Is English a creole?

Discussion in 'Etymology, History of languages, and Linguistics (EHL)' started by vince, Sep 20, 2006.

  1. vince Senior Member

    Los Angeles, CA
    Is the English language a creole language, a formalized French-like language with a Germanic substrate?

    Okay, maybe not 21th century English, but perhaps its direct ancestor, Middle English?

    Look at it, it evolved from a Dutch-like Germanic language called "Anglo-Saxon" but after the Norman invasion, the ruling and educated class spoke French while the masses continued to speak Anglo-Saxon. As time went on, Germanic words were gradually displaced by French vocabulary, starting with the educated words, and gradually trickling down to more everyday terms.

    Now, English vocabulary is 25%-80% French-based, the proportion based on how formal and technical the language used is (this includes French words evolved from Latin, many of which are themselves derived from Greek. This also includes words invented by English that were designed to match French morphology). What other languages have such a high proportion of another language's words in their lexicon, not including words that evolved separately in the two languages prior to contact? (e.g. English "I" and French "je" are related, but don't count as loaned words since they arose from a common ancestor. Nor are Spanish "mandar" and Portuguese "mandar".)

    Perhaps Japanese with Middle Chinese, or Urdu with Persian?

    Would you consider English, or at least Middle English a creole?
  2. Tsoman Banned

    New York
    English -- US
    I think that it is a creole. And that that is part of its charm
  3. Daddyo Banned

    No, it's not a creole language, because English (and especially Middle English) existed and was spoken by a large group of people way before America was discovered, and even much longer before the French had descendants there.
  4. Brioche

    Brioche Senior Member

    Australia English
    English is not a creole.

    A creole is a pidgin language which has become a mother tongue.

    A pidgin is a grammatically simplified form of a language with elements taken from local languages, used for communication between people not sharing a common language.

    English is language which has borrowed and assimilated words from other languages.
  5. . 1 Banned

    Ferntree Gully
    Australian Australia
    A creole is a language that forms from extended contact between two languages.
    English formed from the contact between a number of languages.

  6. macta123 Senior Member

    No, English is clearly not a Creole. It has words from Latin thru Old French. But it is grammaticaly far away from French. Creole, on the other hand is highly modelled on French with several different vocabulary and bit different pronounciation esp. that in West Indies, Lousiana (USA), Seychelles and Mauritius.
  7. beclija Senior Member

    Boarisch, Österreich (Austria)
    You are speaking of specifically french-based creoles, but the term creole language refers to "the result of a nontrivial mixture of two or more languages, usually with radical morphological changes and a syntax which is not obviously borrowed from either of the parent tongues" (Source), among other factors to narrow down the definition, but French is not required.
    I wouldn't say English is a creole, but it's certainly closer to it than any other European language, both structurally and from a historical point of view. I've come across an article recently that argues that it is not so much a creole as a koine language, and that the major influence for its structural changes was not so much the Saxon/French bilingual situation after the Norman conquer as the Saxon/Norse contact through the Vikings of the Danelag. I might try to find it again.
  8. optimistique Senior Member

    I have been taught that English is in fact a creole language (I don't know much about a koinè-language). One important element is the simplification of the grammar, which is very present in modern English. English has lost its gender, its present tense verb conjugations, and the independece of the conjugated verb (much auxiliary verbs needed) to name a few.

    I think some arguments given here contradict each other a bit, so I don't think if a language is or is not a creole language depends solely on the fact if it has been created through contact with one or more other languages.
    You could say English has been creolised multiple times. English does share a lot of grammatical similarities with the Scandinavian languages, while it is classified a Western Germanic language which do not have these elements.
  9. fenixpollo

    fenixpollo moderator

    American English
    The arguments contradict each other because there are several different definitions of the concept "creole". For me, a creole is not a language that is simply a mishmash of languages. Look at the Britannica definition from Daddyo's link:
    This is not what happened with English.
    The "Anglo-Saxon Language", if you can call Old English that, was brought by the Angles and the Saxons -- two distinct groups. These people were invaders who conquered the Celtic peoples of the British Isles. Their Germanic languages altered (but didn't replace) the native Celtic languages.

    English is not a creole, but a language that has evolved through a series of contacts with, and influences from, different languages.
  10. modus.irrealis Senior Member

    English, Canada
    I agree that by the strict definition of creole, English is not one, but even in a more loose sense, I don't think you can call it one, because the French influence seems to be mostly on the vocabulary (where it has been very widespread), and not on the grammatical structure itself, where the only influence I can see there is the use of "used to" for the habitual aspect. And most of English grammar can be traced back to Old English so there doesn't seem to be any drastic point of creolization that occured.

    The other thing is that, and correct me if I'm wrong, many of the developments from Old English to Modern have strong parallels in some of the Scandinavian languages (loss of cases, e.g., or loss of verb inflections). beclija's point about the major influence might have been a Scandinavian language long before the Norman conquest is something I've come across before. And English even borrowed a personal pronoun from there (they) and that's more than can be said about French.
  11. loladamore

    loladamore Senior Member

    Zacatecas, México
    English UK
    Can we have a poll on this, please?

    Fenixpollo makes a good point about the various definitions of creole. An interesting one is: a mother tongue formed from the contact of a European language with another language, especially an African language (source) which pretty much scuppers the chances of English being considered a creole. Most other definitions have a creole as a stabilized - and to a certain extent, standardized- evolved pidgin. That means that English would have had to have been a pidgin first in order to become a creole.

    I think that there are very good arguments for considering Old English a pidgin, given that it arose from various low Germanic dialects (I'm talking pre-Norman times) which then came into contact with various Scandinavian varieties (the Vikings, the Danelaw and all that) prior to the Norman era. The Anglo-Saxons and Scandinavians spoke similar dialects and perhaps pidginization led to the simplification of English grammar; a pidgin-like variety between the two cultures would have led to the loss of word endings and greater reliance on word order. If this English then 'settled', then I don't see why you can't argue that early Middle English was then indeed a creole language, spoken by the people, whereas the elite spoke Norman French. I don't think you could could call later Middle English a creole. Yes, a considerable amount of French vocabulary was absorbed, but structurally speaking, English remains essentially a germanic language.

    As for the Celtic element, other than toponyms and a handful of lexical terms, its influence is negligible, with the obvious exception of peripheral language communities where the Celtic languages survived the Roman invasion, and where varieties of Gaelic are still spoken.

    Bla, bla, bla, waffle, waffle, waffle. I'll shut up now.

    And can we have a poll, please?
  12. Julito_Maraña Banned

    There is a very good argument for saying English is not a creole: it doesn't come from a pidgin. That argument beats any argument that says English is a a creole. No pidgin, no creole. It's that simple.

    Petroleoum comes from the ground. If it's oil that comes from an olive, then it's not petroleoum. You can say it's an oil but olive oil isn't petroleoum. Neither are Brutus or Popeye.
  13. konungursvia Banned

    Canada (English)
    I would say it is a BAstard, rather than a creole. The latter is a non-standard form of a known standard, whereas English is not a "colorfully messed up" version of some other more "legitimate" standard.
  14. beclija Senior Member

    Boarisch, Österreich (Austria)
    There are a lot of serious linguist who do believe that English went through a stage of creolization, while others doubt it. The exact definition of "creole" various and does not neccessarily include the notion of a pidgin origin.

    Anyway, saying that English originated from a creole either referring to the Norse/Saxon or the French/Saxon bilingual situation does not imply that it borrowed grammatical features from French - it just says that it was simplified due to a historical period where a lot of speakers (i.e. the French speaking Norman elite) did not speak very well. Which was, if I remember right, one of the arguments of the article mentioned above: The Normans were always a small elite, whereas the Danes settled in rather large numbers in Northern England. Calling it koine, though, implies that Norse and Saxon were at least in their basics mutually intelligible at that time (9th and 10th centuries), which cannot be directly proven.
  15. HistofEng Senior Member

    New York
    USA Eng, Haitian-Creole
    Engish is not a is simply a mixed language (not the same thing as a Creole)...The fact that English lost its cases and inflections has nothing to do with it being deemed a Creole. All the Romance languages have lost many inflections and cases and tenses when compared to their predecessor, Vulgar Latin.
  16. Outsider Senior Member

    Portuguese (Portugal)
    The loss of inflections seems to be a general trend in Western Indo-European languages, and particularly in many Germanic languages. We could perhaps discuss whether it was taken to a special extreme in English, but I don't think it's too extraordinary by itself.
  17. Daddyo Banned

    I just thought of a detail that might seem irrelevant: After the withdrawal of the Roman garrisons in the Fourth (Fifth?) Century, when the land became ripe for all those waves of "North Men" marauders and invaders, the one group of North Men who invaded the land so thoroughly and completely that took over the very social order of the humans on the land itself were the Angles. So much so, that forever more Britain would be known as "Angle Land" (England), even throughout the subsequent and frequent other invasions, such as the Norman's.
    So, maybe English doesn't get to be a creole, but a pastiche of sorts, a concatenation on an already existing language that too often was run over by political and economic conquerors.
  18. Julito_Maraña Banned

    That pastiche scenario is true for every language that I'm familiar with. Latin, French, Spanish, Portuguese, German, Italian, etc. etc.
  19. übermönch

    übermönch Senior Member

    Warum wohne ich bloß in so einem KAFF?
    World - 1.German, 2.Russian, 3.English
    :idea: After reading this thread I came to a conclusion that every language is a creole, to a certain degree. Modern Greek, modern Hungarian, modern Russian, romance langs., modern Turkish, modern Persian etc. etc. including classical Latin are all simplifications of it's old, more complicated, versions that approx. underwent the same process as English through (contact with/assimilation of) other languages.
  20. Julito_Maraña Banned

    All languages go through the changes that you describe. But that doesn't make them creoles. Not even creoles to a certain extent. Being a creole is sort of like being pregnant. You can't be pregnant to a certain extent.

    If you took monlingual Japanese, Polish, Malenke and Aymara speakers and put them on a spaceship with a crew of Dyirbal speakers who are their bosses, these people will develop a pidgin based on Dyirbal (the prestige language) to communicate. Let's call that L1.

    L1's grammar will be crude and loose but none of these people will speak it as a native language. Until the day they die, the Polish speakers will only speak Polish as a native language, the Japanese will be masters of only Japanese etc.

    But as the Poles intermarry with the Aymara, etc. they will have children and these children will speak something based on L1 but that would be completely different. As these kids grow up, they will be able to speak this new language as natives, let's call it L2, and they will be able to tell L1 speakers from L2 speakers. L1 speakers will never be able to handle L2 like their kids. The second generation will not sound like the first. A language will have been born almost out of nothing and rules that were not their in L1 will appear in L2.

    L1 is a pidgin. L2 is a creole. There is no other way to make a creole. You have to force a group of people who can't understand each other into a situation where they need to communicate to make a pidgin. The only way you get a creole is when pidgin speakers reproduce.

    So there is no such thing as "sort of a creole" or "creole to a certain extent."

    At one point, those L2 to speakers can move bacl to Earth, to Australia, and their L2 can get decreolized under the influence of Earth Dyirbal. So in that sense, you can say the creole get's decreolized or decreolized to a certain extent if the process is not complete (if there are traces of the language that developed on the spaceship).
  21. optimistique Senior Member

    But later Middle English is not an other language than early Middle Language. It's the same language, but at another point in time. So how can you call the latter a creole, but say that later Middle English is suddenly no longer one? So what does a language have to do to suddenly upgrade from a creole to a 'proper' language?

    It's obvious now that whether English is or is not a creole, depends solely on the definition you have of a creole, so it is very, very subjective. You'll always find arguments pro or contra declaring English a creole like this.
  22. Julito_Maraña Banned

    I guess you could argue that English is French depending on your definition of French. If you get liberal enough with the definition of French you can even argue that Cantonese is French. But I don't see, from an intellectual point of view, where that gets us.

    Creole means something. And although French is not always easy to define some languages are not creoles and some languages aren't French. I would put English in both in those caterogies: Non-Creole and Non-French.
  23. beclija Senior Member

    Boarisch, Österreich (Austria)
    I don't see the point of that comparison? Has anyone argued that English is a French dialect? I must have overread that. French is a linguistic community, while "creole" is a term to categorize languages that share certain features, although the exact defininition varies. The answer to the question wether English is a creole depends on (a)your preferred definition of creole (which is as such rather arbitrary) and (b)details of the sociolinguistic situation at various stages of the development of English (about which not enough is known, and maybe never will be).
  24. Julito_Maraña Banned

    I have heard arguments that English is a romance language! My point is that is not very useful to say that that Mars is a satelite because it revolves around the Sun like the our moon revolves around our Earth. Satelites are satelites and planets are planets. Creoles are one thing and languages that borrow many words another.

    A language can borrow 95 percent of its vocabulary without being a creole. I think definitions matter. I don't think a satelite is any object that revolves around another and I don't think that a creole is a language that has borrowed alot of words.

    While I believe that words mean what people mean them to be, if people out there think that a creole is any language that has alot of foreign words then linguists need a new word for what they are under the impression "creole" means.
  25. beclija Senior Member

    Boarisch, Österreich (Austria)
    I agree with you that it is nonsense to argue that English is a Romance language from the simple observation that almost its entire basic vocabulary and grammatical function words are still Germanic. And, yes, that remains valid even if it is 95% of its total vocabulary that is borrowed. But the main argument for saying English is a has gone through a stage of creolization is not that it has this much borrowings from that many languages, but that it underwent a number of structural changes that are otherwhise deemed typical for creolization, and that it might have had periods with a sociolinguistic situation similar to that which has in other cases lead to the emergence of a creole.
    I don't think there anything bad or disrespectful about it. I personally find creolization a most interesting topic, in the top line of my linguistic interests.
  26. optimistique Senior Member

    But a satelite just IS an object that revolves around another, I'm sorry. The moon is a satelite of the earth, and the satelite of a planet is called a moon. But we're not talking about astronomy.

    I agree with you and that was exactly my point, that first a clear definition of creole had to be given in order to determine if English is one. But I never said that I found English to be a creole only because it had borrowed so many words from French. English has borrowed grammatical structures from probably Danish, at least an old(er) Scandinavian language. It could be called a creole after this period already, but I'm not saying that because I don't know enough about it.

    Then came the French invasion which indeed delivered English a lot of new words, but who can claim that no grammatical structures from French were borrowed? Maybe they're just so subtle that nobody recognises them as such. Maybe the use of the present particle? It exists in other Germanic languages of course, but is no longer used in the same way, while in French it is. Just a suggestion, though, I don't know for sure.
  27. Hulalessar

    Hulalessar Senior Member

    English - England
    Some tentative definitions:

    A pidgin is a rudimentary language that comes into existence when two mutually unintelligible languages come into contact. It is never spoken as a mother tongue.

    If the children of speakers of a pidgin adopt it as their primary means of communication it develops grammatical features and becomes a proper language capable of expressing everything the speaker needs to express. It then becomes a creole and is spoken as a mother tongue.

    (Confusion can arise because some creoles are actually called pidgins.)

    Code switching may occur in bilingual communities. Speakers change languages as the mood takes them, but the languages do not interfere with each other so that each language is spoken in the same way as speakers of each language speak it who do not code switch.

    A mixed language differs from a creole in that it does not develop from a pidgin. It is likely to be understood by persons who understand the languages that are mixed, whereas a creole is likely to be unintelligible by speakers of the languages from which it arose.

    Distinguishing between a language and a dialect is a vexed question, but suffice it to say that a dialect, thought it may have borrowings from an unrelated language, is not the same thing as a creole as it will never have been a pidgin. Dialect implies some degree of intelligibilty with other vareties of the same language, particularly those in close proximity, so that it is often possible to speak of a continuum of dialects - you will usually understand the man in the next village (unless of course he speaks a completely different language).

    Quite apart from all the above, languages borrow from each other.

    There is no hard and fast division between these categories. Some pidgins are more developed than others. There is obviously a transitional stage between a pidgin and a creole. Code switching may lead to the development of a mixed language. In countries where a creole is spoken as well as one of the languages which went to make it up there may be several registers between the two.

    Gibraltar is an interesting case. Gibraltarians speak Llanito. Some regard it as a mixed language, some as a creole, some as a case of continuous code switching and some as a case of heavy borrowing. If you speak both Spanish and English you can understand most of it.

    English is also an interesting case. If the above definitions are accepted, it is not a creole. If you describe a language as a "creole" you say something about how a language came about, not necessarily what it is like. It is possible for a language to be creole-like, without being a creole. Faced with a language that is apparently some sort of a blend can a linguist tell if a language is a creole? Is it possible to label a language a creole without knowing its history? I do not know enough (or for that matter much at all) about creoles to answer that, but if I believe what I read, creoles developed in widely separated areas tend to share similar features and to be languages without any baroque features. There is much argument about why this should be the case and in any event some creoles do have baroque features and some non-creoles lack them. However, if one accepts that there is a creole prototype to which most creoles conform and to which most non-creoles do not conform, then English is not creole-like.

    Perhaps the essence of a creole is that two languages have been immolated and a new language has arisen phoenix-like from the ashes. That process never occurred with English, it was much slower.
  28. helmet83 New Member

    If Modern English descended solely from Old English, I think it would resemble Modern Frisian, which, in common with all other Germanic languages, is much more conservative and grammatically complex than Modern English.

    Personally I think the driver for this simplification lies firstly in the interaction between the Old Norse of the Danelaw and the Old English of the Southern Counties. These two languages shared a degree of vocabulary, and probably, intelligibility, so monolingual speakers of either could have held some kind of conversation (in a kind of pidgin?) if they met, but their grammars, inflection and word orders were substantially different. No doubt those living in the border regions of the Danelaw began to speak a dialect influenced by both languages, and probably simpler than either - i.e. a kind of creole, reflected in the Modern Midlands accent and dialects, which are intermediate between the Southern and Northern accents/ dialects.

    Perhaps over time this created a dialect continuum, with the most conservative OE/ Norse varieties existing in the most South Westerly/ Northerly parts of England respectively. This is still reflected in the accents and dialects existing in these areas today.

    During the middle English period there was a large migration from the Midlands (i.e. the old Danelaw border lands) to London, and Modern Standard English is believed to be heavily influenced, if not largely derived, from Midlands dialects of Middle English, which would have been widely spoken at court etc. due to this influx.

    So I would say Modern Standard English has a large part of its origins in a kind of Norse/ OE creole spoken in the Midlands of England where the two languages interacted, which subsequently became standard and is a large part of the reason English is the least conservative and simplest of all the Germanic languages.

    During the early modern english period, there seems to have been very conservative dialects retaining many features of Old English and Old Norse existing in places such as the South or North West. Recognisably Modern English has, however, existed and been evolving independently of more conservative dialects for around 500 years, and there does not seem to have been any movement to preserve more conservative forms of English as the simplified version became standard. It seems the conservative varieties of English were effectively dead by the end of the 17th century.

    So given that recognisably Modern English has been the preeminent language of England for a good few centuries, and all th more consrvative languages and dialects from which it descended are now dead, perhaps one should describe Englishh as a language whose roots lie in a creole?
  29. Frank06

    Frank06 Senior Member

    Nederlands / Dutch (Belgium)
    If the world would be flat...
    There is a lot that could have happened (and did happen) in a 1000 years.
    You mean morphologically more complex?
    What are your real, solid arguments for both a pidgin and a creole apart from wild speculation?

  30. Hulalessar

    Hulalessar Senior Member

    English - England
    First, I think we have to understand what we mean by complexity. I take it that what you mean is that Modern English has fewer inflections than Old English. Native speakers of English tend to regard inflections as an indication of a language's complexity, but in fact they are only one aspect of complexity. All languages are equally complex.

    Whilst it is likely that Modern English would be more like Modern Frisian if the Viking and Norman invasions had not taken place, I do not think it necessarily follows that it would resemble Modern Frisian. Modern Frisian has moved on from the language that was spoken over a thousand years ago. It has been influenced by Dutch. Even without Dutch influence, it would have changed. Frisian itself has fragmented into mutually unintelligible dialects, mainly because the areas in which it is spoken are geographically separated from each other. The North Sea lies between Britain and Frisia and it is inevitable that, even without contact with Norse and French, English would have gone its own way after more than a thousand years.

    Whilst this may be the case, it is not necessarily the case. Loss of inflection has occurred in many languages without the sort of interaction you suggest. It has indeed happened in the Scandinavian languages. The interaction may have accelerated the loss of inflections, but then again it may not.

    Whatever happened, there was never a creole for the simple reason that there was never a pidgin. What may have happened is this: the degree of mutual intelligibility was such that when a Viking met an Angle each had an idea of what the other was talking about, but not exactly what the other as talking about. In particular they may not have got what tense of a verb or what case of a noun was being used. The fact that inflections may have conveyed no meanings, may have encouraged them to be dropped when exchanges took place. It was not I think so much of a case that the two languages mixed, but rather that the invaders then started to speak English without inflections, or at least with less inflections. The language they spoke would have been complete, if not entirely "correct", and so could not have been a pidgin.

    The number of Scandinavian words in English is just under a thousand. So, whilst the invasion was significant, it was not overwhelming. What is surprising, and languages are full of surprises that no one can explain, is that some of the very commonest words are Scandinavian including some personal pronouns and the word are. English remains a West Germanic language and is not some sort of a hybrid of North and West Germanic languages.
  31. I find this discussion odd. How many mainstream languages are there that have never been strongly influenced or modified by at least one other? If we were to apply some people's creole criteria to them, wouldn't they all be creoles?
  32. Hulalessar

    Hulalessar Senior Member

    English - England
  33. helmet83 New Member

    Yawn...I detect a pointless, semantic argument here.

    Nobody was actually alive during the transition between OE and early modern English, and in the middle/ early modern period there wasn't whole lot of dialectal documentation going on. Everything is speculation, or tell me otherwise? Have you found that mythical 14th century tape recording? What record of regional variety there is suggests those living furthest from the historical Norse/ OE borderlands spoke the most conservative dialects of English, as one might expect. Logical, isn't it? And Midlands English was simpler too - i.e. if not actually a creole then it had aspects of creole. People who lived at the time said it was possible for both Northerner and Southerner to understand the Midland dialect, but often not possible for Northerner to understand Southerner and vice versa.

    Plattdeutsch is simpler than either Dutch or High German, with fewer inflections, less differentiation between genders blah blah blah. It exists where two languages with a degree of intelligibility mix, and it basically forms a continuum, gradully being replaced by more standard forms as one moves east/ west.. Is it beyind the realms of possibility a similar situation existed in early middle England?

    There's evidence Modern Standard English descends from Middle English dialects brought to London by a large immigration of Midlanders.

    There are documented examples of South Western dialect spoken as late as the 17th century and it still had archaic features and word order - use of the ge prefix to denote past participle for example. - "Ich was here in Gloucester geboren" - "I was born here in Gloucester"

    No they're not. If you speak to most non-English and non-German speakers trying to learn both languages, they would tell you English is easier, unless they already speak another Germanic language, especially Dutch. English has largely dispensed with gender and the complex declensions which still exist in all other Germanic languages. Even literate, educated Germans struggle to get German right.

    Contemporaneous chronicles suggest OE and Frisian were mutually intelligible until the 12 century at least, whereas the language of the Flemings (i.e. Old Dutch) was not. Modern English without French/ Norse influence would probably resemble Frisian more than other Germanic languages, just as Modern English with those influences does, and modern English without French influence would be more would resemble Frisian.

    Yes. The loss of inflection has been far greater in English than in other Germanic languages. I agree, Modern Swedish, for example, is far less inflected than Old Norse, but it's also far more inflected than modern English.

    OK, perhaps a pidgin and creole is too strong a term. A simplification then.

    That's kind of an arbitrary figure. Old Norse and Old English shared 80% of their vocabulary at least, so the only words we can definitely atrtribute to Norse are those which we know did not exist in OE but have equivalents in Norse/ modern Scandinavian languages, or words such as "starve" and "die", which had direct equivalents in both Norse and OE, with slightly different meanings, and in mdoern English the Norse meaning has been assumed (i.e. to die of lack of food - in Old English starve just meant to die, as Starben does in mdoern German).

    It does seem modern Standard English descends from simplified Midland dialects of early Middle English which came from the traditional Danelaw borderlands. There was a well documented migration of Midland speakers to London in the 13-1400s, and it is also known that their dialects became very prominent in court and commerce during that period.

    The evidence that does exist (which isn't huge) suggests that highly inflected, conservative varieties of English were spoken in places such as the south west right up until the 17th century, which, incidentally, is around the time that linguists first recognise and actual English standard.

    So this is evidence that the simplified Midlands dialect is the basis of standard English. And the drive behind that simplification was probably the interaction between Norse and OE. What else could it have been?

    If you read Chaucer, who spoke a variety of English which was becoming recognisably modern, he documents that 14th-15th century southerners and northerners could barely understand each other, where as Midland dialect was more or less accessible to all. Midland dialect was probably a logical dialect to use to ensure everyone could understand you, hence its eventual adoption as standard.

    Maybe pidgin and creole are terms which are too strong to describe the origins of English, but English has undergone far more simplification than other Germanic languages, and modern English does seem to descend from a dialect originating at a linguistic border. The interaction at that border probably accelerated the simplification of English from its highly inflected root languages into the much simpler modern standard.

    So don't underestimate the influence of the Norse on modern English. Without the French, English vocabulary would still be 90% Germanic, but without the Norse I believe English grammar would still be as complex as that of continental Germanic languages.
    Last edited by a moderator: Apr 14, 2009
  34. Frank06

    Frank06 Senior Member

    Nederlands / Dutch (Belgium)

    Try to use the widely accepted terminology in a proper way and we can avoid what you call "pointless semantic arguments".

    If we're going to label every result of a morphological simplification (with syntactic implications) as "a creole", then e.g. every IE language is a creole v.a.v PIE. But that makes your usage of the term "creole" rather pointless, no?
    Anyway, if I understood well, I notice a semantic shift from "definitely a creole" to "aspects of a creole", and from creolisation to (morphological) simplification.

    Try to keep it on topic, please?
    But if I understood well, a lot of Germans, educated or not, don't stick to the grammatical rules of modern standard German, but that's something else than "don't get German right". Are they also creolising their tongue?

    Last edited: Apr 14, 2009
  35. dinji Senior Member

    Borgå, Finland
    Swedish - Finland
    I think you state a very simple fact here, which is irreproachable unless you change the definitions.
    Last edited by a moderator: Apr 14, 2009
  36. helmet83 New Member

    That's not what I'm saying. All modern Germanic languages are much simpler than the archaic Germanic languages they descend from, but basic English is the most simplified and least conservative of them all. Evidence? A monolingual German or a Dutchman can read and understand Beowulf in OE, inflections and all, much better than a monolingual Englishman.

    Old Norse and Old English shared 80%+ of their vocab. The primary barriers to communication (excepting accent) would have been declension, genders, articles, associated prefixes and suffixes. It probably wasn't a conscious decision, but to aid communication these complicated gramatical rules were probably done away with, leaving a much simpler, more neutral dialect which then formed the basis of standard English.

    Whether there was ever an OE/ON pidgin is a matter for speculation. Possibly not, but in its loosest sense creolisation is the development of a simpler language from two mutually unintelligible tongues.

    This appears to be what happened in the late Old/Early Middle English period, and it happened where OE and ON met.

    So does English descend from a creole? Perhaps the non controversial viewpoint is that its development has more aspects of creolisation than other Germanic standards.

    This is a relevant point to show that English is simpler than other Germanic languages. To establish that English has undergone some kind of creolisation we need to establish that.

    No Germans are not creolising their tongue. They simplify it because its range of genders, prefixes, suffixes, declensions etc. is mind bogglingly complex, even to educated people. It's barely possible to use the correct article all the time. They are not simplifying their language because of a need to communicate with another group of people, they're doing it because they are lazy, like the rest of us.

    If the Dutch and Germans lived on an Island together, with no way off, would interaction result in a dialect, and would that dialect be somewhat simpler than either root language?


    Is that creolisation? Maybe not, but it's something similar....

    And that, I believe, is how modern standard English arose, in the Midlands, around the 13th century, where Norse met Old English.....
    Last edited by a moderator: Apr 14, 2009
  37. dinji Senior Member

    Borgå, Finland
    Swedish - Finland
    What you describe is essentially no different from what happened to Danish and Swedish when confronted with the Middle Low German of the Hanseatic league. Cases were confused and reduced to two, genders to two and the vocabulary underwent a transfusion, intruding into core vocabulary like stå 'to stand', 'to go', bliva 'to become', förstå 'to understand', betala 'pay', förgäta 'to forget', created new morphemes such as be-, för- as well as particles such as men 'but' and even affected sound laws (mophtongisation of au, öy and äi) etc. etc. The list is endless.

    The language contact happened in largely bilingual hanseatic towns.

    What English went through is not as unparallelled as you want to make us think. And it has little to do with creolisation unless you identify the speakers (celts and francophone normands?) who did not know either Anglosaxon nor Norse but took up a mixture as a vehicle to understand each other. But this is not what you are claiming.
  38. helmet83 New Member

    Well, who knows? English is grammatically a very simple language compared to its Germanic cousins. It does have complexity - areas where it is more complex than its cousins, but those areas lie in nuance and vocabulary....

    What is amazing about the development of English, is that, if one examines 11th century texts, for example, the English in them is very conservative, highly inflected, very Germanic, basically completely unintelligible to a modern English speaker and much more similar to modern German.

    Yet a mere 300 years later, Chaucer was writing English which is, basically, intelligible to the modern reader....

    It's difficult to believe a change of that magnitude could have occurred in that time frame without all sorts of intermediate patois, dialects, creoles etc. etc. etc.
  39. sokol

    sokol Senior Member

    Vienna, Austria; raised in Upper Austria
    Austrian (as opposed to Australian)
    I won't try and argue for or against any of the arguments above, because there's one strong argument against the claim that English were a creole:
    Creoles, by definition, emerge from pidgins which are no one's mother tongue; and the creolisation process is, by definition, the development of a pidgin into a creole.

    With English, as with many other languages, there was never such a sharp break of tradition; at no point in the history of English language, to our best knowledge, English (Anglo-Saxon) was only a pidgin - with simplified grammar, and no native speakers.
    There always were native speakers of Anglo-Saxon, and plenty, since Germanic tribes settled in Britain.

    Of course the influence of language contact was particularily strong with English, that much we know for sure (not only Normannic French but also Norse had a great impact).
    Same goes for Farsi where something similar happened. Same for Bavarian/Austrian dialects who were influenced by neighbouring Romance and Slavic languages, etc.
    But this process of languages having "more than one parent" is not quite the same as creolisation - because the latter is, by definition, a very specific situation.
  40. helmet83 New Member

    When you say things like "There were always native speakers of anglo-saxon" I think you're underestimating the importance of Old Norse in the development of the English standard.......

    Half of England was ruled by Denmark. Genetic studies cannot throw light on how many Danes actually emigrated to England, as it's not possible to seperate Danes from those living in Schleswig Holstein - the Saxon homeland, so it has not been possible to estimate the level of Danish colonisation in Northern England. The Northern English do, however, have a significantly higher incidence of Northern German/ Danish Y chromosomes than people in Southern England, so this indicates there was some colonisation of the Danelaw by Danes.

    Is it fair to assume that when Danish colonist and Angle met, they developed a contact language, and was that contact language a kind of pidgin, or were OE and ON similar enough to preclude the neccessity of a pidgin?

    There is evidence that standard English derives from dialects spoken in the Dane/ Angle contact area - i.e. the Midlands.

    Was the Midlands dialect influenced or even descended from a Norse/ OE pidgin?

    It seems contact between the two languages evoked a simplification. At what point is this simplified dialect graduate from Pidgin to Language?

    It seems arbitrary to me.

    Also, there have not always been native speakers of Anglo-Saxon. Nobody speaks Anglo-Saxon now - there are no conservative English dialects that I know of. No monolingual Modern English speaker could even understand Anglo-Saxon, and the transition from unintelligible Anglo-Saxon to the kind of English Chaucer spoke took only around 3 centuries......

    I can hardly believe that degree of change in that time frame did not involve simple contact languages and pidgins... I must have been hard for grandarents to understand their grandchildren when the language was changing that fast......
  41. I have always understood that the transition from Old English to Middle English occurred basically in two stages, but over a longer period than three hundred years.

    Danish attacks on the British coast started in the early 9th century. Their settlements began just after the middle of the century. By A.D. 885 the Danelaw boundaries were established and a large part of England was under Danish rule.

    It was in that century that English and Danish would have begun to influence each other. Most members of both groups were illiterate and would never have recorded their conversations. However, by A.D 900 they were developing a common language based on their shared root vocabularies but with dissimilar inflections removed.

    Written language always develops more slowly than speech. Classical Latin was still in common written use long after the Vulgate started parting company with it. Even now, many people write English in styles that were common in speech more than a century ago, yet they are almost unintelligible to young Urban English Streetspeakers. It is no surprise then that written Old English (which was exclusive to the best-educated of the time) continued in its fully inflected form until the late 11th Century, while ordinary speech was completing the first stage of transition.

    William the Conqueror rigidly imposed Norman culture on the country within the first 20 years after the Battle of Hastings. Therefore the second stage of change was almost force-grown. Not only was English abrading against Norman French, but the conflict between the invaders and the English (whether Saxon or Danish) urgently necessitated a common language for the oppressed. Further, the First Crusade had started within 30 years of the conquest. English and Normans of all ranks travelled across Europe to the east, experiencing many languages on the way. Any enduring division between Saxons and Danes had to give way rapidly to a unified language, to match political realities. French was intermingled through forced usage.

    The written form of what we now call Middle English started in the early 12th century and flowered into the rich language of Chaucer within 250 years. But Middle English’s gestation was almost 500 years before Chaucer’s.
    Last edited: Apr 14, 2009
  42. Hulalessar

    Hulalessar Senior Member

    English - England
    This is not the thread to discuss complexity or difficulty. You may wish to look at these two threads which discuss them:

    Even so, pidgins are by definition simple, but then they are not proper languages. Creoles are not simple, although some of them may lack the "add-ons" that most languages have.
  43. Athaulf

    Athaulf Senior Member

    Toronto, Canada
    Croatian/Bosnia, Croatia
    So then why did the grammar of the Old Norse dialects spoken in continental Scandinavia evolve in pretty much the same direction as English in the last thousand years? Your theory fails the Occam's Razor test in this regard, since very similar grammatical changes can obviously happen in a similar time period without any analogous external influences. It fails the test in the other direction too, since you can find many places where analogous scenarios of language contact happened without any similar consequences (e.g. Slavic languages offer a wealth of such examples). Thus, it's devoid of any predictive power and belongs to the domain of speculation.

    Also, as others have already noted, it makes no sense to call one language "more grammatically complex" than another. Yes, the inflectional morphology of English is relatively simple, but there is nothing simple about its overall grammar unless you're a native speaker.

    I am a non-English and non-German speaker who tried to learn both languages, and I certainly didn't find English any easier than any other language I've ever tried learning. (I don't speak any other Germanic languages either.)

    We've discussed this topic many times in this forum. See e.g. this old thread (and specifically post #45 where I wrote about my own theory for why so many people insist on the absurd claim that English is somehow "easy"):

    Now you're nitpicking. Modern Continental Scandinavian languages certainly demonstrate that radical language change in the analytic direction can happen without any external influence comparable to what English has gone through. Compared to Old Norse, they've changed only somewhat less than English in the same period. Besides, I don't think any of these languages have preserved more inflectional morphology than the Middle English of, say, Chaucer, which was spoken long after these external influences on English happened.
    Last edited: Apr 15, 2009
  44. Athaulf

    Athaulf Senior Member

    Toronto, Canada
    Croatian/Bosnia, Croatia
    Another powerful argument against the creole hypothesis is the survival of many grammatical forms in English that normally don't survive the creolization process. Two such examples are the strong/weak adjective declensions, whose remnants survived well into the Middle English period, and the ablauted irregular verbs, which are alive and kicking even nowadays.
  45. helmet83 New Member

    Well, as was pointed out earlier a lot of Swedish simplification occurred at the time of the Hanseatic league, when major Swedish commerce centres had a large influx of German immigrants. Sweden was the main power in Scandinavia for centuries and influenced the other Scandinavian languages probably more than it was influenced by them.

    I really think the question to settle whether English underwent proper creolisation, is whether the Old Norse and Old English, upon meeting each other for the first time, would have spoken a kind of pidgin, or were their languages similar enough for the average Joe (or Aethelstan and Gorm! :) (i.e., not a language professor!) to hold a conversation?

    What happens when monolingual French people meet and try to communicate with monolingual Italians....? Do they converse freely? Do they speak slowly, use simple words? That kind of exercise might give an insight....
  46. helmet83 New Member

    Yes...if only we had a tape recorder.....
    English, more than most other European languages, is a product of mass migration and language contact. I really believe this is why it's so uninflected.

    The question is....would interaction between OE and ON have resulted in a pidgin, or were they similar enough to preclude this?
  47. Those are not the only possibilities. Another is that OE remained the dominant language, modified by the interaction with ON. The proportion of recognisably OE vocabulary in ModE, compared with the much smaller range of ON vocabulary, suggests strongly that this is what happened.
  48. sokol

    sokol Senior Member

    Vienna, Austria; raised in Upper Austria
    Austrian (as opposed to Australian)
    Yes, I guess they were way too similar to produce a real pidgin.

    I am no specialist of this time and region but of course I know that there was heavy Nordic influence (I didn't know that there exist theories that Danish had such a huge impact on modern standard English - I take it though that these are theories only, right? that is, still doubted by some linguists).
    Still, those contact varieties - whatever they were exactly, if they existed at all - certainly weren't nearly as reduced in grammar as any pidgin we know of (here "pidgin" of course is used in the classical definition).

    The same thing - influence between closely related languages - happened in many places all over the world: if two related languages or dialects are in contact this should be called mixing of dialects rather than pidgin: a pidgin typically is a highly simplified contact variety based on two (or more) languages which are unintelligible to each other.

    And as to what the point is between differentiating "hard-core pidgins" from "dialect mixing" - that's a simple question to answer.
    Of course we could say that any contact variety - be it a "mild" one like old Anglo-Saxon*) or a "hard-core" pidgin like Tok Pisin (now a Creole already) - is something of a creole, developped from a pidgin. But if we do that linguists still would like to have a special term for those "hard-core" pidgins (and creoles), because there is a big difference between languages like Tok Pisin and modern English.
    So if we say that "everything is a creole" a special term for "hard-core creoles" still would make much sense, especially as "creole" then would be broadened to include most languages of the world while those "hard-core creoles" only evolved from very special language contact situations.
    Thus I don't see what we would gain from broadening the definitions of pidgins and creoles: better leave them as they are now, and instead create new terms for cases like English.

    *) Here I'd like to add: the degree of influence of Nordic languages and Normannic French (or Celtic, for that matter) on English is discussed controversely, as far as I know, but the degree of influence is not really the point here.
  49. helmet83 New Member

    Yes, you may well be right, although I'm sure I remember reading about Norn speaking Shetlanders and Faroese fisherman developed a contact language in the 17th century which was basically a pidgin, despite the two languages being directly descended from Old Norse.

    One thing which is unusual in the development of English (by European standards, anyway) is that it occurred on an Island, and immigrants to the Island were thrust into direct contact with the people already there, who spoke several different and sometimes unrelated languages.

    In continental Europe, this occurred less. For example, the disctinction between Dutchmen and Germans, for example, is tribal rather than geographical. They've lived side by side since the dark ages, and Dutch - Low German - High German is arguaby a dialect continuum.

    Similar languages exist at the borders of other related languages which have existed and evolved side by side. There are Romance languages along the borders of almost every linguistic meeting point between them which incorproate mixed features of the languages around them, such as Catalan. Similar situations exist in the Slavonic languges - e.g. Czech, Slovak and Polish.

    These languages have evolved alongside each other for years and perhaps represent a continuum.

    Modern English, by contrast, seems to have evolved very quickly, following the arrival of migrant groups speaking related languages,which had not evolved alongside each other and were thrust into direct contact with each other.

    It's unusual in Europe. Perhaps this merging of languages has aspects of creolisation.....
  50. Hulalessar

    Hulalessar Senior Member

    English - England
    I think that that is exactly the point. It is a bit like insisting that a colour with 999,999 parts red and one part white must be pink because it has white in it. As I said above, there are not necessarily any clear dividing lines between creoles and non-creoles and "creole" is as much, if not more, a description of how a language came about as what it is like. When it comes to many languages the historical record is very short and when it comes to all languages is very short compared to the time that languages have been around. For all we know, Proto-Indo-European may be a creole!

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