8

It seems to be an established fact that mixed languages are rare, and that most languages can be classified as belonging to some family. And this seems to be true; for example, in the former territories of the Roman empire, either a Romance language developed (e.g. Iberian peninsula, Italy, France, Romania), or it didn't (e.g. Britain). Though the Romance languages all bear traces of pre-Roman features, and other languages like English have Latin influences, there are no truly ambiguous cases.

So are truly mixed languages really so rare, and if so why?

  1. Perhaps they are not so rare, but the dearth of examples is partly due to linguists shoehorning languages into classifications? E.g. if a language is roughly a 60-40 mix** of A and B, linguists would just classify it as part of family A?

  2. Or perhaps there really are social/psychological/language-acquisition or development related reasons that prevent the emergence of mixed languages? (I.e. when two languages come into heavy contact, for whatever reasons one always ends up dominating the other) Has there been any research done into why this is?

**I don't mean, of course, merely in terms of vocabulary. I know this is hard to quantify so please think of the numbers as being used in a figurative sense.

  • Of course language contact leads to all kinds of language mixtures, but these tend not to last, as pointed out. There are a few languages that are always called "Mixed Languages", like Michif, which has Cree verb phrases and French noun phrases, and has been spoken for centuries. – jlawler Nov 20 at 2:46
  • If I had to guess, I'd say that it's just easier for the language community to learn one set of rules than two. So when languages mix, the result gravitates to one style over time. – Barmar Nov 20 at 17:25
  • Would you class llanito as a mixed language? It's not on the wikipedia page you linked, but it seems to me (not a linguist) to fulfill the requirements. – Aaron F Nov 20 at 18:43
  • 1
    English is a Germanic language per origin, but it's also arguably a Romance language, when we look at its vocabulary. Would that count as a mixed language? – Quora Feans Nov 20 at 20:01
9

I wouldn't say that mixed languages are particularly rare, we can observe them in language contact situations all over the world, as pidgins, creoles, and vernaculars of specific ethnic groups.

But it is in the nature of most mixed languages that they aren't stable over time. Pidgins become creoles, and creoles often undergo decreolisation becoming a variety of their parent dachsprache. It is rare that a mixed language stabilizes and expands on its own.

The study of pidgins and creoles is a subdiscipline of linguistics that is often neglected by researchers in other areas. This may add to the impression that mixed languages are rare.

| improve this answer | |
  • 3
    The term "mixed language" normally doesn't include pidgins or creoles, but refers to languages such as Light Warlpiri, which do seem to be extremely rare. – Gaston Ümlaut Nov 20 at 22:18
2

prevent the emergence of mixed languages?

jk makes a great point about the stability of the "mixed languages". However, stability is rarely seen in any established languages either. So called "Standard English" is always evolving, we just had iso and lockdown inducted into the formal lexicon this year, and each evolution of media and tech provides further evolutionary pressures.

Your emphasis on emergence probably should be elevated to legitimisation perhaps. What are the factors or pressures that "de-legimitises" and prevents the formalisation of a mixed language such as very stable and well-documented mixed langugages?

I am most familiar with asian mixed languages, and Singlish has been well studied for over 50 years now. While Singlish is near universally spoken or at least understood, there are explicit governmental and formal pressure not to recognise and to minimise the legitimacy of Singlish despite its broad public appeal and national pride.

The Singaporean state holds the belief that Singlish is a corrupted and incorrect form of English, and is detrimental to the image and development of the nation. Singlish, has therefore, since 2000, been the subject of a large scale, state-run language campaign, the purpose of which is to delegitimise and eliminate this language (Prof Tan's article - Singlish An Illegitimate Conception article)

There are significant attack on ethnic identities if mixed languages are recognised too. Many formalised languages have ethnic and national identities. Also, there are significant economic, participation issues and world status if mixed languages are integrated formalised or recognised in any official manner. This letter to the editor encapsulates the raw sentiment against Singlish for example. In a such a well established monoculture it is hard to imagine such arguments being mounted but in diverse nations, the arguments against mixed or pragmatic languages are significant.

erode the substantive gains we have made in integrating ourselves as part of the globalised economy - https://www.straitstimes.com/forum/letters-in-print/singlish-must-not-be-allowed-to-displace-standard-english

| improve this answer | |

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.