Author Topic: Are there other languages like English? Mishmash vocabulary, rickety grammar?  (Read 144 times)

Offline Befuddled

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I heard Swahili was a bit like English in that sense; a "junkyard language". A friend of mine suggested that such languages often make good linguas francas.

Offline Daniel

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I'd hesitate to call any language a "junkyard language" (I think for English I may have heard "junk door" referring to collecting all the random vocabulary from various languages, which still sounds negative although has a specific meaning about 'random collection of parts'), but there are some parallels in Swahili. First, it is one of just a few languages that actually has more non-native speakers than native speakers, so imperfect non-native speakers are in a way more easily welcomed than for a language with mostly native speakers. I'd also emphasize that this is probably the result, rather than the cause, of being a lingua franca. Language mixing occurs when speaker populations mix. It happened in the history of English with French (and Danish, and Latin, and many other languages now), and with Swahili it's more complex than that, given the extensive contact with various regional languages as well as international languages like Arabic and English. Swahili is not like English in the extent of loanwords (many are from Arabic, including many basic words like some numerals, and many more are from English, but not up to the 60% figure commonly given for English; the only language I'm aware of that comes close to that figure is Japanese with extensive borrowing from Chinese throughout history, plus many borrowings today from English, but still not to the extent that English has borrowed from French and elsewhere). Second, while the globalization of English has threatened languages around the world, Swahili is in a similar complicated position because its success as the only official international African language (setting aside Arabic) must also be understood in the context of also threatening various small, local languages. So Swahili being preserved and expanding despite the spread of English is often at the expense of other indigenous languages (for example, being taught in schools instead of other local languages). Very interesting and complex situation from a sociolinguistic perspective.

In another sense Swahili has sometimes been called a "creole" or "contact language", and English has been too, even though clearly they're not creoles in the typical sense. But they do show some features that are likely the effect of contact (mixed vocabulary, some "reduced" grammar compared to more conservative related languages, etc.). And that then leads to the other part of your question: various contact languages all around the world, in different ways, might fit your inquiry, but for different reasons, and with different features. But don't forget that all languages are contact languages, even if the effects only become noticeable after accumulating for hundreds of thousands of years.
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Offline panini

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Swahili is pretty clearly a G-zone Bantu language, and the creole theory has no serious credibility, IMO. It does have a large borrowed vocabulary from Arabic, just as Turkish has a large Arabic vocabulary, and Chinese has also been borrowed into Japanese and Korean.

If you compare Swahili with its cousins such as Miini, the Mijikenda languages or Pare, there are differences, but you do not find significant reduction in arbitrary quirks in Swahili, which is a hallmark of creolization. I think the idea that there was creolization comes from a premature comparison with Luganda and Zulu, which are "more complex" by all standards. I would say that the NEC Bantu languages are closer to the original situation.