Posted: Sep 23, 2012 3:57 pm
by Zwaarddijk
virphen wrote:Going back to your Aug 23rd post which I hadn't read until now, where you talk about the English of a millennium ago. I had read of a hypothesis where this simplification was explained as being caused at least in part by influxes of large numbers of adults who had to learn the new language (particularly the Scandinavian influx). That is, adults having to learn a second language tend to struggle with some of the pickier aspects of the grammar of the language they are adopting and dispense with them. That at least superficially seems to make sense to me (as someone trying to learn French I'd quite like to take le and la , un and une and merge them until some middling sound, most of the gender features seem to make it all so much more complicated while adding little to the content communicated).

Sometimes, such a thing is a reasonable explanation, but it's not the only possible reason for such changes in general.

An important bit here is first-language acquisition. Most of us tend to think we've learned our language from our parents, but by and large, the way it happens is we learn our language from our friends to a larger extent. All of us take bits from our surroundings - including our parents - and these bits are puzzled together among the children. Of course, older children have puzzled together more of it, and contribute in a way as well.

So, for any large changes to happen, a large enough group of the children have to have parents not speaking the language natively, yet switching to it even when speaking to their children. (In the case of children learning a language in isolation from an actual speaker community, the parents are obviously the main contributor, of course.) Of course, in the case of the Danelaw, there was a constant influx of Norse speakers over a long period, where each new generation there were grownups having to learn the local language - so to some extent that might have influenced the speech.

In the case of English and Norse, Norse probably was a high-status language on account of them being (successful) invaders. The languages were closely related already, so there weren't any remarkably different things to learn (as would have been the case if, say, the invaders or the invadees had been Australian aborigines and the other party had been Norse). The difference probably was comparable to, say, Dutch and Modern English or somesuch.

Further evidence is given by the fact that some of these features survived into Middle English - way after the demise of the Danelaw. The simplification of the noun morphology might somewhat

Many of the changes that happened seem rather to have been results of sound changes, sound changes that, again, have also occured elsewhere without any need to use 'immigrants' as an explanation. These sound changes include weakening of final, unstressed syllables, which, due to the way English morphology worked, naturally removed most of the accidents of the nouns - gender, number and case marking. A gender system can survive without morphological marking, but explicit morphological marking does help maintaining the system.

The gender system, by the way, provides extra redundance, a very useful feature in human communication, due to background noise.

virphen wrote:That hypothesis is extended to Persion, where the connection is made to the Persian empire importing workers from all over the fertile crescent and facing them with the same problem and resultant phenomena, adults having to learn a new language and tending to abandon or merge some of the more difficult and apparently redundant grammatical features. I'm sure there were other languages cited. The result being a stripped down, easier to learn (for adults) language.

Is there any merit in that sort of hypothesis?

The difference in the Persian case is:
- larger numbers of speakers of foreign languages
- several second languages involved
- high status of the Persian language, low status of the others

Hence, the children would likely learn Persian in a milieu less conductive to actually picking up the more difficult parts of the language, their families' native languages wouldn't necessarily provide much use outside of the immediate family. The children would notice which language is worth picking up, and they'd likely pick them up together with others who only had flawed bits of the language they strive to learn.