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."