Assume that the backstory of a conlang is that it developed from a set of other languages. In other words, speakers of these (different) languages were living in the same area and were communicating with each other and from this a new language emerged, a creole.

In such a situation which aspects of the original languages would be inherited by the new languages? Obviously the vocabulary would be somewhat mixed but what happens with the grammar? Would the easiest concepts prevail? Would it be necessary that one of the original languages would be dominant in some sense or could they have an equal influence?

  • 1
    I edited this to explicitly mention creoles, is that what you meant? If a language has done more than just borrowing vocab but borrowing grammar, then I'd call that a creole. Only thing is that that doesn't apply to Urdu to my knowledge. – curiousdannii Apr 4 '18 at 1:41
  • @curiousdannii Thank you for your edit and your comment - I removed the reference to Urdu since what I am really interested in is a creole. – Christian Apr 4 '18 at 8:28

I would think that it relates to the power structures behind the language communities, and to their relative size.

This can be kind of observed with English after the Norman invasion. The basic English grammar still remained Anglo-Saxon (as the majority of the population spoke it), and the main influence of Norman French (the powerful but small elite) was in the vocabulary. There are a few instances (eg putting some specific adjectives after the noun, as in president elect or times past) where French structures were adopted.

I would think that vocabulary is more a conscious choice, and Norman power made people adopt French words, but the grammatical structures being more sub-conscious meant that they were harder to change.

Another issue is how closely related the origin languages are. Obviously, while Norman French and Old English are different families, they both share the Indo-European ancestry, so are not that radically different. Compare that to, eg the Philippines, where there is a great language variety, and Asian/Polynesian languages clashed with Spanish/English in the colonial period. Here is one creole, Chavacano, which apparently has mostly Spanish vocabulary (so that it is classed as a Romance language), but their grammatical structures are generally similar to other Philippine languages (Wikipedia).

So it seems that power drives the vocabulary, but quantity of speakers determines the grammar.

  • 1
    Note: Of course Middle English is not a creole, but I was talking about the general process of language change in the face of interaction between language communities here. Also, the Anglo-Saxons still retained most of their vocabulary, but the Norman influence was manly on words, not grammar. – Oliver Mason Apr 4 '18 at 8:38

Yes, the vocabulary of a creole would be mixed, though it's likely that one of the parent languages provides most of the words. I concur with the previous answer to also look at English, since it does a few interesting things going on.

Another interesting language in that regard is the historical lingua franca, Sabir (a pidgin, and as such the precursor to a creole).

Creoles tend to have fairly simple grammar, losing some of the complexity of their parent languages. I'm not sure if necessarily the easiest concepts prevail, but in general, the more rare and complex it is, the more likely it will be lost.

I suggest learning about different natlang creoles to get a basic understanding of the processes, similarities and differences based on the languages involved; you can find a list on Wikipedia that should get you started.

On the more technical side, here is a PDF by McWhorter, and this article on Pidgins and Creoles by Baptista should also provide some more insight.

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.