Re: Is English a creole? (was: Indo-European Studies)

Anthea F Gupta (
10 Aug 1995 01:07:09 GMT

Glynis Baguley ( wrote:
: In article <> (James Walker) writes:
: >
: > The Normans did not migrate to England _en masse_. The Normans
: > who ruled England were primarily nobility, upper-ranks military and
: > scholars. Furthermore, the English nobility at that time was more
: > Scandinavian than Anglo-Saxon

: OK, but just one point: Edward the Confessor was half-Norman. I don't
: know about the other half. And hadn't Harold Godwinson (who sounds as
: likely to have been Anglo-Saxon as Danish) just got back from battling
: with the Danes (or some other Scandinavians) when he encountered
: William?

: I don't have trouble with the idea that the class divisions were
: pretty rigid, just with the idea that all the Normans were toffs and
: all the English plebs. If that *is* how it was, then there must have
: been contact as the Norman nobles employed English people to perform
: menial tasks. If it isn't, then the Normans retained their own
: servants and so forth, and there wasn't that rigidly stratified class
: division. The idea that the Normans were all of a high class but had
: no contact with the English oiks doesn't work.

I don't think anyone is denying contact. But let's look at what happened
-- it was ENGLISH that won through. So the contact led to the Normans
over the years (having married Anglo-Scandinavian women etc) losing
Norman French & switching to English with non_Norman French as a prestige
language that many of them had to learn formally. And indeed the
distinction between Norman and English broke down over the course of a
couple of centuries, to be replaced by a feudal structure of lords,
freemen & serfs. No serfs of Norman descent (at least, not of OFFICIAL
Norman descent, just like slaves in 18C Americas...). But a lot of
English people in the higher ranks.

To get back to the creole argument -- in a trad. creole situation you get
an enslaved majority switching to the language of the minority boss class.
It's the boss language which forms the lexis of the creole. The Norman
conquest situation is quite different -- the majority language won out.

Incidentally, there's very little apparent influence from NORMAN French
on English ("wasp" is one of the words from NF) -- most of the French
lexis in ModE seems to have come from non-Norman French. Suggests a
non-creole, literary sort of source rather than the everyday process of
popular contact.

Anthea Fraser GUPTA

English Language & Literature
National University of Singapore
Kent Ridge e-mail:
Singapore 0511 telephone: (65) 772 3933