Is English a creole?

sokol

Senior Member
Austrian (as opposed to Australian)
It's unusual in Europe. Perhaps this merging of languages has aspects of creolisation.....
No doubt, English certainly is unique in Europe (Farsi supposedly had a similar history, with grave influences and huge changes; I'm no expert on Farsi though).

And yes, some aspects of the development do remind one of creolisation processes. Still, I'd prefer to keep creoles separate from cases like English, as argued above.
I didn't know about those pidgin-like contact languages on Shetland (nor do I know wether they are pidgins in the "stricter" definition) but I guess they aren't relevant to English language development except that they indicate that such contact languages might have developped on the British mainland; still, that's all hypothetical - we can't know for sure.
 
  • Athaulf

    Senior Member
    Croatian/Bosnia, Croatia
    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.

    But again, such theories explain everything and nothing at the same time. You can always come up with some such ex post facto explanation for why change in the analytic direction did or did not happen in each particular place and time. However, such theories are devoid of predictive power, and represent pure speculation and just-so stories.

    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?
    Assuming English underwent full creolisation, how do you explain the fact that it preserved irregular verbs with ablaut, and even remnants of strong/weak adjectives for centuries after this supposed creolization should have taken place? Creole languages normally don't preserve that sort of thing. (Just look at the present-day creoles.)
     

    dinji

    Senior Member
    Swedish - Finland
    May be I don't remember all the postings in detail and may be I am not the biggest specialts in pidgins etc... ..but allow me a stupid question:
    Isn't it a minimum requirement for the definition of a pidgin that none of the speakers has the superstrate language as their mother tongue? So for Middle English to be a creole there should have been a pidgin used by mother tongue speakers of Celtic, Normand French and may be Norse, but NOT of Old English. If the latter participated the definition does not apply.

    For the type of contact language between realted languages that Helmet83 is describing there should be another terminology?

    By the way today there is such a contact language called Scandinavian. In terms of sociolinguistics it rather contradicts the assumptions of Helmet83. What tends to happen is that each speaker slows down his/her speach and substitutes some difficult lexical items but no adaptation is normally made to the less concious deep structures of the language: phonology and syntax. Morphology is typically also not altered.
     

    sokol

    Senior Member
    Austrian (as opposed to Australian)
    Isn't it a minimum requirement for the definition of a pidgin that none of the speakers has the superstrate language as their mother tongue?
    I am not aware of such a definition - it applies for most pidgins (so, usually none of the speakers of a pidgin has the superstrate language as mother tongue), but in some cases it is difficult to judge what is superstrate and what is substrate.

    As for example when two populations mix which have no language in common and develop a pidgin which is a wild mix between both languages - probably Russenorsk (the link is in German, sorry for that :)) falls into that category, if I look at the sample sentences (search for "Textproben") I find it difficult to say what is superstrate here, and what substrate - probably it is rather a case of two adstrates.

    But then again, I think Russenorsk is a good example to demonstrate what a Pidgin is: it really is a very special case of language contact and language change, significantly different - I'd like to emphasise again - from the case of English.

    By the way today there is such a contact language called Scandinavian. In terms of sociolinguistics it rather contradicts the assumptions of Helmet83. What tends to happen is that each speaker slows down his/her speach and substitutes some difficult lexical items but no adaptation is normally made to the less concious deep structures of the language: phonology and syntax. Morphology is typically also not altered.
    Ah, now I get it: so this is the reason why Norwegians, Swedes and Danes always claim to perfectly understand each other even when speaking their "mother tongues". :D

    This is a different case, and this "Scandinavian" also isn't quite a pidgin. Similar processes happen when different dialect speakers of German meet: they avoid words which (as they know) are specific for their dialect and replace them with words which (they think) will be understood more easily, but basically syntax and morphology remain unchanged.
    I would call that case simply "language mix".
     

    ajr1971

    New Member
    English-USA
    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.

    I think it's misleading to say Norman language and culture were forced on the English. There actually was no concerted effort by William or any of his successors to impose Norman French on the English people. William the Conqueror, in fact, tried to learn English himself, although he was not successful. His proclamations were written not only in Norman French and in Latin, but also in English. Norman French's influence on English was due to a mingling co-existence between the two, in which English eventually won out. Norman French was the language of only the tiniest minority of the nobility. Had there been a concerted effort to force the French language on the English, the result would have been quite different.
     
    I think it's misleading to say Norman language and culture were forced on the English. There actually was no concerted effort by William or any of his successors to impose Norman French on the English people. William the Conqueror, in fact, tried to learn English himself, although he was not successful. His proclamations were written not only in Norman French and in Latin, but also in English. Norman French's influence on English was due to a mingling co-existence between the two, in which English eventually won out. Norman French was the language of only the tiniest minority of the nobility. Had there been a concerted effort to force the French language on the English, the result would have been quite different.
    I think I said only that Norman culture was forced on the country, but I can see why you might interpret my second use of "forced" in the way that you have.

    The thrust of my comments was that it was a fast-moving time. By 1074 eighty percent of England had been given to new owners, with their continental ideas of feudalism. The concept of individual duties owed to the community was replaced by a hierarchical dominance, in which all control rested at the top. It wasn't only William's language that mattered, but that of all the Norman counts who took over the land. It would have been impossible to communicate with one's new "Hlaford" without learning something of his language. So, when I say "forced" in relation to the language, I mean the force of circumstances, not power. Sorry to be misleading.
     

    berndf

    Moderator
    German (Germany)
    However, by A.D 900 they were developing a common language based on their shared root vocabularies but with dissimilar inflections removed.
    Interesting. Do you have examples? I am aware of some morphological changed during the late OE period (i.e. between about 800AD and the Norman Conquest) but I never heard about significant morphological simplifications during this time.
     
    Interesting. Do you have examples? I am aware of some morphological changed during the late OE period (i.e. between about 800AD and the Norman Conquest) but I never heard about significant morphological simplifications during this time.
    As I said, written language changes more slowly than spoken language. All the direct evidence we have is written; that's all we have to go on. It is impossible to give examples for which there is no written evidence. However, from the later written evidence we can deduce that the spoken changes began earlier.

    If we know that a journey began at A and ended at Z; that it started at about noon and was completed by 6.0 pm; and that it proceeded at a speed that can be approximately calculated; but the only confirmed evidence of its progress before its end was at 4.0 pm and 5.0 pm; we can still deduce logically what stage it had more or less reached at various times before 4.0 pm.

    By this method, if we know that the change occurred, as you say, between AD 800 and 1066, but the only written evidence of change is in the last 100 to 150 years, we can still infer that there were changes in the first 100 years. Indeed, although we will probably never know the precise relationship in time, I would say that any change in writing is evidence of the same change having occurred earlier in speech.
     
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    Dr. Fumbles

    Senior Member
    USA
    English - US
    Ok, I used to think that modern English was a creole. Not anymore. In its core, English is still English. 90% of the core words used are still English/Germanic. Even though most of the vocabulary is mixed. More than likely, English is a mixed language, but it is very possible that it is neither of these. If rural dialects are of any indication, the so-called proper grammar is ignored, the word orders and made-up rules. Who'd you get that for? or British Who'd tha get that for? Not For whom did you get that?, a Latinate grammatical structure. Also the best evidence against English being a creole is Tok Pisin. It shows how the English language was stripped bare down to its very skeleton, and then built back up. Or for a more vivid example, in the Sixth Element, Tok Pisin when it was still a pidgin is the glove they found in the wreckage, Tok Pisin is the recreated body of the pilot. Whereas, Modern English is the pilot if she'd never been killed in the wreck. More or less. But Tok Pisin in reality is still English, just in a radically new format. English on the other hand, with all the outside influences, never got broken down to the extent that Tok Pisin did. I hope that that explain my line of thinking, or Ic hope hit gerecere (recount, relate) mín thotes líne. (and it is explain, it's in the subjunctive.)

    Also, Japanese is a good indicator as well, the vocabulary is around 50% Mandarin yet Japanese is still Japanese. Yet we don't consider it a creole, and the grammar is more or less simple as well, verbs don't conjugate for number or person at all. hanasemasu can be I, thou, he, she, it, we, ye, they talk/are talking. or I, thou, etc will/shall talk. Moreover, the past tense, I can't remember the form, can mean I talked, I have talked, so in some respects, Japanese is even simpler than English. Also there is no number in the nouns, if it needs to be indicated tachi can be attached. Basically, English to me looks like a very altered form of Old English or a mixed language, because of little pieces from both French and English being attached to both French and English words for example: royal from Old French roial being combined with ly from Old English lic giving us royal-ly or royally, and then there's aforementioned a three parter: afore from Old English onforan, mention from Old French mencion, and ed from ed, ad, od. So that's my take on it, take if for what you will and I welcome all opinions, if you see anything you disagree with let me know.


    Before I forget, it's stated that Old English from Germanic was already dramatically reduced or was already in the process of loosing many inflexions, and this continued to the present day following the path to its logical conclusion almost very little to no inflections.
     

    Dr. Fumbles

    Senior Member
    USA
    English - US
    I've found out some more interesting information which supports my view that English might just be a mixed language. 1) I come to find that in Norwegian, they don't conjugate verbs at all except for some additional words, for instance: each tense has only one form, like Japanese. 2) While French has more or less six written forms, the spoken language has only three, two, or even one spoken form, plus, for the most part they don't have a subjunctive either, maybe French and English had some cross contamination from each other. Just a thought.
     

    Alxmrphi

    Senior Member
    UK English
    The "Scandinavian Simplications" started to happen (on an increased degree) from 1200-1300 onwards, when Middle English was beginning to emerge.
    Going back to the parent Norse, it had a lot of inflections, full system of verbal conjugation and nominal declension, and full subjunctive (as is all present in Modern Icelandic today). When we come to look at the beginnings of Old English, it, on a comparable scale was already (looking superficially) like a much reduced language in comparison to Common Nordic around 700/800AD, so I'm not 100% sure what a look at Norwegian can cast some light on the fact of English being a creole or not.

    I'm not a believer of the creolisation theory, it couldn't have worked on a large-enough scale for me. Even up until the 18th century there were forms of Old(er) English present in South West England that had become levelled centuries before in the East and North parts (i.e. due to Scandinavian influence). I do believe there was significant language contact in areas such as the Danelaw, and maybe even something that can be said to show signs of certain levels of creolisation, but not to the extent of how I imagine that concept properly.

    Ok, I used to think that modern English was a creole. Not anymore. In its core, English is still English. 90% of the core words used are still English/Germanic.

    Over 60-70% of English's vocabularly is just from French alone, but that's not to say that 60-70% of our speech is of Latinate origin, but out of the 10-20% of English/Germanic words that we've kept in our language, out of a statistical analysis (estimation), about 80% of our language use is taken from these words. So the high figure of 'core' words shouldn't be linked to quantity in the language, because English's overall vocabulary today has a fantastically small collection of native words, but it's the frequency of them that is the high number. Obviously the words we want to say all the time (i.e. speak/the/a/is/are/of/talk/give/show/deer/cow/drink) are all of native origin, but if you pulled out a dictionary and a highligher pen that had almost run out, and you needed to highlight all the English words, that pen would probably last. I did just re-read your post and think that's what you meant by 'core'.

    Regarding the dialects in England today, that's a really good argument to use (IMO) against the creolisation hypothesis.
    Also, creoles typical erase a lot of quirks and things that don't make a lot of sense in the language, and it's impossible to say English isn't without its fair share of anomolies, another good argumenet against it.
     

    eli7

    Senior Member
    Persian (Farsi)
    I think English is a "lingua franca", not a "creole". Lingua franca is a common language to ease communication. When I , as a foreign language user, go to another countries, I hope people of that country know English, because it's an international language.
    Creole is a pidgine which is learned even by childern of a country. For example, some africans speak pidgin English among their people, and when it is widespread enough to be learned by the african children, it is said to be a creaole.
    I hope it helps :)
     

    Copperknickers

    Senior Member
    Scotland - Scots and English
    When I say core words I mean words such as I, this, that, etc.

    By the way, what do you mean by (IMO)?

    'IMO' is an acronym standing for 'in my opinion'.

    But I definitely think that English is a creole-type language. It is comparable to Caribbean English creoles such as that spoken in Jamaica: it is basic English grammar, simplified, and subjected to a barrage of vocabulary changes and additions enacted by speakers of a foreign language.

    If you chart the development of English, its transition from a Germanic language mutually intelligible with Old Dutch and Danish to a unique Latinised language comes in the 13th and 14th Centuries, when the élite switched from being native French speakers with no knowledge of English, to being native English speakers, within just five generations give or take. There are instances of late 14th century noble children being unable to converse with their Francophone grandparents and great grandparents.

    It is true that Latin and French were both huge influences in their own rights, but you must remember that they were not separate, they were interlinked: afterall there were few people in Medieval Britain who spoke Latin as an everyday vernacular language, many if not most Latin speakers were Francophones, until the fall of French. If you look at late Old English literature from after the Norman invasion and before the switch from French (and you will notice how hard it is to even find any examples of it, such was the chasm between the literate Romance elite and the largely illiterate Germanic peasants) you will notice a monumental shift in the English language from when it became creolised: the French élite learning the previously unknown language of the peasants as a foreign language, and then making the resulting pidgin into a native tongue.

    Take this example from Layamon's 'Brut', a work written circa 1200, well after the Norman Conquest and into the Middle English period:

    'Hofan heore, stefnan streama, drihten,
    hofan and hlynsadan hludan reorde'.


    Now compare that to some Chaucer, written less than 200 years after, with no alteration but the removal of the Anglo-Saxon runic letters Thorn, Eth and Yogh:


    'Whan Zephirus eek with his sweete breeth

    Inspired hath in every holt and heeth

    The tendre croppes, and the yonge sonne

    Hath in the Ram his halfe cours yronne,

    And smale foweles maken melodye'

    Now it is true that there had been some considerable shift away from inflection and complex grammar already by that time, and there had been some Latin and Norse introduced, but the Middle English of the élite was almost a different language from the so called Middle English of just 150 years before (look at English from 1800 or even 1700 - is it that different from that of the 2000s ?)

    It is clear therefore that today's English is not a true descendant of Old English from a thousand years' unbroken continuity: it is a creole language created by Francophone settlers who imposed their new language upon the lower classes, and which pretty much destroyed Old English except for the immutable core of everyday words. The simplified view of Old English 'developing' through the years into Middle English is a fallacy, it is as simple as that.
     
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    Ironicus

    Senior Member
    English & Swahili - East Africa
    Well now, I don't agree that English is a creole, but I come late to the discussion so I won't go into it.
    I have heard some languages described as creolized pidgins, so if we accept English as a creole, then American English is about to become the first pidginized creole in history!
     

    vince

    Senior Member
    English
    It is clear therefore that today's English is not a true descendant of Old English from a thousand years' unbroken continuity: it is a creole language created by Francophone settlers who imposed their new language upon the lower classes, and which pretty much destroyed Old English except for the immutable core of everyday words. The simplified view of Old English 'developing' through the years into Middle English is a fallacy, it is as simple as that.

    This is what I was arguing when I started this thread back in the 19th century. But if a creole must necessarily develop from a pidgin, then English isn't a creole. It was always the native tongue of the majority of people in England, AFAIK. I don't know whether Norse influence was enough to be the primary cause for English having a simple grammar. Are there really other Indo-European languages that are as "analytic" (as opposed to "synthetic") as English? Are there other languages where more than 50% of vocabulary is not native in origin? (Japanese? Urdu?) Even if English is not a creole, I wonder if there is a special name for a language like English.
     

    LilianaB

    Banned
    Lithuanian
    English is not a creole, if you have in mind literary language, not the International English popular nowadays on the internet, which might be pidgin. It has a lot of loans, but it is not creole since it did not develop from pidgins.
     

    mataripis

    Senior Member
    For me English language is not a creole in the sense that it allows to incorporate loan words from older languages and it become a poly vocab language w/out changes in its sentence patterns. The creole part of English are pronounciation of the words.The pronounciation of english words do not follow the ways (phonemes?)of its sister languages in Europe.
     

    Hulalessar

    Senior Member
    English - England
    To answer the question: "Is English a creole?" you need first to agree on what is meant by "creole" and then consider whether English fits the definition.

    Linguists describe how two or more languages interact in various ways: pidgin, creole, mixed language, code switching, sprachbund and just plain borrowing, and use words such as substrate, superstrate and adstrate. All tend to involve a matter of degree.

    Whilst attempts have been made to define creoles in terms of typology, "creole" is more than anything a word which implies how a language came about rather than what it is like. Where the speakers in Group A (who may speak more than one language) come into contact with the speakers in Group B (who all speak the samelanguage) they may develop a simplified form of communication with elements from the languages in both groups for use in limited contexts. This simplified form of communication is a “pidgin” and is only used for communication between speakers of different languages, whether in Group A or B. If Group A abandons the language(s) that went to make up the pidgin and the pidgin is developed and eventually becomes the only means of communication between members of group A it is a “creole” which, if Group B is still around, may or may not be adopted by Group B as their sole or main means of communication. Whether or not Group B is still around, their language may still survive in the community and if that is the case then there is likely to be a continuum with the creole at oneend and the language of Group B at the other.



    Contrasted with that situation is where one language borrows heavily from another but does not change its phonology, morphology or syntax.


    The two situations are not mutually exclusive.


    Languages generally accepted as creoles are languages whose history is known. Indeed, the term tends to be restricted to the speech forms of those who forbears were enslaved or colonised by European powers. When it comes to English we simply do not know enough to assert with authority whether the pidgin to creole process described above took place. During the period when any creole would have arisen few people were literate and there was little record made of the way people spoke. Texts were written either in Latin, Norman French or (at least early on) Old English, which by then was essentially a written standard.


    It is of course important to remember that the things which have happened to English over the last 1500 or so years – notably loss of inflection and heavy borrowing - have also happened to other languages which are not considered to be creoles. Changes may be explained as being the result of normal language change or contact with other languages. Ignoring borrowings from Latin and the possibility of a Celtic substrate, the language brought to Britain by the Angles, Saxons and Jutes suffered two “assaults”.


    The first was when the country was invaded and settled by Norse speakers. Norse and Old English had some degree of mutual intelligibility It is probable that neither community bothered to learn the language of theother and that when communicating they just got on as best as they could. It is possible that communication involved dropping inflections and this may or may not have caused or accelerated the loss of inflection in English. In areas where the two communities interacted regularly younger people may have started to adopt the way older people spoke to Norse speakers as their normal way of speech. So, whilst simplification (meaning reducing inflections) may have been involved, the process would have been gradual; father and son in each succeeding generation would still have essentially been speaking the same language. It cannot be said with certainty that it was a case of Old English and Norse speakers agreeing a common form of simplified speech which was adopted and built up again.


    Whilst English and Norman French were not mutually intelligible, it is possible to imagine a similar process occurring in the years after the Norman conquest.


    I would describe a creole as like a soup where all the ingredients have been blended and a language that has borrowed heavily as like a mixed salad. In the former the ingredients cannot be separated and in the latter they can. Modern English is perhaps like minestrone; the ingredients are recognisable, but cannot easily be separated; take away any ingredient and you are left with something incomplete. English is at best only a lightly creolised language.
     
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    Copperknickers

    Senior Member
    Scotland - Scots and English
    Well now, I don't agree that English is a creole, but I come late to the discussion so I won't go into it.
    I have heard some languages described as creolized pidgins, so if we accept English as a creole, then American English is about to become the first pidginized creole in history!

    Actually, there are quite a lot of pidginised creoles. Most notably, London Multicultural English, which is a pidgin of Jamaican Creole and Cockney dialect English (and in the case of Asians; Panjabi, Urdu or Bengali, which is one of the strangest things could could hope to hear in your life: 'akhi, come we get arms hahs on dem kaffir bhanchods you get me?')
     

    COF

    Member
    English - English
    Moderator note: Threads merged.

    I think English is a creole language because it seems to have little directly in common with any other language group in Europe.

    English seems a total mix of various elements of other European language groups. Grammatically it has most in common with Swedish/Danish/Norwegian, in terms of vocabulary however its majority French/Norman with more basic words being of Germanic origin, likely as a hang over from Anglo-Saxon.

    Like most creoles, English has also become considerably more grammatically simplified than the languages it derives from.

    In my opinion English has all the characteristics of being a creole language and as a result I don't get why it isn't classified as one.
     
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    NorwegianNYC

    Senior Member
    Norwegian
    I think English is a creole language because it seems to have little directly in common with any other language group in Europe.
    Although it depends on which definitions you use, English normally not considered a creole language. To become a creole, it must at one point have started as a pidgin, and even if English has been slightly pidginized, it is a hard position to defend based on normal criteria. English has a fairly normal clausal structure, a complex vowel system, consonant clusters, and a high number of irregular forms - verbs in particular (283), which is not a feature of creole languages
    Grammatically it has most in common with Swedish/Danish/Norwegian
    Although Scandinavian has influenced English, the basic grammatical structure is common Germanic, and not North Germanic in particular. The fact that English does not look like German, is disregarding the fact that English does not descend from German. If you look at the basic grammatical features of the North Sea-languages, they have a lot in common! English did indeed borrow certain features from Norse, but it might have borrowed important syntactic features from vernacular Brythonic as well.
    in terms of vocabulary [...] its majority French/Norman
    This is largely a myth. If one were to read through an unabridged version of OED then, yes, a great number of words are of Latin and Greek origin. However, the vast majority did not come through the Normans, but entered the language at a later stage (English had also borrow from Latin prior to the invasion). And, very many of these words are technical terms that see only limited use. The majority of the words in a dictionary are words we hardly ever use, but when it comes to the words we actually use on a daily basis, Norman/French/Latin is remarkable scarce. Here is a link to the 1000 most commonly used words in English, and as you will see - it is pretty Germanic in both structure and content!
     
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    funnyhat

    Senior Member
    American English
    I think I said only that Norman culture was forced on the country, but I can see why you might interpret my second use of "forced" in the way that you have.

    The thrust of my comments was that it was a fast-moving time. By 1074 eighty percent of England had been given to new owners, with their continental ideas of feudalism. The concept of individual duties owed to the community was replaced by a hierarchical dominance, in which all control rested at the top. It wasn't only William's language that mattered, but that of all the Norman counts who took over the land. It would have been impossible to communicate with one's new "Hlaford" without learning something of his language. So, when I say "forced" in relation to the language, I mean the force of circumstances, not power. Sorry to be misleading.

    We should also note that William was not the last French-born king of England. Stephen I and Henry II both grew up in France and took the throne of England as adults. Many linguists believe that the bulk of borrowings from French actually came from Stephen's reign onward.
     

    tonyspeed

    Senior Member
    English & Creole - Jamaica
    'IMO' is an acronym standing for 'in my opinion'.

    But I definitely think that English is a creole-type language. It is comparable to Caribbean English creoles such as that spoken in Jamaica: it is basic English grammar, simplified, and subjected to a barrage of vocabulary changes and additions enacted by speakers of a foreign language.

    I think you misunderstand Jamaican Creole. One of the defining factors of Jamaican creole is that its grammar is not basic English grammar at all; rather, it is substantially different in grammar. The vocabulary, on the other hand, is mostly English which has been passed through a phonetic strainer to fit the sounds reproducible by African langauge speakers.

    That change in grammar makes Creole a different language in the eyes of grammaticians.

    Contrast that with Urdu and Hindi which both follow the same basic grammar with different vocabulary. At the highest levels, Urdu and Hindi are not mutually intelligible. However, grammaticians view Urdu and Hindi as the same language because the grammar is essentially identical.
     
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    Heteronym

    New Member
    Portuguese
    It's certainly a creole.

    What we call modern English begins to take shape in 1066, with the Normand invasion. Suddenly you had natives who spoke what is called Old English and conquerors speaking ancient French. This inevitably resulted in the need for a simplified contact language between the two linguistically different groups, which is the common definition of pidgin. When the first generation of children grew up speaking this pidgin, it became a creole. The only reason people call it a language is because of, as linguist Randolp Quirk said, "A language is a dialect with an army and a flag." English has too much power to be a creole, which we associate with backward African nations. But if we stick to the scientific definitions of pidgin and creole and apply it to the history of modern English, there's no doubt: it's a creole.
     

    Hulalessar

    Senior Member
    English - England
    It's certainly a creole.

    What we call modern English begins to take shape in 1066, with the Normand invasion. Suddenly you had natives who spoke what is called Old English and conquerors speaking ancient French. This inevitably resulted in the need for a simplified contact language between the two linguistically different groups, which is the common definition of pidgin. When the first generation of children grew up speaking this pidgin, it became a creole. The only reason people call it a language is because of, as linguist Randolp Quirk said, "A language is a dialect with an army and a flag." English has too much power to be a creole, which we associate with backward African nations. But if we stick to the scientific definitions of pidgin and creole and apply it to the history of modern English, there's no doubt: it's a creole.

    What are your "scientific definitions of pidgin and creole"?
     

    Johnnyjohn

    Member
    English-American
    English only lost Gender really during the Middle English period, the Germanic features we all know and can pick out still existed such as V2. word order, become passives, and many more. It wasn't until recently that these features just dropped like nothing, if English has any cause for being simple, it had to due with things falling through the cracks in the more recent past. The normans may have invaded but they were the elite and left English to the masses, and Vikings? Old English was still well in existence after their stint. English was more of a Koine after the Normans left I guess but the real empty simplicity didn't come till later.

    This is similar to the Middle Chinese Creole hypothesis where invading Mongols caused what would become Mandarin to be simplified in grammar and tones compared to other dialects, the Mongols kept their distance though, the simplification has more to do with more recent disregard for maintaining features. They can be excused as the PRC is trying to simplify Mandarin, but English speakers have more to do with what happened to their own language than foreigners. Even today a few dialectal speakers in the UK don't pronounce the "Th" sound, more will fall through the cracks, it is inevitable.
     
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    English only lost Gender really during the Middle English period, the Germanic features we all know and can pick out still existed such as V2. word order, become passives, and many more. It wasn't until recently that these features just dropped like nothing, if English has any cause for being simple, it had to due with things falling through the cracks in the more recent past. The normans may have invaded but they were the elite and left English to the masses, and Vikings? Old English was still well in existence after their stint. English was more of a Koine after the Normans left I guess but the real empty simplicity didn't come till later.

    This is similar to the Middle Chinese Creole hypothesis where invading Mongols caused what would become Mandarin to be simplified in grammar and tones compared to other dialects, the Mongols kept their distance though, the simplification has more to do with more recent disregard for maintaining features. They can be excused as the PRC is trying to simplify Mandarin, but English speakers have more to do with what happened to their own language than foreigners. Even today a few dialectal speakers in the UK don't pronounce the "Th" sound, more will fall through the cracks, it is inevitable.

    The Normans never left England. Over centuries, they assimilated. I still have my suspicion that the English class system is based on Norman supremacy ....
     

    berndf

    Moderator
    German (Germany)
    The Normans never left England. Over centuries, they assimilated. I still have my suspicion that the English class system is based on Norman supremacy ....
    This is certainly so. The importance of elite family names of Norman origin in modern Britain is conspicuous (see here).

    By the way, the Vikings haven't left either. Northern dialects remained very strongly influenced by Old Norse which caused Old North to influence Middle English long after the end of the Danelaw, like e.g. the replacement of the Southern eft by the Northern again.
     
    This is certainly so. The importance of elite family names of Norman origin in modern Britain is conspicuous (see here).

    By the way, the Vikings haven't left either. Northern dialects remained very strongly influenced by Old Norse which caused Old North to influence Middle English long after the end of the Danelaw, like e.g. the replacement of the Southern eft by the Northern again.

    Yes. Some Tyneside and Teesside accents still have echoes of sounds from across the North Sea.

    However, I think the Hufffpost article that you linked us to diminishes in value when one remembers that "Oxbridge" didn't come into being, in the sense of the two universities of Oxford and Cambridge, until the early 13th century at the earliest. Therefore, nobody "attended Oxbridge" from the time of the Conquest.
     
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    berndf

    Moderator
    German (Germany)
    However, I think the Hufffpost article that you linked us to diminishes in value when one remembers that "Oxbridge" didn't come into being, in the sense of the two universities of Oxford and Cambridge, until the early 13th century at the earliest. Therefore, nobody "attended Oxbridge" from the time of the Conquest.
    You don't need a comparison with the 12th century. The point is that Norman family names are statistically significantly over-represented in elite-environments (Oxbridge-graduates, MPs, etc.) compared to the entire population.

    Northumbrian dialects are those that maintained their Anglo-Saxon identity best among the Northern dialects and missed some Middle and Modern English sound shifts (e.g. hūs instead of house). The centre of Viking population in England was York.
     
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    SonOfAdam

    New Member
    English - UK; Turkish - Turkey
    To avoid talking past each other we have to separate the two questions here:

    Was Middle English technically a creole?, and
    Was Middle English sociologically a creole?

    The first question leads you in the direction of asking "What proof is there a pidgin existed? Which langauge(s) were the superstrate/substrate?" and so on, and then back to the technical literature to try to work out definitions of "creole/creolisation" and "pidgin/pidginisation". In the absence of data we end up going for grammatical analyses of known creoles to make generalisations against which to measure Middle English. All very scholarly to be sure, and fascinating. But largely irrelevant in terms of the second question.

    (I have a little hypothesis that Middle English is an abrupt creolisation but with an Old English superstrate and a Norman French substrate, not the other way around. It's easy to imagine a scenario where the French nobility, cut off from their roots within a generation or two, resort to mangling the English language to communicate with the peasantry. And guess what, it catches on becoz o la la ma lord is ze coolest guy in ze town, no?)

    The second question leads you in a different direction. Sociologically speaking, or to a non-linguist, a creole is a new, simplified, mixed yet distinct language that emerges in a scenario where political and social upheval combines with a widespread lack of education. As a result, creoles are often stigmatised as "not proper languages".

    In this sense, Middle English was practically a creole for the simple fact that any reason you can give me for saying that a creole is "not a proper language" applies to Middle English. Simplified grammar? Mixed vocabulary? Language of the great unwashed? Morass of dialects with a lack of any clear standard? Thee namest it, Middle English hath it.

    The reason this conversation keeps going round and round is because a lot of us (me included) have an axe to grind, namely that a creole deserves no less respect than any other language. To that end, it would be really really useful to be able to say definitively, "English is a creole", and not just "Middle English was a lot like a creole". But it ain't gonna happen.
     
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    Hulalessar

    Senior Member
    English - England
    To SonOfAdam

    You are right that there may be some resistance to the suggestion that English is a creole because the term carries a lot of baggage, including the suggestion that it is a language spoken by the descendants of those who were enslaved or colonised. The real problem though is a lack of an agreed definition. Is it about the way in which two languages interact and what happens when they do or about the social circumstances around when something new arose? Whilst sociohistorical factors cannot be excluded from linguistics, classifying languages according to the circumstances in which they arose does not seem to be very useful and must necessarily leave out many languages simply because their history is unknown.

    Up to a point it is a bit of a chicken and egg situation. If languages widely designated as creoles because their history is known, even if not perfectly, are described it may be concluded that all or most of them share or lack certain characteristics. The danger then is to go looking at other languages and concluding that if they look like the creoles which have been studied they must be creoles, that is at some time in the past arose in circumstances similar to those known to have existed for the accepted creoles.

    Not enough is known about English to form a conclusion. Many of its features can be shown to have arisen in other languages no one considers a creole. I think we just have to accept that languages meet and interact in many different ways which are on a continuum which defies easy classification. All we can say about English is that it got beaten up by French!
     

    CitizenEmpty

    Senior Member
    English & Korean
    I don't think English is a creole. It seems that the language had gone through a very hectic series of grammatical and phonological innovations hundreds of years ago.
     

    mcorazao

    Member
    English, USA
    To be clear, the hypothesis that English is a creole is a legitimate theory: see here. However this theory is highly controversial.

    For a language to be a true creole, it has to have originated from some sort of pidgin stage where you have speakers trying to imitate a language that they do not really know and invent a new language that superficially resembles the language they are trying to imitate while incorporating the language(s) that they speak natively. An example would be Haitian Kreyol which arose among the African slaves trying unsuccessfully to learn French.

    The English creole theory says essentially that old English gradually died out and that the Normans invented a new language in trying to communicate with their subjects. A similar argument has been made regarding the Romance languages (Spanish, Italian, French). The Goth conquerors of the Western provinces had learned Latin during the earlier times when they had served in the Roman armies or otherwise traded with the Romans but the language their Latin was more of a pidgin than true Latin. As they took over the Roman lands their bastardized Latin became the basis for the modern languages, which is why the Romance languages resemble each other far more than they resemble Latin. These conjectures, while clearly having some degree of validity, are not completely accepted and scholars therefore do not fully embrace calling these languages creoles.
     
    To be clear, the hypothesis that English is a creole is a legitimate theory: see here. However this theory is highly controversial.

    For a language to be a true creole, it has to have originated from some sort of pidgin stage where you have speakers trying to imitate a language that they do not really know and invent a new language that superficially resembles the language they are trying to imitate while incorporating the language(s) that they speak natively. An example would be Haitian Kreyol which arose among the African slaves trying unsuccessfully to learn French.

    The English creole theory says essentially that old English gradually died out and that the Normans invented a new language in trying to communicate with their subjects. A similar argument has been made regarding the Romance languages (Spanish, Italian, French). The Goth conquerors of the Western provinces had learned Latin during the earlier times when they had served in the Roman armies or otherwise traded with the Romans but the language their Latin was more of a pidgin than true Latin. As they took over the Roman lands their bastardized Latin became the basis for the modern languages, which is why the Romance languages resemble each other far more than they resemble Latin. These conjectures, while clearly having some degree of validity, are not completely accepted and scholars therefore do not fully embrace calling these languages creoles.
    This is interesting. It seems to be an argument that a form of Latin evolved, just as Koine Greek evolved.
     

    Hulalessar

    Senior Member
    English - England
    Is it not an essential feature of a creole, that distinguishes it from other ways languages meet and interact e.g. mixed languages, that two languages meet and are reduced to the absolute minimum needed for basic communication and then a new language arises from the mix with its own features not found in either parent language? The Germanic and Romance elements of English are clearly identifiable. English may have some peculiarities not found in any other language, but what language does not have peculiarities not found in any other language? If the Romance languages are creoles then what about all those languges which have massive borrowings from other languages? I am beginning to think that "creole" is not a useful category.
     

    Oranje

    Member
    English - England
    The usual argument for English as a creole is that it's a creole of Danish and Old English and not a creole of English and French which is demonstrably false. Danish influence is sometimes used to explain the simplification of English morphology.
     

    Pedro y La Torre

    Senior Member
    English (Ireland)
    The usual argument for English as a creole is that it's a creole of Danish and Old English and not a creole of English and French which is demonstrably false. Danish influence is sometimes used to explain the simplification of English morphology.

    Old Norse certainly did play a role in the grammatical levelling of English. But I still don't see how that makes it a creole.
     

    sumelic

    Senior Member
    English - California
    Is it not an essential feature of a creole, that distinguishes it from other ways languages meet and interact e.g. mixed languages, that two languages meet and are reduced to the absolute minimum needed for basic communication and then a new language arises from the mix with its own features not found in either parent language? The Germanic and Romance elements of English are clearly identifiable. English may have some peculiarities not found in any other language, but what language does not have peculiarities not found in any other language? If the Romance languages are creoles then what about all those languges which have massive borrowings from other languages? I am beginning to think that "creole" is not a useful category.
    The Romance elements of English that are clearly identifiable are not evidence against it being a creole, because the standard non-creole account is that English is a Germanic language, not some kind of special mixed language (actual mixed languages are supposed to be very rare), so it shouldn't have any more from French than can be accounted for by borrowings (and my understanding is that creoles, like other languages, can have borrowings).

    I think some of the strongest evidence for English not being a creole is that, despite the simplifications that have occured, it still retains a significant amount of Germanic inflections. If we compare it to a stereotypical continental European language, it might seem to have an extremely simplified morpological system, but nonetheless English still retains productive and obligatory number inflection of nouns (including even a few retentions of "irregular" variant plural markers like umlaut or the "en" in "oxen"), person/number inflection of verbs (even though the productive kind only distinguishes two categories, the copula distinguishes a few more), past-present inflection of verbs (with a significant number of "irregular" verbs: more than 100 for sure), and comparative and superlative inflection of a fairly large number of adjectives.

    Now, it doesn't seem to be the case that pidgins and creoles are characterized by the complete absence of inflection: in fact, there seems to be a lot of literature exploring the ways that creoles and pidgins may use inflections and other kinds of morphology in ways similar to or different from the source languages. But the retention of irregular inflectional patterns of the source language (like the English ablauting past-tense and past-participle forms) seems to be less common, and something that would be unexpected in a creole.

    One of the strongest pieces of evidence supporting the argument for English being a creole seems to me to be the loss of grammatical gender (aside from a "pronominal gender system"): this seems to be a pretty unusual development for a Germanic language and the other Germanic language without gendered nouns that I know of, Afrikaans, also seems to have some complications to its history that might lead some people to wonder if it could be called a creole.

    I agree about the non-usefulness of "creole" as a category. A bare statement like "English is a creole" is not very informative without knowing why someone is saying it. It's better to give a description of what particular historical scenario is being proposed for the development of modern English.
     
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    ahvalj

    Senior Member
    The majority of these changes, except the complete loss of the gender and of the adjectival endings, are found in Danish, without any of the social aspects of creolization usually cited for English. No language shift or major admixture, no significant foreign domination, no anything. Moreover, most other Germanic languages, comparing with their state reflected in the earliest written records, have passed a long long way in the same direction. So, unfortunately, this is not creolization, that's the natural tendency. Comparing with other analytic languages with vowel reduction (e. g. Gallo-Romance, Brittonic, Iranic, Semitic), Germanic has passed the longest way towards the isolating typology because of its initial stress that has eroded the old grammatical markers more that e. g. in French where the verbal morphology (though much richer from the beginning) has experienced less entropy because many markers remain stressed.
     

    Awwal12

    Senior Member
    Russian
    No language shift or major admixture, no significant foreign domination, no anything.
    Germanic inflexions were especially unstable in the long term due to strong tendencies towards post-tonic vowel reduction (and they happened to be always unstressed already in proto-Germanic).
    However, it's hard to deny that the transition from Old English to Middle English was pretty drastic. But it's also noted that the tight contact with the Old Norse (with largely similar vocabularies but different morphology) must have been as important as the Normandian domination. Yet it was the contact between closely related languages, and that factor was rather a mere catalyst (since, undoubtedly, a lot of Old English dialects didn't have any direct contact with Old Norse by the moment they lost the most of their inflexions). So the whole process hardly can count as proper creolization.
     

    ahvalj

    Senior Member
    The devolution in Danish was largely parallel: its grammar took its more or less present shape to the 15th century. I am not sure if these were the Danes returning from Britain who influenced this development after having contacted with the closely related speech there. Likewise, Afrikaans emerged before the British conquest and hence before any serious contact with English speakers. OK, English had foreign domination, Afrikaans had breakup with the old tradition due to emigration, but Danish had nothing of it. Moreover, except Icelandic, Faroese, written German and some mountain dialects in Switzerland and at the Swedish/Norwegian boundary, all other Germanic languages are only about one step behind in this development.
     

    Gavril

    Senior Member
    English, USA
    Another factor sometimes mentioned to cast the "creole" status of languages in doubt is the presence of irregular preposition + verb combinations ("preposition" can be replaced with "affix"/"pospostition"/etc.): for example, the meaning of the verbs understand, look up, etc. cannot be guessed through the literal interpretation of their parts. English and Scandinavian both have a decent amount of these combinations.

    (I'm among those who are unsure about the utility of the term "creole" in general, but the above might be interesting regardless.)
     
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    Dymn

    Senior Member
    I don't know in what useful way could English be considered a creole.

    In the case of Haitian Creole, it was African slaves who couldn't communicate between themselves and used a watered-down version of French as a means of communication. The vast majority of Haitian Creole vocabulary is from French through phonemic simplification, even 'function words' which quite often develop from nouns and verbs through grammaticalization.

    In the case of English, the creole hypothesis would mean, I guess, that the admixture of Germanic peoples in England couldn't communicate between themselves, and abandoned their languages in favour of a simplified version of Anglo-Norman. I personally see too many flaws in this theory, both from a social and linguistic point of view.

    Massive borrowing from a prestige language is nothing rare cross-linguistically, Japanese, Korean and Vietnamese did it from English; and I think Arabic and Sanskrit also loaned lots of words to many neighbouring languages.
     

    jimquk

    Member
    British English
    Perhaps we really should concentrate on the lack of usefulness in the word "creole". Given its likely origins, it perhaps has more of a political or cultural meaning than a philological sense, and would be best left out of analytical discussions:


    creole | Origin and meaning of creole by Online Etymology Dictionary

    créole - Wiktionary

    But surely we do need a term to describe these special circumstances of language formation.(As an aside, we might pause to consider how tragic those circumstances generally were.) All other natural languages are inherited through dozens of generations, being modified gradually. Although they may be learned by outsiders who may lose their own language, there is always a core of native speakers.

    But creoles arise from pidgins, which have no native speakers. Children exposed to pidgin create from it a natural language, of which they are the first native speakers. Such languages have distinctive features of extremely simplified grammar and phonology, but then can go on to develop idiosyncrasies like any other natural language.

    There is of course a confusion in that Creole and Pisin are used to refer to soecific creole languages, but that doesn't mean there is no process needing description here.
     

    Hulalessar

    Senior Member
    English - England
    But surely we do need a term to describe these special circumstances of language formation.(As an aside, we might pause to consider how tragic those circumstances generally were.) All other natural languages are inherited through dozens of generations, being modified gradually. Although they may be learned by outsiders who may lose their own language, there is always a core of native speakers.

    But creoles arise from pidgins, which have no native speakers. Children exposed to pidgin create from it a natural language, of which they are the first native speakers. Such languages have distinctive features of extremely simplified grammar and phonology, but then can go on to develop idiosyncrasies like any other natural language.

    There is of course a confusion in that Creole and Pisin are used to refer to soecific creole languages, but that doesn't mean there is no process needing description here.

    I agree with all that, but the problem is that if "creole" describes a process we cannot always be sure when the process was involved - hence such questions as the title to this thread. What has happened is that (a) certain languages whose history is known have been identifed as creoles (b) these creoles are studied and a "creole type" is described (c) other languages are looked at and if found to conform to the type (even if not fully) the question is asked whether they are creoles. Languages meet and mix in all sorts of ways and there is no hard and fast division between the ways. The question is therefore whether "creole" is a useful category if we cannot always tell if a language which looks like a creole is a creole.

    The very word creole does of course carry a lot of baggage. Perhaps a better description would be "phoenix language".
     

    Hulalessar

    Senior Member
    English - England
    The existence of grey areas doesn't make "black" and "white" useless labels.

    Agreed. However, we need to have a good idea of what the label signifies. Does "creole" signify a process or a type?

    If a process does a pidgin stage have to be involved? If it describes a process then its usefulness has to be doubted because the history of most languages is unknown.

    If it describes a type then what are the essential features which distingush creoles from non-creoles?

    Would it not be better simply to acknowledge that there is a continuum. At one end there are languages which have borrowed little or nothing and at the other languages which have arisen from complex interactions. Attaching a label to any particular zone of the spectrum is in the end arbitrary, even if useful.
     
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