I always wondered, what makes some languages survive for a long time in a form that is similar to the one from its origin, while others didn't.

For example, French in Canada, while being there for many years (almost same time as the Dutch in South Africa) and away from France and with absence of media at that time, it still survived in a form that is similar to the one in France, basically you can safely say it is the same language.

Others, weren't so lucky, for example Arabic in Malta and Dutch in South Africa. They have turned into new languages with different grammar and words, etc.

What are the factors that preserve a language in that way?

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    I wouldn't agree that the existence of Maltese and Afrikaans should be characterized as "unlucky." In any case, the differences between Afrikaans and standard Dutch are supposedly not that big. I am not an expert, but the Wiki article describes this and also says that it used to just be considered a dialect of Dutch. As for Maltese, it sounds like its point of divergence from the other Arabic languages was a lot further in the past than the establishment of French in Canada. May 9, 2016 at 7:56
  • France has also developed in diverse ways in North America, such as Acadian French and the French element in Michif. May 9, 2016 at 7:58
  • "lucky" in the context of preservation, that's it, did not mean something bad by that. Regarding north American french, people there can speak with people in France with no problems, they can read the same language and stuff. That's not the case for Dutch and maltese. May 9, 2016 at 8:09
  • Downvoter, why? it would be nice to leave a comment instead of downvoting and hiding.. Jun 23, 2016 at 15:38
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    Can you present any evidence that Canadian French is much closer to continental French than Afrikaans is to Dutch?
    – curiousdannii
    Jun 23, 2016 at 21:30

3 Answers 3


The main reason for differing degrees of linguistic change over time is language contact, where it matters what the degree of contact is and how different the contact language is. The Saami languages are fairly similar, because they have had relatively little contact with structurally-different languages. Bantu languages in certain areas tend to be fairly similar even with a lot of contact because the contact languages are similar Bantu languages, though in a zone where a Bantu language is in contact with a substantially different Bantu language, divergence is often greater.

As for Maltese, one has to start with the question of what the pre-Arabic language was (if there was a single substrate language), what kind of Arabic was introduced (a Maghribi dialect), how much influence there has been from Romance and English (to the point that Semitic vocabulary is a minority), and what kind of reinforcement there has been (i.e. contact with the wider Arab speaking world).

In the case of Afrikaans, there is a hypothesis (M. Valkhoff 1966, Studies in Portuguese and Creole) that the language has in fact been under subtle contact influence from Portuguese Creole and Khoisan, where the influence is on children and their acquisition of the Germanic language, while being cared for by non-Germanic speakers.


I think the answer for language retention is Religion.

The francophone settlers of Quebec were Roman Catholics, but the later anglophone rulers were Anglicans. So they were separated by a religious barrier keeping the two communities apart from each other and hindering assimilation.

A similar effect can be observed in the Palatinate dialect island in the Low Rhine Region (link in German). Here protestant settler in a Roman Catholic region kept their different dialect.

Whether the language is still the same as in its motherland is actually a question of definition: Canadian French has significant differences to "Hexagonal" French, but they count as the same language, the same holds for Brazilian and Portuguese. And it is a matter of definition to call Afrikaans a language and not a dialect of Dutch.

Only for Maltese the time of separate development (cut off from Arabic) is much longer such that it is fully differentiated from its parent language.


The short answer is the history. When the British conquered the rest of New France in 1760, they had to deal with more than 65,000 people (near the St. Lawrence valley) who were distinct in language, culture and regime. The authorities have wanted to assimilate the French and eliminate this barrier, but that never worked. The authorities had to tolerate the French culture in the colony (with the hope of assimilation in the future). Still, the barrier remained, and so there was not much mix between the two nations.

The intercultural contacts are very important factors in the influence of a language. Politics help.

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