Language Change
Pidgins and Creoles
Historical Linguistics
Language Change
Reminder: Exam #1 is 9/25!
• Review sheet is online
• PowerPoint slides – print them out or get
copies in 509 Williams for 10 cents/page
• 28.html
• Use the link to the textbook website – there
are flashcards and other tools to help study
textbook material
7 PM in Williams room 402
Also, I will have extra office hours Monday
9/24 from 12 to 2
Review: types of language change
See the “Language Change” handout
• External change
• Internal change
• Structural borrowing
• Lexical borrowing
• Functional shift
• Semantic shift
Semantic inversion
A form of semantic shift where a word takes on the
opposite meaning.
Semantic inversion is very common in slang and
other vocabulary systems designed to exclude
outsiders (e.g. “thieves’ jargons”)
Def (death) = good
Gnarly = good
Sick = good
Lexical Borrowing – Lee article
The online reading by Margaret Lee focuses
on lexical borrowing of African American
words or expressions into a mainstream
Lee found words in use that had been
borrowed into mainstream American
English during different periods of
American history
“Scope” of prestige
While Lee found many examples of
borrowings from African American English
into mainstream newspaper writing, she
also showed that the prestige associated
with African American English is
concentrated in areas such as
entertainment, sports, and celebrity news
Social Factors in Vocabulary
At any point in a language change, some
members of the group will speak the “old”
way and some will speak the new way.
This can create or reinforce social
What are some social boundaries that
language change creates or reinforces?
Our “new word”
• What will give the word “legs”?
• What areas of our vocabulary seem to be
the most “productive” for new words?
• Try to come up with a new word –
semantic shift, coinage, clipping etc.
Endangered Languages
Language Shift/Death
One result of language contact can be
language shift, where speakers begin to
speak a new language and stop speaking
their former language. Over time, this can
result in language death.
This phenomenon is happening all over the
world, and has already happened to many
Native American languages in the U.S.
Three stages of language death
• In language shift, people begin to use one
language more than another, and may
encourage their children to pick the new
language. Eventually, the community is
using one language, not the other.
• A language is moribund if no children are
learning the language as their first language
• A language is dead if there are no living
speakers of the language.
Language Revitalization
• Language revitalization is an attempt to
“resurrect” a language that is moribund
through increasing the number of people
who are learning and speaking the
• Language revitalization programs focus on
getting people to learn and speak a dying
language and teach it to their children
• More on this in Week 14!
Language ideology
Revitalization programs often must work against
social ideas about or prejudices against the
dying language.
For example, the language may not be considered
“modern,” or may be associated with lack of
education, negative ethnic stereotypes, or be
considered “old-fashioned”
Example from our readings: Garifuna
• Garifuna is spoken in Belize and some
other Central American countires
• Total number of current speakers is about
• Garifuna is an Arawakan language spoken
in Central America
Garifuna: “shame” and shift
• Code choice in a mixed population in Belize
– Garifuna vs. Belizian Creole
• Speak Garifuna and identify with your ethnic
group, or English Creole and identify as
• Children are ashamed to speak Garifuna
because it marks them as poor and
• Parents feel that speaking Garifuna is a sign
of pride in who you are
Exam question on Garifuna
• The essay question on the review sheet
asks you to be able to describe the
language situation in Belize – what is the
official language? What other languages
are spoken? What is the nature of
language shift among Garifuna children,
and what reasons does the author give for
the shift?
Writing systems
Types of Writing Systems
Ottenheimer, Chapter 7
• Logographic writing systems – written
symbols represent entire words (Chinese)
• Syllabic writing systems – symbols
represent syllables (Inuit)
• Alphabetic writing systems – symbols
represent individual sounds (Roman)
Example of Inuktitut (Inuit)
Syllabic writing systems were introduced to
many Native American groups by
missionaries and traders in the 1800’s
Eastern Inuktitut speakers adopted syllabics,
while other groups use Roman or Cyrillic
Inuktitut Syllabary
Writing and Technology
• In the 1960’s, IBM created a typewriter
that could type Inuktitut syllabics
• Not all the characters would fit, so one set
of syllabics was removed (AI-PAI-TAI)
• With new computer fonts, these characters
have been restored to the syllabary
Writing and Standardization
• Writing systems are essential to developing a
written standard for a language (duh)
• Writing systems may be chosen for convenience,
for linguistic reasons, or for ideological reasons
• Even after the writing system has been chosen,
there may be a lot of negotiation about which
dialect(s) the written standard will be closest to
• However, having a written language can improve
the social status of a language and make it easier
to teach, helping revitalization efforts.
Pidgins and Creoles
The production of new languages
in contact situations
• A pidgin is a trade “language” – actually it
is grammatically simpler in form than a
true language and does not have full
elaboration of function.
• Over time, as people expand the situations
in which they use a pidgin, it can be come
fully elaborated and then become a creole,
through the process of creolization.
When a highly elaborated pidgin (one with
that can serve all the communication
needs of its speakers) reaches the point
where children are learning it as their first
language, it has become a creole, a fully
functional and elaborated language that
emerged from the interaction of two or
more languages.
This process is called creolization.
Power and Creoles
• Creolization occurs in situations where
one language is associated with more
power than another. Some people limit
“creoles” to languages that arise in cases
of forced movement or colonization.
• The language on which a creole is based
is called the “matrix language.”
• Hatian Kreyol - a French creole spoken in
• French is the matrix language, but West
African languages contributed phonology,
vocabulary and some elements of the
Examples from “Next Year’s
Creole Continuum
The creole continuum extends from “deep”
creole, usually spoken by people at the
bottom of a stratified system, to a standard
form of the matrix language.
Barbadian----------B. Creole-------Barbadian
Tok Pisin
• Tok Pisin is a creole language spoken in
Papua New Guinea that is rapidly gaining
speakers. One of 2 official languages of
Papua New Guinea
• Tok Pisin has been standardized and is
used in written language, broadcasting,
and oral communication. You can even
search the internet in Tok Pisin.
• Krio is an English creole language that is
one of the official languages of Sierra
• 4,000,000 speakers, about 10% are native
speakers [around 23 languages are
spoken in Sierra Leone]
Jamaican Creole
• Grammatically distinct from English.
Some examples:
di woman dem = the women
Mi ron = I run (habitually); I ran
Mi a ron = I am running
Mi ena (en+a) ron = I was running
Mi en ron = I have run; I had run
Variations in New Englishes
• She is knowing her science very well (E. Africa)
• I graduate there in 1990. (PNG)
• Before I always go to that market (Malaysia)
------• pay attention on it (India)
• -You didn’t come by car? (India)
- Yes, I didn’t.
------Don’t kacho me when I want to work! (Malaysia)
When we get home, we ask daddy to changkol the
garden (Singapore)
Historical Linguistics
Historical Linguistics is the study of how
languages change and develop over time,
and how languages are related to each
“Laziness” Principle
This principle argues that changes in
pronunciation happen because deleting or
changing sounds in a word results in a
pronunciation that requires less effort.
I AM becomes I’m
mylne (Old English) becomes mill
The Great Vowel Shift
A shift in the entire vowel system of English taking place in
the 15th and 16th centuries. Each changes was part of a
“domino effect”
Seven Middle English vowels were altered over this period:
Middle English
Modern English
Northern Cities Vowel Shift
A “chain shift” in the vowels of the dialects
spoken in urban areas around the Great
Lakes (Detroit, Chicago, etc.)
Ottenheimer points out:
Dialect variation and change is not new –
there is evidence of dialect variation in
every language that has an ancient
alphabetic writing system.
How does written evidence work?
Spelling conventions that reflect
Rhymes/puns in poetry
1776 - Sir William Jones argues that Sanskrit (an
ancient Indian language) and European
languages are related
This argument says that there is a Proto-IndoEuropean language from which most European
and Indian subcontinent languages descended
A protolanguage is an ancient language from
which other languages of a given family or group
are descended
The Indo-European Family
Comparative Method
Looks for cognates (related words) in each
e.g. “two”
Bengali dvi
Danish to
Greek duo
Russian dva
German zwei
English, Dutch, German (pp. 220-1)
Historical linguistics relies on the fact that large
changes in languages usually follow “rules” that
affect many different words and sounds at the
same time
For example, as a language changes, all the
unvoiced stops at the start of a word may
become voiced, so t’s become d’s, p’s become
b’s and so forth. Meanwhile, another, related
language may not be changing, or may change
by a different rule. In the last example, [f] and [s]
in English are [v] and [z] in Dutch.
• Often, language changes happen in
different regions and at different times
• When languages move far enough away
from each other, they become distinct and
may even end up in different groups (e.g.
Germanic vs. Slavic languages, which
both descend from Proto-Indo-European)
Common words
By tracing common words across all the
Indo-European languages, we can tell
some things about the world of Proto-IndoEuropean – which trees and animals
people talked about, what concepts they
had, etc.
Take away points:
• All languages are changing all the time, at
many different levels
• Language change does not make
languages “better” or “worse,” just different
• All languages, whether recent creoles or
ones with a long written history are equally
Don’t forget!
• Review session with TA’s Monday, 9/24
7-8 pm in Williams 402

Language Change - The University of Vermont