05 August 2011


In my previous post, I suggested that kris is a word in English that has been borrowed from Malay, but I was unable to check its occurrence in the COCA corpus because enquiries get swamped by instances of the name Kris (especially Kris Kristofferson, with 95 instances, and Kris Osborn, the CNN reporter, with 29). Unless I can find a way to make the search case-sensitive, it is hard to filter those out.

In a comment, Adrian challenged me to check all 1528 entries for kris. I have now done that, and all but five are to the name Kris. Those five exceptions are to ndi kris, which seems to be a term for a group of Christian people in Nigeria.

So, should kris, referring to a ceremonial Malay dagger, be regarded as a word of English or not? My Websters Dictionary lists it, giving creese as an alternative spelling. (There are four tokens of creese in COCA, but they refer to someone called Creese.) But that does not mean the dictionary is necessarily right.

This raises the question: what should be considered a word in English? There are no easy answers to that. But the availability of large-scale corpora such as COCA certainly give us invaluable tools to investigate things like this ourselves. And also to waste lots and lots of time in finding out about things. (Thanks, Adrian.)