A "creole" language is formed by the merging of two parent languages, usually through an earlier rudimentary mixture of the two. Does this make Yiddish a creole language?

My question is really about what constitutes a creole language: what are its hallmarks and most distinguishing features, and do creole languages ever evolve to become "proper" languages (whatever that may mean) in their own right?

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    Though it was eventually was closed, there were many answers provided to your other question, with suggestions for further reading especially with reference to Yiddish. What, if anything, were you seeking people to expand on here? – Aaron Sep 19 '11 at 3:45
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    Would it be better to close this question now, and migrate the other one with all its answers once this site is out of private beta? – Aaron Sep 19 '11 at 3:47
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    @Aaron: It's a fair question, but since the question was originally answered (and subsequently closed) in the context of an English site, I wanted to see if it would get other, perhaps better answers in the context of the Linguistics site. Migrating the other question, with its answers, might alter the perceptions of the answerers here, though they are of course free to look at them in their original context. – Robusto Sep 19 '11 at 11:49
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    I think it's worth asking here before it's possible to migrate it because it's a good test question to develop the site in its beta stage. But I also feel it is not one question but at least two, one about Yiddish and another about English. And then the generalized umbrella question. It's a bit of a mishmash in my opinion. – hippietrail Sep 20 '11 at 10:58
up vote 22 down vote accepted

In short: No, Yiddish is not a creole.

A creole is a stable language developed from the mixing of parent languages. A creole develops if (and, AFAIK, only if) its speakers were children who grew up speaking what used to be a pidgin as their first language.

A pidgin is a simplified language that develops as a means of communication between groups that do not have a language in common. A pidgin is not the native speech of any entire community but is an acquired language.

Pidgins develop rather haphazardly out of necessity when multiple language groups, for whatever reason, need to communicate with each other on a very regular basis. Bits of vocabulary from each language are put into a melting pot, so to speak, and an ad-hoc rudimentary grammar develops. People are trying very hard to make themselves understood, and the result of that generally resembles a sort of tarzan-speak.

Pidgin languages are not stable and continues to develop in a rather impromptu manner. There is not necessarily any widely agreed upen grammar and will vary widely from speaker to speaker. Certain conventions will inevitably arrive, that is, the features of the pidgin that are used enough will become standard.

Wikipedia lists some notable characteristcs of pidgins:

  • Uncomplicated clausal structure (e.g., no embedded clauses, etc.)
  • Reduction or elimination of syllable codas
  • Reduction of consonant clusters or breaking them with epenthesis
  • Basic vowels, such as [a, e, i, o, u]
  • No tones, such as those found in West African and Asian languages
  • Use of separate words to indicate tense, usually preceding the verb
  • Use of reduplication to represent plurals, superlatives, and other parts of speech that represent the concept being increased
  • A lack of morphophonemic variation

Note that a creole is linguistically more developed than a pidgin. The language is mostly stable. Unlike pidgins, which along with moribund languages are notable for their simplified characteristics, there are no grammatical features that are unique to creoles.

Now, finally, to your question: Yiddish was not a language that developed from two language groups trying to communicate with each other. It is a High German language that was (and, to a lesser extent, still is) spoken by Ashkenazic communities in central Europe. Yiddish was never a rudimentary mixture of two languages, it was just German that borrowed a few features of Aramaic and Hebrew.

And, no, English was not a creole during the Norman conquest. English was still English, it was, for the most part grammatically the same as it was before. English just borrowed a large amount of vocabulary from French.

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    I was under the impression that Yiddish was influenced not just by Hebrew but also by Slavic languages such as Polish. – hippietrail Sep 20 '11 at 11:00
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    @hippie: Was that the Normal or the Abnormal conquest? ^_^ – Robusto Sep 20 '11 at 20:47
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    Oh if only we could edit comments after the fifth minute \-: – hippietrail Sep 20 '11 at 20:52
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    Yiddish did in fact borrow some vocabulary and at least one grammatical element (the use of the same reflexive pronoun for all persons) from the Slavic languages. But it remains definitively Germanic. – Anschel Schaffer-Cohen Sep 21 '11 at 5:22
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    @Dunes not only is it possible, it is considered a variant of OHG. – Mitch Dec 8 '16 at 17:03

Max Weinreich in his History of Yiddish (1980) argues that it developed in the early Middle Ages from Jews speaking a variety based on French picking up German and using Hebrew for religious terms; Slavic influences came later.

  • This is a no longer supported theory. See e.g. Beider's "Origins of Yiddish Dialects". – har-wradim Mar 2 '17 at 13:33

I think that Yiddish can be considered a creole language: a mixture of German, Hebrew and numerous other languages and dialects. I see many similarities between Yiddish and Jamaican patois. There are certain codes within both to convey messages in secret from an oppressive host language. Also the tone of voice has a similar soft edge to it.

Some of the information contained in this post requires additional references. Please edit to add citations to reliable sources that support the assertions made here. Unsourced material may be disputed or deleted.

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    Welcome to Linguistics.SE! This answer is a pure opinion-based; such posts are discouraged here since someone else could write a totally opposite thing, based on vague statements like "I see no similarities" or so. Consider explaining your point in further details and backing it with more or less solid evidences/researches. – bytebuster Dec 8 '16 at 12:53

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