Firstly since there seem to be multiple meanings of "substrate" and "superstrate" let me start by defining the terms for this question:

A substrate language is one that was in a place before a new language arrived and took over. An example is Dacian words in Romanian.

A superstrate language is one that makes inroads into a place where a language is already fully established. An example is English words in Romanian.

(Please alert me if I have started with a misunderstanding!)

My question is: do languages tend to absorb the same kinds of features from both substrate and superstrate languages or do they generally take certain kinds of features from substrate and certain other kinds of features from superstrate?

For instance, perhaps languages tend to absorb lexicon from the language that was there before them (substrate) but phonology from the new language on the scene (superstrate), etc.

  • This one might be hard to answer. There's papers in English about languages affected and affecting English, but to know, say, the same for Russian, you need to be able to read Russian. Ditto for Spanish, French.. :(
    – kaleissin
    Sep 16, 2011 at 21:15
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    @kaleissin: It's lucky this is a site for experts then (-; Sep 16, 2011 at 22:31
  • Ah but it is best to go to the original sources donchaknow...
    – kaleissin
    Sep 17, 2011 at 0:20
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    @kaleissin: Indeed! Show me some original sources (-: Oct 10, 2011 at 15:52
  • Of the examples of substrate influence I've encountered there seems to be a pattern where if the formerly established language lacks a certain phoneme, a phoneme that is in the inventory of the new, incoming language, then the language spoken (if the incoming language does overtake the formerly established one) does not bare this distinction. e.g. the English spoken in North Wales not having a distinction that standard English would have between /s/ and /z/ so that all instances of <s> surface as /s/ (for example: cars [kars]) Mar 18, 2012 at 21:26

1 Answer 1


Substrate and superstrate aren't always used this way. And yes, creole researchers suggests that there are patterns to which parts of the language are contributed by which social groups. (Power dynamics has a lot more to do with it than who was there first.) I suggest looking at research by Poplack, but also look at Tara Sanchez's dissertation (and subsequent publications) on Papiamentu.

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