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

Anthea F Gupta (
21 Jul 1995 23:55:42 GMT

Cameron Laird (claird@Starbase.NeoSoft.COM) wrote:
: In article <>,
: Gerold Firl <> wrote:
: .
: .
: .
: >Don't creole languages generally have a simplified syntax compared to the
: >languages from which they were formed? The IE languages, aside from
: >english, which can be considered a creole, seem very structured to me. On
: .
: .
: .
: 'Long time ago, I, too, learned that English is a creole.
: Over the last five years, though, sci.lang scholars con-
: vinced me to re-read some of the recent research on the
: topic, and I see how little likelihood there is to this.
: English *is* an outlier in some ways, some of which
: (skimpy declension, for example) do remind one of creoles.
: However, there's apparently good evidence that the develop-
: mentail trends leading to these characters were already
: underway *before* the Anglo-Norman kingdoms provided the
: political and economic stage one would think necessary
: for criollization. Moreover, some of the same secular
: changes are attested for Norse and other little-related
: tongues.

: This comes up often enough that someone should put it in
: the FAQ. I don't know the literature well enough to take
: on the job. If someone does sketch the argument, I'll
: make it available on a fast FTP site, at least until it
: joins the FAQ.
: --

There are two issues:

(1) the definition of a creole.
Some people (e.g. Bickerton) define creole very strictly as language
which arose when people started speaking a pidgin (very limited language,
informally learnt & used for inter-group contact of a basic sort) to
their children. On this definition Modern Standard English is definitely
not a creole.
Other people (e.g. C-J Bailey) define it very loosely, as any language
which has had substantial influence from another language. In this case
ModStdE is definitely a creole.
There are mid-way definitions too (e.g. Thomason & Kaufman).

(2) Whether the main disruption to English in the 11th/12th century was
from English or from the Scandinavian language spoken by the Vikings (Old

The main grammatical differences between Old English (c450-1100) and
Middle English (c1100-1500) appear to have been caused by influence from
Old Norse. French contributed some grammatical change but the bigger
influence was lexis. Some scholars attach more importance to the Old
Norse influence and others to the French influence.


Bailey, C-J N & K Maroldt. 1975. The French Lineage of English. In J M
Meisel (ed) 1977, LANGUES EN CONTACT.

Poussa, Patricia. 1982. The evolution of early standard English: the
creolization hypothesis. STUDIA ANGLICA POSNANIENSA.

Thomason, Sarah & Terrence Kaufman. 1988. LANGUAGE CONTACT,
CREOLIZATION, AND GENETIC LINGUISTICS. Berkely: Univ. of California Press.

Anthea Fraser GUPTA

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