Middle English creole hypothesis

The Middle English creole hypothesis is the concept that the English language is a creole, which is a language that developed from a pidgin. The vast differences between Old English and Middle English have led some historical linguists to claim that the language underwent creolisation at around the 11th century, during the Norman conquest of England. The theory was first proposed in 1977 by C. Bailey and K. Maroldt and has found both supporters and detractors in the academic world.[1] Different versions of the hypothesis refer to creolisation by contact between Old English and Norman French, between Old English and Old Norse or even interaction between Common Brittonic and English, but evidence supporting any influence of the Celtic languages on English is scant.[2][3]

The argument in favour of the Middle English creole hypothesis comes from the extreme reduction in inflected forms from Old to Middle English. The noun system of declension of was radically simplified and analogised. The verb system also lost many old patterns of conjugation. Many strong verbs were reanalysed as weak verbs. The subjunctive mood became much less distinct. Syntax was also simplified somewhat, with word order becoming more rigid.

Those grammatical simplifications resemble those observed in pidgins, creoles and other contact languages, which arise when speakers of different languages need to communicate. Such contact languages usually lack the inflexions of either parent language or drastically simplify them. However, many say that English is probably not a creole because it retains a high number (283) of irregular verbs, just like other Germanic languages, a linguistic trait that is usually the first to disappear in creoles and pidgins.[4] It is certain that Old English underwent grammatical changes like the collapse of all cases into genitive and common. However, the reduction of unstressed vowels to schwa by a fixed stress location contributed to that process, a pattern that is common to many Germanic languages.

See also


  1. ^ This judgement is found in these books:
    • p. 19, A History of the English Language, Hogg & Denison, 2006
    • p. 128, The History of English, Singh, 2005
  2. ^ Görlach, M., "Middle English – a creole?", in Linguistics Across Historical and Geographical Boundaries, Part 1, de Gruyter 1986, pp. 329ff.
  3. ^ Ryan, Brandy (2005). "Middle English as Creole". homes.chass.utoronto.ca. Retrieved 2019-01-18.
  4. ^ Tomori, S. H. Olu (1977). The Morphology And Syntax Of Present Day English: An Introduction. London: Heinemann Educational. ISBN 0435928945. OCLC 4043056.


  • Curzan, Anne (2003) Gender Shifts in the History of English (section 2.6 The gender shift and the Middle English creole question)
  • Dalton-Puffer, Christiane (1995) "Middle English is a Creole and its Opposite: on the value of plausible speculation" in Jacek Fisiak (ed), Linguistic Change Under Contact Conditions
  • Görlach, Manfred (1986) Middle English: a creole? in Dieter Kastovsky, et al. (eds), Linguistics Across Historical and Geographical Boundaries

External links

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