18
$\begingroup$

I'm trying to work out what two languages merging would look like. Obviously, I know about pidgins and creoles, but these generally require the presence of a third, dominant language. Here, I'm looking at a post apocalyptic world where two groups speaking close languages (Spanish and French for example) come into contact through forced migration and have to work together to survive.

Do we have any examples of this? Languages merging? What about more different ones like a Latin language and a Germanic one? Or even an Indo-European like Romanian and a non-Indo-European one like Hungarian?

$\endgroup$
9
  • 5
    $\begingroup$ Maybe yiddish? Not 100% sure of the origins but might be a good example? $\endgroup$ – Sol Feb 16 at 22:42
  • 16
    $\begingroup$ Yeah, English is the ultimate sponge of a language. But it tends to absorb pieces, not merge with the local language. True equity between two intermingling languages is rare, and one usually tends to dominate. $\endgroup$ – DWKraus Feb 16 at 22:55
  • 4
    $\begingroup$ It's traditional to wait 48 hours or so before awarding accepted answer. Awarding it early excludes the international community who may be asleep when you write, and puts off new (and maybe useful) answers from being written. You can re-think at any time. $\endgroup$ – A Rogue Ant. Feb 17 at 1:05
  • 5
    $\begingroup$ pidgins and creoles do not normally require the presence of a third dominant language. There is also increasing consensus that creoles don't form a meaningfully distinct category of language and are instead just the extreme end of a sliding scale of contact between languages of uneven social status $\endgroup$ – Tristan Feb 17 at 15:10
  • 5
    $\begingroup$ You might be interested in John McWhorter's book Our Magnificent Bastard Tongue: The Untold History of English in which he argues that Modern English developed from creolization of Middle English and Norman French (IIRC), with some arguments about why this transition isn't adequately represented in the written record. $\endgroup$ – The Photon Feb 17 at 19:09
58
$\begingroup$

Languages do not usually "merge"; linguistic communities often do

There is a reason why your diligent research bore no fruit: historical linguistics does not ever speak of languages "merging".

When a linguistic community speaking language A merges with a linguistic community speaking language B, several different things can happen:

  1. The merged community may continue to use two different languages, descended from language A and language B, with most people being bilingual; most usually, a lot of words from language A are borrowed into language B, and a lot of words from language B make it into language A. We say that the new changed language A' is descended from A with a small / moderate / heavy influence from language B, and the new changed language B' is descended from B with a small / moderate / heavy influence from language A.

    • Most usually in such a situation the two languages will converge, each adopting features from the other, with the effect that they become more similar in some ways. In time, the two successor languages A' and B' may form a sprachbund (= "language league" in English), that is, they make come to share striking similarities in phonetics, grammar and vocabulary.

    (The archetypal example of such a sprachbund is given by the languages spoken in the Balkan peninsula and the neighboring areas, where fundamentally different languages of diverse origins came to have just about the same phonetic system and to share striking grammatical similarities.)

  2. Or one of the languages A and B may win out, and become the basis from which the new common language of the merged community is based. This is far more common than the situation given under point 1 above. We say that new language A' is descended from A with a light / moderate / heavy influence from language B, depending on the specific case; the influence of language B is usually called a superstratum or substratum, depending on the specifics of how the two linguistics communities merged.

    • The most easily influenced aspect of a language is vocabulary. For example, the English language is a Germanic language, descended from Old English, with an absolutely massive Romance superstratum and an almost as massive Latin adstratum.

      In extreme situations, almost all the vocabulary of a language may be replaced with words borrowed from another; we say that the new language A' is descended from A and relexified from B. For example, modern Armenian went basically through a process of relexification from Persian, to the point that linguists had at first mistaken it for an Iranian language, and only close scrutiny was able to discern the convoluted history of the language.

    • The second most easily influenced aspect of a language is phonetics. Under the influence of language B, language A may evolve into a language A' which shows a simplified / amplified phonetic system tending to harmonize the differences between the phonetic systems of A and B.

    • The grammar of a language is quite reluctant to let itself be corrupted by borrowing features from another language; what may happen (and it usually happens) is that the new language A' will shed those grammatical features of its ancestor A which had no correspondent in, and were utterly alien to language B. For example, let's say that a linguistic community speaking English merges with a linguistic community speaking Russian, and, by luck, the new common language is descended from English: I would be ready to bet that the progressive aspect of verbs, which has no correspondent in Russian and is utterly alien to the spirit of that language, won't make it into the grammar of the new Englishky.

      (There is a hypothesis that links the surprising morphological poverty of Modern English to the moderate Norse and heavy Romance influences which the language has suffered.)

  3. In extreme cases, the merged community may first resort to a drastically simplified pidgin which will then quickly evolve into a creole language. Note that the creole language is descended from the pidgin, while the pidgin is not said to be "descended" from anything; we say that the pidgin is "based on" one or more languages, but, as far as historical linguistics is concerned, there is no genetic relationship between the pidgin and the language or languages it is based on.

    (Note that the word "genetic" has a very different meaning in linguistics than it has in biology.)

  4. In extremely rare cases, the merged community may come to speak a mixed language; examples of mixed languages are few, and none is uncontested. (Even the meaning of the phrase "mixed language" is not clear; as far as there is a consensus, it denotes a language which has features derived from two or more parent languages to the point where one cannot say if it is descended from one with a very heavy influence of the other, or the other way around.)

$\endgroup$
2
  • $\begingroup$ Well there is an analogous problem in biology. The solution was: if you need a highly sophisticated model about evolution you should not see it as a tree (no single ascending branch). We often do because hierarchies are powerful and easy to reason about, but reality is not that simple. So hierarchical (simple) and non-hierarchical (detailed) models coexist. $\endgroup$ – atevm Feb 17 at 14:26
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @atevm: They have that in historical linguistics, too -- it's called the wave theory (probably better known as the Wellentheorie), originally introduced by Johannes Schmidt in the 19th century. But, as you say, hierarchies are easier to understand; and, on the other hand, in historical linguistics language descent is most often really hierarchical, because the grammatical core of a language is quite rigid: it almost never absorbs significant alien features, preferring to break down into a pidgin with almost no grammar rather than combining. $\endgroup$ – AlexP Feb 17 at 16:05
29
$\begingroup$

You mean like how modern English has Germanic and Latin roots?

There is no definitive way that languages merge. Linguists, as a matter of fact, don't agree on one hard and fast definition of what a language is. They're more interested in describing how communication changes from contact to other languages to quibble over a prescriptive definition.

In the case of English you have population of Germanic speakers conquered by a French speaking upper class. This lead to a vocabulary that has both French and Germanic roots.

One of the most striking examples of this mixing is how the names of animals in English have Germanic origins and the names of the meat came from French. (such as cow and beef, or pig and pork) In most languages the name of the animal and the meat are the same.

$\endgroup$
10
  • 6
    $\begingroup$ Note that English has no single word for horse meat. Neither the Normans nor their subjects ate horses. If they had, horse meat would be 'chevalle'. $\endgroup$ – A. I. Breveleri Feb 17 at 6:53
  • 4
    $\begingroup$ English has more roots in German, and French, and Latin-via-french, and.... Than it has in common with its geographical ancestors. It isn't really a language of its own, it is a Jigsaw puzzle built out of other languages. Taking the best (and sometimes the worst) out of the others. $\endgroup$ – PcMan Feb 17 at 9:29
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ @A.I.Breveleri For the sake of translating everything into French : Cow -> vache, Beef -> boeuf, pig -> cochon, pork -> porc. Also horse is not chevalle, but "cheval" (pl. "chevaux"). Rules of animal eating is quite the same (we don't eat "vache" meat, but "boeuf"...), along with "cheval" sausages (there's no meal word for them). $\endgroup$ – Tortliena Feb 17 at 9:31
  • 3
    $\begingroup$ @PcMan Not sure what you mean. It has lots of vocabulary from different languages, but its relationship to German can be traced via its descent from Anglo-Saxon, another Germanic language. English grammar (inherited from its Germanic ancestors) has seen relatively little influence from other languages). $\endgroup$ – chepner Feb 17 at 15:08
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ @Nierninwa: Though a lot of English vocabulary is directly from Latin (and sometimes Greek), due to it having been the international language for many centuries. $\endgroup$ – jamesqf Feb 17 at 17:33
12
$\begingroup$

What about more different ones like a Latin language and a germanic one?

You get English!

English is a merger of Germanic and Franco-Latin languages.

When the grammars of the languages are incompatible we get what is called a pidgin


Note: I see that a similar answer was given while I was typing.

$\endgroup$
1
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ We literally posted within a minute of each other. Feel free to edit your post to add extra invormation/value/or wit. :) $\endgroup$ – sphennings Feb 16 at 22:51
7
$\begingroup$

It is interesting that you are mentioning Spanish and French, because geographically speaking, there is a language between them: Catalan. Catalan is closer to Spanish grammatically, but there are some constructions that are very similar to French, and the intersections of vocabulary between French and Catalan are also numerous: Fromage/Formatge (queso in Spanish); Table/Taula (mesa in Spanish). Indeed, Catalan is not a fusion of these languages, but a different Roman language that happens to share a lot of the substratum and superstratum of Spanish and French. So, for your example, I think that this hypothetical merging of Spanish and French wouldn't sound too different from the Catalan spoken in the north part of Catalonia (near the Pyrenees) or in Andorra. It's just a personal opinion, but an informed one, since I speak the three languages I mention.

$\endgroup$
1
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ Occitian is a very close relative too. $\endgroup$ – Mad Physicist Feb 18 at 23:48
5
$\begingroup$

I don't know about established languages... but in bilingual cultures, or among families who speak two languages... you hear them shifting in and out of languages on the fly, depending on which serves the purpose best contextually.

I also don't think a dominant language in a pidgin is a bad example. I acknowledge your intent to START with two equal languages, but consider that they wouldn't necessarily stay that way.

Most languages aren't equal in terms of complexity and syntax... even if they start out equal in terms of the number of speakers, elements will become dominant over time... no one is going to conjugate verbs if an equally understandable alternative is available. Some parts of the languages are going to become dominant.

I would consider the written language as well... which language is easier to express on paper. I would imagine any language with a phonetic alphabet is going to have an edge over one with a symbolic alphabet, even if just in terms of teaching future generations.

$\endgroup$
2
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Interesting points. I don't expect that the effects of pidgins where there is a lingua franca template and then two lexicons merging on top would work but I guess some elements could be reused… $\endgroup$ – Nierninwa Feb 16 at 23:00
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ FYI, the habit of multilingual speakers switching between languages is studied under the technical term "code-switching". $\endgroup$ – IMSoP Feb 17 at 10:05
2
$\begingroup$

Surzhyk

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Surzhyk

Surzhyk (су́ржик, IPA: [ˈsurʒɪk]) refers to a range of mixed (macaronic) sociolects of Ukrainian and Russian languages used in certain regions of Ukraine and adjacent lands. There is no unifying set of characteristics; the term is used for "norm-breaking, non-obedience to or non-awareness of the rules of the Ukrainian and Russian standard languages".

Surzhyk is a Ukrainian word for a "macaronic language" so that, in Ukrainian language it could refer to any mixed language, not necessarily including Ukrainian or Russian. When used by non-Ukrainian speaking people of Ukraine, the word is most commonly used to refer to a mix of Ukrainian with another language, not necessarily Russian. When used in Russia the word almost always specifically refers to a Ukrainian-Russian language mix.

$\endgroup$
1
$\begingroup$

Surprisingly, this is not a fiction - this is a real thing. For instance, if you take a look at US and some ethnic group living more or less compact: people still use their mother tongue but they "import" very many words from outer language (English this time) and apply the same linguistic rules as they have in their mother tongue.

Another example: two languages that living mixed on the same territory, let say around Black Sea. During the centuries, the languages actually do merge and create a blend tongue which is not-so-easy to understand for people outside of that mixed territory (regardless of a mother tongue, any from the blend).

$\endgroup$
1
$\begingroup$

The term you are looking for is 'creole' or 'pidgin' (which are often used interchangeably). From my field of study, perhaps West African Pidgin English? It was used in the late 17th and 18th centuries and was used by West Africans with what they picked up from Europeans during the Atlantic slave trade.

It took most syntax and grammar from substrate languages (mainly those from West Africa), but the vocabulary was mainly from the superstrate English, here's an example:

“Me? Put poison for master? Nevertheless!” said the cook, side-stepping to avoid a heavy blow from the Minister. . . . Why I go kill my master? . . . Abi my head no correct? And even if to say I de craze why I no go go jump for inside lagoon instead to kill my master?" (a servant, in [Chinua] Achebe's A Man of the People, p. 39)

But anyway, as others have said, any creole or pidgin would be what you are looking for. Pidginization is when two languages literally clash, and speakers are forced to pick up words from each other over time in order to accommodate each other. Think of a plane full of Chinese speakers and English speakers crashing on an island. Assuming there was no domineering or anything, they would each over time pick up parts of each other's language, and slowly develop a language that was a combination, which we call a pidgin. An example known to you could be the simplified English you may speak to a foreign waiter while abroad. Creolization occurs when the descendants of these people speak the pidgin language as their primary tongue, and we now call it a creole.

Sadly in reality we often have socio-economic issues which cause one language to be more dominate (superstrate/substrate), so its kind of hard, maybe impossible to find an example where the language is 50/50 mixed.

$\endgroup$
2
  • $\begingroup$ I was under the impression from my initial readin that pidgins were specifically for when three languages came into contact, mostly two substrates and one dominant which serves broadly as the blueprint. At least in the creoles we have that they arose from people not speaking the same language that were forced together by colonialism and used a modified version of the dominant language (whether English, Spanish or French) to communicate with some lexicon of their native tongue making it through. (Also cool Achebe quote. I studied his work back in highschool.) $\endgroup$ – Nierninwa Feb 19 at 0:09
  • $\begingroup$ Not so @Nierninwa. A pidgin is any kind of simplified mode of communication used by two or more groups who need to communicate but haven't learned each other's languages. The situation you describe can cause pidgins to develop, but they're frequently the result of relatively new trade relationships. Such was the case in the pidgin that lent its name to the concept, Chinese Pidgin English. Other trade pidgins include Basque–Icelandic pidgin, Maritime Polynesian Pidgin and Borgarmålet. $\endgroup$ – Juhasz Feb 19 at 5:39
0
$\begingroup$

Look at Mechif

Mechif is a language spoken by Metis people in Canada. It's a combination of French and Cree, reflecting the mixed ancestry of Metis people. It's not a creole, however, since a creole typically has the simpler parts of each component language, whereas the opposite is true of Mechif - for the most part, Mechif nouns are derived from French, which is more complicated than Cree because of having grammatical gender; whereas Mechif verbs are mainly derived from Cree, which modifies verbs with many suffixes and prefixes.

It's believed that whereas pidgins and creoles result primarily from contact between nonfluent speakers of each other's languages (pidgins) and their children (creoles), Mechif resulted from a context in which fluent French/Cree bilingual people were frequently interacting with other fluent French/Cree bilinguals. The first-generation Metis people who founded the Mechif language were raised by a fluent Cree speaker and a fluent French speaker, rather than by two parents fluent in one language and nonfluent in the other language(s) as with a creole, and surrounded by a community of other children with similar upbringing. As such, they grew up with adequate understanding of the grammatical complexities of both languages, and when talking to other bilinguals, they constructed language-mixed sentences to communicate more precisely than they could in either language alone.

$\endgroup$

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.