In my experience, it seems to be that people learning as a second language one that is significantly more inflected that their mother tongue(s) experience serious difficulties and tend to avoid flection in informal speech. That happens even nowadays, when flection is often taught in a formal way.

Judging from this point of view, does it really sound feasible that Bulgars, Avars and other Turkic-speaking peoples might have given birth, together with Indo-European peoples, birth to Proto-Slavic as a lingua franca or pidgin to communicate between different themselves? I mean - how Bulgars and other Turkic speaking people give shape to a fully inflected language with almost no loss of inflection complexity with regard to, say, Baltic languages?

I can't see how non-native speakers keep up to that level of inflection.

AFAIK Middle English lost much of the inflection as a result of Old Norse and Old Saxon speakers trying to find a common language and having to remove away the obstacle of different inflection systems.

That (Proto-Slavic as a made lingua franca) is a thesis proposed by Florin Curta. I'm aware that it's subject to much criticism and I wonder if the point above could be an argument.

(I'm just an amateur.)

  • How does using proto-Slavic as lingua franca match with the problem of using flections - it is still a highly inflected language? – Vadim Mar 6 at 11:49
  • My point is that even nowadays people formally studying Slavic inflection in the process of a second language learning fail to master it. Usually pidgins tend to simplify things. I can't see such a complex language such as Slavic, without literary tradition, not only not simplifying, but keeping the complexity among Turkic peoples. – AmazingWouldBeGreatBut Mar 6 at 11:53
  • Among Turkic peoples that use it only for the sake of interacting in military campaigns. – AmazingWouldBeGreatBut Mar 6 at 11:54
  • What I am saying is that, given complexity of the Slavic inflections, it is unlikely to be a "simplified" lingua franca - is this what you are trying to say? – Vadim Mar 6 at 11:55
  • @Vadim yes, that's mainly the point. Especially if we are talking of a lingua franca for non-inflected-languages speakers and no writing system. – AmazingWouldBeGreatBut Mar 6 at 11:59

I would love someone else to answer this more fully, but one thing I would like to point out is the assumption in this question that more inflection implies greater complexity in language. The reality is much more complex than that; languages like English (and in fact, many of the modern Indo-European languages) have exchanged complex inflectional systems (synthetic languages) for syntactic complexity (analytic languages).

When one is a native speaker of English, inflection seems complicated. But for a speaker of a synthetic language, English's use of light verbs to encode grammatical information and the importance of word order are just as complex.

So, it is not necessary that Proto-Slavic had to lose inflection to serve as a lingua franca. (Actually, I do not think that is how Proto-Slavic ever developed but I will let an expert rebut that.) As far as I know, languages aren't necessarily inclined to losing inflection naturally.

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  • Good point about the complexity. Perhaps the question lays rather about natural tendencies (hypothetically: of non-inflected-language speakers to avoid inflection when learning a second, inflected language) than about complexity. – AmazingWouldBeGreatBut Mar 7 at 13:39
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    Comparing Russian and English I would say that the word order does not pose much difficulty: after all, SVO is the normal word order in Russian, even if it is flexible, the adjectives precede the nouns, etc. On the other hand, keeping track of definite/indefinite articles and English prepositions is probably as hard for a Russian speaker, as keeping track of Russian inflections for a native English speaker. – Vadim Mar 7 at 17:07

Curta’s hypothesis sounds a little far-fetched but there’s a more plausible theory that a form of Slavic spread very rapidly — maybe with the Avars — across the Balkans, effectively smoothing out much of the dialectal differences that must have existed at that time. This theory assumes that Slavic was indeed used as a lingua franca but had been adopted rather than created. Nicolaos Trunte gives a historic account in his book on Old Church Slavonic.

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  • That 'middle-ground' hypothesis makes more sense (to me) than Curta's. Still, I'd like somebody to analize the question of how inflected languages get transformed in the path to become a lingua franca. I was rised as a native speaker of two weakly inflected languages (Spanish and Galician) and I can understand the drive of Romance speakers to speak Slavic 'analitycally' (incorrectly), avoiding inflection. This does happen. Avars carrying most almost 100% of Proto-Slavic inflection to the Balkans doesn't seem feasible to me. – AmazingWouldBeGreatBut Mar 7 at 13:37
  • @AmazingWouldBeGreatBut Generally even if a language gets adopted as a lingua franca, it continues to be spoken by the original native speakers so any tendencies to simplify the grammar are counterbalanced. That said, there are some interesting historical cases where the adopting people outnumbered the native speakers, which led to abrupt changes in the grammar. In the case of Slavic, the southern languages have undergone changes in syntax and morphology but they’re part of a sprachbund so this is not a good example in the context of the question. – Atamiri Mar 7 at 19:27

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