World Wide Web, which is wàn wéi wǎng ( ), which satisfies "www" and literally means “myriad dimensional net”.

"Modern Standard Chinese 声纳 shēngnà "sonar", which uses the characters 声 shēng "sound" and 纳 "receive, accept". 声 shēng is a phonetically imperfect rendering of the English initial syllable (although peng, for instance, would have been much worse). Chinese has a large number of homo/heterotonal homophonous morphemes, which would have been much better phonetically (but not nearly as good semantically) – consider SONG (cf. 送 sòng ‘deliver, carry, give (as a present)’, 松 sōng ‘pine; loose, slack’, 耸 sǒng ‘tower; alarm, attract’ etc.), SOU (cf. 搜 sōu ‘search’, 叟 sŏu ‘old man’, 馊 sōu ‘sour, spoiled’ and many others) or SHOU (cf. 收 shōu ‘receive, accept’, 受 shòu ‘receive, accept’, 手 shǒu ‘hand’, 首 shǒu ‘head’, 兽 shòu ‘beast’, 瘦 shòu ‘thin’ and so forth)."

According to Zuckermann, PSM in Mandarin is common in (1) brand names, (2) computer jargon, (3) technological terms, and (4) toponyms. From a puristic perspective, Mandarin PSM is the ‘lesser evil’. The worse option would have been roman orthography (in writing) or code switching (in speech). Zuckermann’s exploration of PSM in Standard Mandarin and Meiji period Japanese concludes that the Chinese writing system is multifunctional: pleremic ("full" of meaning, e.g. logographic), cenemic ("empty" of meaning, e.g. phonographic - like a syllabary) and simultaneously cenemic and pleremic (phono-logographic). Zuckermann argues that Leonard Bloomfield’s assertion that "a language is the same no matter what system of writing may be used" is inaccurate. “If Chinese had been written using roman letters, thousands of Chinese words would not have been coined, or would have been coined with completely different forms”.


Sapir and Zuckermann (2008) demonstrate how Icelandic camouflages many English words by means of phono-semantic matching. For example, the Icelandic-looking word eyðni, meaning "AIDS", is a PSM of the English acronym AIDS, using the pre-existent Icelandic verb eyða, meaning "to destroy", and the Icelandic nominal suffix -ni. Similarly, the Icelandic word tækni, meaning "technology, technique", derives from tæki, meaning "tool", combined with the nominal suffix -ni, but is, in fact, a PSM of the Danish (or international) teknik, meaning "technology, technique". This neologism was coined in 1912 by Dr Björn Bjarnarson from Viðfjörður in the East of Iceland. It had been little in use until the 1940s, but has ever since become highly common, as a lexeme and as an element in new formations, such as raftækni, lit. "electrical technics", i.e. "electronics", tæknilegur "technical" and tæknir "technician". Other PSMs discussed in the article are beygla, bifrabifrari, brokkál, dapurdapurleiki - depurð, fjárfesta - fjárfesting, heila, guðspjall, ímynd, júgurð, korréttur, Létt og laggott, musl, pallborðpallborðsumræður, páfagaukur, ratsjá, setur, staða, staðallstaðla - stöðlun, togatogari, uppi and veira.


"Perhaps the most famous Turkish PSM is the one whose current form is okul "school". It was created to replace Ottoman Turkish mektep, an old loanword from Arabic. Turkish okul was obviously based on French école "school" and might have been influenced by Latin schola "school" (cf. the original Turkish coinage okula(ğ)). On the other hand, the autochthonous co-etymon of okul is Turkish oku- "(to) read", cf. okumak ‘to read, study’, okuma ‘reading’, okur ‘reader’. Note the semantic affinity with Arabic كتب kataba ‘wrote (masculine, singular)’, the ultimate origin of Ottoman Turkish mektep. However, synchronically, Turkish okul cannot be regarded as öztürkçe (pure Turkish) since the final -l is not a Turkish suffix and was imported ad hoc from French. One might claim that the -l is the result of analogy to Turkish words ending in l, e.g. kızıl "red, ruddy", from kızmak "to get angry/hot". There was also a suggestion that the suffix is in fact the Turkic -ul. However, adding the suffix -ul to oku would have yielded *okuyul (cf. Lewis 1999: 118). Diachronically, however, the original form of okul was allegedly okula, in which -la might be explained by analogy to (Ottoman) Turkish kışla "barracks, winter quarters" (cf. kış "winter") and yayla "summer pasture" (cf. yaz "summer"), although these two are not verb-based (ibid.: 117). Refet, the Deputy for the city of Urfa, falsely suggested that okula already existed in the Urfa dialect (ibid.: 118, cf. Heyd 1954: 91). Indeed, purists are likely to apply the method of revitalizing and standardizing dialectal words. However, in the case of okul, such an explanation seems to be no more than a folk etymology. Turkish okul constitutes a successful creational PSM. As Lewis (1982: vi, reprint of 1953) puts it: "Nothing is to be gained by adopting the ostrich-attitude and saying: ‘Okul (‘school’) is a ridiculous hybrid, out of the Turkish oku- ‘to read’, by the French école. We shall ignore it and continue to use the good old Ottoman word mektep.’ Turkish children nowadays don’t go to mektep; they go to okul."

Modern Hebrew

Often in phono-semantic matching, "the source-language not only dictates the choice of root, but also the choice of noun-pattern, thus constituting a camouflaged influence on the target-language morphology. For example, the phono-semantic matcher of English dock with Israeli מבדוק mivdók could have used — after deliberately choosing the phonetically and semantically suitable root בדק √bdq 'check' (Rabbinic), 'repair' (Biblical) — the noun-patterns mi⌂⌂a⌂á, ma⌂⌂e⌂á, mi⌂⌂é⌂et, mi⌂⌂a⌂áim etc. (each ⌂ represents a slot where a radical is inserted). Instead, mi⌂⌂ó⌂, which was not highly productive, was chosen because its [o] makes the final syllable of מבדוק mivdók sound like English dock."


Mailhammer (2008) "applies the concepts of multisourced neologisation and, more generally, camouflaged borrowing, as established by Zuckermann (2003) to Modern German, pursuing a twofold aim, namely to underline the significance of multisourced neologisation for language contact theory and secondly to demonstrate that together with other forms of camouflaged borrowing it remains an important borrowing mechanism in contemporary German."


Zuckermann (2009) analyses the evolution of the word artichoke. Beginning in Arabic الخرشوف ('al-xarshūf) "the artichoke", it was adapted into Spanish Arabic alxarshofa, then Old Spanish alcarchofa, then Italian alcarcioffo, North Italian arcicioffo > arciciocco > articiocco, then as the internationalism phonetically realised in English as artichoke. The word was eventually phono-semantically matched back into Arabic (for example in Syriamarker, Lebanonmarker and Israelmarker) as أرضي شوكي arḍī shōkī, consisting of أرضي arḍī "earthly" and شوكي shawkī "thorny".

Brand names

Viagra, which was suggested by Interbrand Wood (the consultancy firm hired by Pfizer), is itself a multisourced neologism, based on Sanskrit vyāghráh "tiger" but enhanced by the words vigour (i.e. strength) and Niagara (i.e. free/forceful flow).

Motivations for phono-semantic matching

According to Zuckermann (2003), PSM has various advantages from the point of view of the puristic language planner:
  • recycling obsolete lexical items
  • camouflaging foreign influence (for the native speaker in the future)
  • facilitating initial learning (mnemonics) (for the contemporary learner/speaker)

Other motivations for PSM include the following:

See also


  1. See, for example, Zuckermann, Ghil'ad (1999). "Review Article of Nakdimon Shabbethay Doniach and Ahuvia Kahane (eds), The Oxford English-Hebrew Dictionary. Oxford – New York: Oxford University Press, 1998", International Journal of Lexicography 12, pp. 325-346.
  2. Zuckermann, Ghil’ad (2003), Language Contact and Lexical Enrichment in Israeli Hebrew, Houndmills: Palgrave Macmillan.
  3. Haugen, Einar (1950), "The Analysis of Linguistic Borrowing", Language 26, pp. 210-231.
  4. See Zuckermann, Ghil‘ad (2006), "'Etymythological Othering' and the Power of 'Lexical Engineering' in Judaism, Islam and Christianity. A Socio-Philo(sopho)logical Perspective", Explorations in the Sociology of Language and Religion, edited by Tope Omoniyi and Joshua A. Fishman, Amsterdam: John Benjamins, pp. 237-258.
  5. See Zuckermann, Ghil'ad 2003, "Language Contact and Globalisation: The Camouflaged Influence of English on the World’s Languages – with special attention to Israeli (sic) and Mandarin". Cambridge Review of International Affairs 16.2, pp. 287-307, as well as Zuckermann, Ghil'ad 2004, "Cultural Hybridity: Multisourced Neologization in 'Reinvented' Languages and in Languages with 'Phono-Logographic' Script". Languages in Contrast 4.2, pp. 281-318.
  6. See p. 59 of Zuckermann, Ghil’ad (2003), Language Contact and Lexical Enrichment in Israeli Hebrew, Houndmills: Palgrave Macmillan.
  7. See CEDICT or the MDBG Chinese-English Dictionary.
  8. See p. 57 of Zuckermann, Ghil’ad (2003), Language Contact and Lexical Enrichment in Israeli Hebrew, Houndmills: Palgrave Macmillan.
  9. Bloomfield, Leonard (1933), Language, New York: Henry Holt, p. 21.
  10. Zuckermann, Ghil‘ad (2003), Language Contact and Lexical Enrichment in Israeli Hebrew, Houndmills: Palgrave Macmillan, p. 255.
  11. Sapir, Yair and Zuckermann, Ghil'ad (2008), "Icelandic: Phonosemantic Matching", in Judith Rosenhouse and Rotem Kowner (eds), Globally Speaking: Motives for Adopting English Vocabulary in Other Languages, Clevedon-Buffalo-Toronto: Multilingual Matters, pp. 19-43 (Chapter 2).
  12. See pp. 28-29 of Sapir and Zuckermann (2008 above; cf. 爱滋病 aìzībìng (lit. "a disease caused by (making) love"), another PSM of AIDS, in this case in Modern Standard Chinese - see p. 36 of the same article.
  13. See pp. 37-38 of Sapir and Zuckermann (2008) above; cf. تقنيّ taqni/tiqani (lit. "of perfection, related to mastering and improving"), meaning "technical, technological", another PSM of the international word technical, in this case in Modern Arabic - see p. 38 of the same article.
  14. See p. 160 of Zuckermann, Ghil’ad (2003), Language Contact and Lexical Enrichment in Israeli Hebrew, Houndmills: Palgrave Macmillan.
  15. Zuckermann, Ghil'ad (2009), "Hybridity versus Revivability: Multiple Causation, Forms and Patterns", Journal of Language Contact, Varia 2:40-67, p. 59.
  16. Mailhammer, Robert (2008), "The Wolf in sheep's clothing: Camouflaged borrowing in Modern German". Folia Linguistica 42/1 (2008), pp. 177–193. ISSN 0165–4004, E-ISSN 1614–7308 © Mouton de Gruyter – Societas Linguistica Europaea
  17. Quotation from p. 191 of Mailhammer (2008).
  18. Zuckermann, Ghil'ad (2009), "Hybridity versus Revivability: Multiple Causation, Forms and Patterns", Journal of Language Contact, Varia 2:40-67, p. 60.

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