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Re: R: Re: English oddities

From:Thomas R. Wier <artabanos@...>
Date:Sunday, July 23, 2000, 8:15
Lars Henrik Mathiesen wrote:

> > Date: Wed, 12 Jul 2000 10:50:05 -0700 > > From: J Matthew Pearson <pearson@...> > > > One could almost think of English as being a creole, with a Germanic > > substrate and a French/Classical superstrate. > > How does having a lexical sub- or superstratum stratum make a language > into a creole? Or is there a sense of creole where it means any mixed > language at all?
In the opinion of most creolists, it doesn't. Strictly speaking, a creole is a pidgin which develops into a native language. In almost all cases of pidginization, there is wholesale loss of morphological marking of case, number, voice, tense, etc.; usually changes in the underlying syntax, almost always AFAIK to SVO; and extreme phonological reduction. The lexifier language is usually the superstrate, while grammatical forms from the substrate may leak in (cf. verbal aspect in Krio). When this develops into a creole, there is systematization of the language, which reinstates certain complexities, which may be wholly different from either of the two adstrates (and this is one piece of evidence often advanced for the theory of UG). In the case of English, many of these changes did indeed occur, but are attested well *before* the Norman Conquest. Moreover, pidginization (and by extension, creolization) requires *contact* between two peoples and a need to communicate. With the arrival of the Normans, the class system of Anglo-Saxon England was wildly exaggerated beyond its original bounds, to the extent that the English monarchs did not stop speaking French as their native tongue until well into the late 14th century. Since the English shared a roughly similar culture, with a common language for writing in Latin, the elite had no reason to learn what would essentially be a bastardized version of the lexifier language French, rather than just learning Norman French outright. For the greater part of the population, the Normans represented just the latest overlord, distant and not part of their day to day affairs (William the Conqueror if I'm not mistaken required his vassals to remain in the capital for some part of the year), so they had no incentive either to learn French or some speech form based on it. The more plausible claim made about English's being a creole concerns those changes which took place as a result of Viking and Scandinavian conquests from the eighth century on. The region known as the Danelaw (IIRC north of the old Roman road whose name I forget that stretched from Wroxeter to the area roundabouts London) was during that period subjected to rather intense colonization by the invaders, who spoke dialects of Old Norse at that time. The theory is that their speech was still similar enough to that of the Anglo-Saxons to make oneself out well enough, with certain adjustments, and a kind of pidgin developed. They back this up by pointing to the loss of the dual in the pronominal stems and the vast influx of Scandinavian loan words (cf. the old skirt/shirt dichotomy). Personally, I find this wanting. The idea that the level of intelligibility was so great -- even being on different branches of Germanic -- that this would help keep all that complicated morphology from eroding entirely as it usually does in most cases of creolization strikes me as superficial to say the least. Why not go the all the way? For me, it's easier to point to internal shifts in English phonology and the consequent effects it had on the morphology through leveling. But, ultimately, it's hard to tell what was the origin of these changes, because on the macrolinguistic level it is not known precisely *why* language changes. I happen to think that it does almost always develop in a social climate where there is a great amount of cultural diffusion going on whether through trade or conquest, which nicely explains English's extremely unconservative nature and the reverse for Icelandic, but not modern Greek's conservatism to my knowledge. Anyways, that, in a roundabout way, is my take on the matter. ====================================== Tom Wier | "Cogito ergo sum, sed credo ergo ero." ======================================