Is It Plausible that Middle English is a Creole? Cheryl Stradling
The History of the English Language • Old English (450-1150) • Middle English (1150-1500) • The issue: Is Middle English a creole, particularly a Franco-Germanic creole?
What is a creole language? • A language that originates from a pidgin language and has become the native language of a group of people. • Characterized by mixing of languages, language (structure) simplification, limited vocabulary
Previous Studies • Bailey and Maroldt – proposed that English is a French-based creole • Görlach – English is not a creole • Danchev – English has many creole-like features, but they are universal features of language change
Plausibility • The change from Old English to Middle English occurred due to foreign influences, namely Scandinavian and French. In comparing Old English and Middle English, a number of creole-like characteristics, such as language simplification and language mixing, have been observed in Middle English.
Implausibility • While Middle English tends to exhibit creole-like features, the language maintained it’s underlying structure from Old English. Some linguists suggest that changes most likely occurred due to interlanguage changes.
Methodology • Make a list of characteristics of creoles; each characteristic will be assigned a value of 1 point. • Analyze Middle English according to list of characteristics, giving it a point for every sentence that meets a creole characteristic • Total up the number of points, and find percentage. Percentages higher than 60 will be considered “plausible”. • The characteristics that will be analyzed are: embedded clauses, repeated adjectives and adverbs, use of particles to change verb tense.
Text used • “The Former Age” (the Alfredian prose version) • Old English translation (871-899) • The Peterborough Chronicle (1155 AD) – 10 sentences
Results for: Embedding • Embedded clauses: Creole languages have little or no embedded clauses in their language structure. • In 10 sentences, 7 embedded clauses were found so far
Results for: Repeated Adjectives and Adverbs for intensity • Creoles tend to use repeated adjectives and adverbs for intensity • In 10 sentences, 0 repeated adjectives and adverbs were found so far.
Results for: Use of particles • Creole languages tend to use particles to change their verb tense • In 10 sentences, 0 particles have been found so far.
Conclusion • Although each creole characteristic is still being tested, current findings suggest that it is implausible that Middle English is a creole language.
Problems and Weaknesses • Small sample size • Language change over time • Different texts
Future Work • Larger sample size of Middle English • Same text written both in Old English and early Middle English • English speakers’ perceptions: Do native English speakers think that English is a Latin-based language?
References • Aitchison, Jean. Language Change: Progress or Decay? 3rd edition. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2001. • "Creole (language)," Microsoft Encarta Online Encyclopedia 2007 April 9, 2008. <http://encarta.msn.com>. Microsoft Corporation,1997-2007. • Dalton-Puffer, Christiane. The French Influence on Middle English Morphology: A Corpus-Based Study of Derivation. Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter, 1996 • Danchev, Andrei. “Interlanguage simplification in Middle English vowel phonology?” Linguistics across Historical and Geographical Boundaries, vol. 1. Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter, 1986. • Danchev, Andrei. “The Middle English creolization hypothesis revisited.” Studies in Middle English Linguistics. Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter, 1997. • Görlach, Manfred. “Middle English – a creole?” Linguistics across Historical and Geographical Boundaries, vol. 1. Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter, 1986. • Kastovsky, Dieter and Arthur Mettinger. Language Contact in the History of English. Germany: Peter Lang GmbH, 2001. • Vantuono, William. P;d and Middle English Texts with Accompanying Textual and Linguistic Apparatus. New York: Peter Lang Publishing, Inc, 1994.