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

James Walker (
Tue, 25 Jul 1995 19:15:54 GMT

In <3v2f4v$>, (Dumdum. Orion P.) writes:
> Actually, English is a CREOLE. And so are the other Romance languages.
>Let's talk about English first. . .
> 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. 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. But of course, if commoner had to speak with noble,
>some common language had to be formed in between. The commoner would learn
>a few French words, but speak to the noble in a Germanic sentence sprinkled
>with French words and stripped off of its conjugations and noun declensions.
>In the same manner, the noble would try to learn a little "English" while
>using French words which described some everyday stuff. The fact that
>neither noble or commoner had the time or interest to actively pursue a
>detailed study of the "other language" meant that each was to be bastardized
>when commoner and noble spoke to one another.
<much stuff deleted>
> 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.

This analysis completely ignores the language-contact situation prior to
the Norman invasion: the viking invasions and the establishment of the
Danelaw (viking-occupied England) in the 9th century. This, more than
the French occupation, is likely to have led to the levelling of grammatical
paradigms, because the "Danes" and the Anglo-Saxons in these areas
would have been in intimate and prolonged contact and would have
been intermarrying, a situation that did not hold with the later French-
speaking nobility. Furthermore, the lexical similarities between "Danish"
and Anglo-Saxon would have made it easier for the two speech communities
to negotiate a common language (whether this was a pidgin, lingua franca
or creole is still an open question).

Personally, I believe the problem in categorizing languages as pidgin/creole
stems from the imprecision of the terms - they were coined in the 19th
century when there was no clear theory about language contact and
mixture (and when some even repudiated the notion of mixed languages).

> If you want to chat more about Pidgin this, Creole that, just
>post another one... I'd be glad to chat more about it. I do have a lot
>of experience with the process of Pidginization... I happen to speak
>two highly pidginized languages from the Philippines. (These languages are
>still in the process of further pidginization, so that means I'm a first
>hand witness to such.)

Which languages are these?

James Walker, Toronto Information Development, IBM Canada
Alternate address:
"You can have anything in this world provided you genuinely
don't want it." -- George Orwell
Disclaimer: The above views are mine, not those of IBM.