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

Anthea F Gupta (
26 Jul 1995 02:14:47 GMT

Dumdum. Orion P. ( wrote:
: Actually, English is a CREOLE. And so are the other Romance languages.
^^^^^^^^ [highly disputed, not 'actually'] ^^^^^ [English is
a Germanic language, not a Romance language]

: English deviated from the highly inflected form of Old English which
: was similar to Dutch, Frisian and German, after the coming of the French-
: speaking Normans. It's that simple.

It's not. The breakdown in inflections was happening before the Norman
Conquest, probably as a result of contact with the languages spoken by
the Scandinavian settlers (aka 'vikings' -- not a polite word). The
contact with the Scandinavians was much more extensive and at the level
of the ordinary people. The Norman conquest largely brought a new
aristocracy -- a less important form of contact.

These changes were to some extent masked by the strong written tradition
of Old English, which kept the endings there in formal writing when they
had dropped from speech. There are some pre-Conquest texts of a less
formal sort (eg. inscriptions) which show the loss of endings, esp. in
the North of England where the Scandinavians settled in numbers (e.g.
Kirkdale sundial).

: The lower class Anglo-Saxons continued
: speaking their Germanic tongue, while the Normans continued to speak French.
: Even some Saxon nobles learned to speak Norman French just to be one with
: the aristocratic crowd.

English continued to be the native language of the vast majority of the
population & in due course Norman French was replaced by Metropolitan
French, but also by English.

[... speculation deleted]

: A lot of the Germanic element of English was retained somewhat
: in the literature of Shakespeare. Some of the sentences resemble the
: Germanic word-order where some clauses end in the verb. Even the
: thou-thee-thine form is still used. (Like the Germanic Du, Dir, Dich, Dein)
: (--->Oh, and by the way, "THOU" is pronounced "THOO", not "THAOO" if you'd
: check the other Germanic languages.)

French also has TU and VOUS. What has this got to do with the creole
argument? And the change in vowel in THOU is part of an English sound
change (usually called the Great Vowel Shift) in which all the long
vowels (in words of whatever origin) changed systematically, so /min/ >
/main/ (<mine>) and /hus/ > /haus/ (<house>), /men/ > /min/ (<mean>)
etc.. Compare the English letter names for A E I O U to letter names in
practically any other language you like to think about and you will see
the effect of the Great Vowel Shift. This also has nothing to do with
the creole issue.

: It is obvious that during those instances that nobles and commoners
: spoke to each other, a pidginized (therefore, simplified) version of English
: was used. The fact that this same pidginized version was adopted by the
: commoners and passed on to their children makes it into a CREOLE.

Highly implausible. Creoles arise when there is a breakin the normal
transmission of language from parent to child, and this never happened on
a large scale in England as a result of the Norman Conquest.

There is a better case for arguing that the Romance languages are
creoles, I think, but I am not familiar with the literature on that.

Anthea Fraser GUPTA

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