I was just thinking..
What if some isolates are old creoles?
I was talking to my friend Abbie Hantgan the other day, she's worked on an isolate language called Bangime [bang1363, dba] and we got to thinking. What if Bangime is an old Dogon lexified creole? What if this is true of more isolates?
Very often we know about the existence of contact languages because we know the socio-historical context of their creation. But that type of knowledge doesn't go back that far, and there is no reason to assume that there weren't contact languages before that. So how do we recognise languages that are old creoles? If we didn't know better perhaps we've been classifying them as isolates, i.e. languages with no living relatives. The oldest creoles we know about today are probably the Portuguese lexified creoles of West Africa (for example Angolar and Cape Verde) that are supposedly from 1500-1550 (Daval-Markussen p.c.).
Soo... what would happen if we compared isolates + contact languages/creoles with the rest of the languages of the world.. are some isolates really similar to contact languages/creoles.. The ones I can think of on the top of my head do not fit the "profile", but then again I don't know about every language that has been called an isolate.
Perhaps it's just silly and stupid.. but I'd just be neat, wouldn't it? And it's not like it's difficult to test.
How many isolates and contact languages are there again? Just as a reference point:
- APiCS (Michaelis, Maurer, Haspelmath and Huber 2013) contains 76 languages that are some sort of contact language, creole, pidgin, mixed etc. APiCS does not identify what is a creole and what is not, hence why I keep writing "contact languages"
- Campbell (unpublished) counts to 129 isolates
- Ethnologue (2014) distinguishing language varieties into 82 isolates, 93 creoles, 16 pidgins and 22 mixed languages.
- Glottolog has 189 isolates, 58 pidgins, 22 mixed languages and the creoles are sorted in under their main lexifiers family so therefore hard to count.
Hantgan, Abbie (2010) A Grammar of Bangime (Draft) (PDF here)
Lewis, M. Paul, Gary F. Simons, and Charles D. Fennig (eds.). 2014. Ethnologue: Languages of the World, Seventeenth edition. Dallas, Texas: SIL International. Online version: http://www.ethnologue.com.
Michaelis, Susanne Maria & Maurer, Philippe & Haspelmath, Martin & Huber, Magnus (eds.) 2013. Atlas of Pidgin and Creole Language Structures Online. Leipzig: Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology. (Available online at http://apics-online.info, Accessed on 2015-02-02.)
Michaelis, Susanne & Martin Haspelmath & Damián Blasi (2013) Grammatical simplicity in a cross-linguistic perspective: APiCS meets WALS}. Presentation at the workshop: Creole and pidgin language structure in cross-linguistic perspective