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THEORY: English as a creole [was Re: Rant on partial understandings]

From:Thomas R. Wier <trwier@...>
Date:Saturday, December 22, 2001, 4:05
Quoting Matthew Kehrt <matrix14@...>:

[Theory proposed:  English loses the dual because Anglosaxons
needed to communicate effectively with invading Norsemen.]

> I've heard that this is the reason that modern English has no cases: > the Anglo-Saxons and the Norse ivaders eventually settled on a lowest > common denominator language that became English as we know it. So > English is essential a creole and was even before 1066. I've heard.
If only it were that simple. The problem is that English bears no other resemblances to a creole or pidgin. Typically, creoles start out life as pidgins, which themselves almost always eliminate all inflectional morphology and greatly simplify the phonology. Creoles develop when children grow up speaking the pidgin, and in doing so typically imbue into the new creole all sorts of complexities that did not exist in the pidgin (a consistent syllable structure; a consistent phoneme inventory; various kinds of grammaticalized aspectual distinctions). So, a creole does look like a lot of regular languages, but it typically does not look anything like the lexifier language of the pidgin. English, in distinction from creoles and pidgins not only has maintained many grammatical oddities straight from its IE heritage (e.g. three roots for the verb to be; the Germanic dental past tense suffix), it also has a phonology vastly different from most creoles and pidgins. Almost no creole or pidigin, e.g., allows a complex onset with three consonants, and most creoles or pidgins do not have typologically marked phones like [T] or [D]. It is clear that English has undergone radical simplification from the times when it first separated from languages on the continent, but in most cases these can all be attributed to internal shifts. The case system of Old English, in particular, could be wildly different from one declension to another. Because the endings had no predictable semantic basis, it's reasonable to think that speakers saw no need to keep them when phonological changes threatened to obliterate the distinctions anyways. ===================================================================== Thomas Wier <trwier@...> <> "...koruphàs hetéras hetére:isi prosápto:n / Dept. of Linguistics mú:tho:n mè: teléein atrapòn mían..." University of Chicago "To join together diverse peaks of thought / 1010 E. 59th Street and not complete one road that has no turn" Chicago, IL 60637 Empedocles, _On Nature_, on speculative thinkers


Anton Sherwood <bronto@...>English as a creole [was Re: Rant on partialunderstandings]