Languages of slaves in the USA
Posted: 01 February 2011 07:10 AM   [ Ignore ]
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What were the main languages of the slaves brought to the USA? Does it seem that knowledge of the languages lasted more than one generation? I gather that various creoles existed from the 17th to 19th centuries.

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Posted: 01 February 2011 03:46 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 1 ]
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The languages were West African, primarly Wolof, Mandingo, Housa, and Western Bantu. Direct knowledge of the African languages did not, as a rule, extend beyond the first generation of slaves. But in some areas, mostly the Caribbean and the coastal regions of the Atlantic seaboard, creole languages developed, some of which, Gullah for example, continue to exist today.

Outside these creoles, how much African languages influenced modern African-American Vernacular English is a matter of debate. Some linguists trace some of the modern grammatical and pronunciation features to West African languages. Others say that all these features can be found in British and Irish dialects that were used by slave overseers and that the slaves learned English from them. In terms of vocabulary contributed to modern lexicon, the African contribution was rather small compared to the number of slaves imported. Relatively few words were borrowed from slave languages, which is what one might expect from a language of an oppressed people. It’s not unlike the relatively few Celtic words borrowed into Anglo-Saxon.

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Posted: 02 February 2011 05:29 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 2 ]
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Slightly OT, but couldn’t the paucity of Celtic words borrowed into Anglo-Saxon be down to 400 years of speaking a dialect of Latin in Britain?

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Posted: 02 February 2011 07:31 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 3 ]
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Latin was never all that widespread in Celtic Britain. It was a language of a small class of educated elites. If it had been the replacement for Celtic, modern Welsh would be a Romance language.

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Posted: 02 February 2011 10:17 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 4 ]
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Isn’t Welsh a Romance language?  If you strip out all the loanwords from English, a lot of what is left is Latin.

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Posted: 02 February 2011 11:42 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 5 ]
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No, it’s Celtic.

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Posted: 03 February 2011 12:17 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 6 ]
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Welsh and Breton may be classed as Celtic languages, but there is considerably more Latin in them than Irish or Scots Gaelic.  If Welsh is the language of the Romano-British, then it shows that it was considerably influenced by Latin during 400 years of Roman rule.

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Posted: 03 February 2011 01:54 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 7 ]
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If Welsh is the language of the Romano-British, then it shows that it was considerably influenced by Latin during 400 years of Roman rule.

Which is not the same thing as Welsh being a Romance language. English has lots of French and Latin words, yet it is still a Germanic language.

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Posted: 03 February 2011 02:55 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 8 ]
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bayard, grammar is more important in determining Language families than vocab is.

Are there any cases where most of the words of a particular language from one language family are from another? (ie “most” as they appear in the literature or in speech, not as they appear in the dictionary). e.g. any Germanic languages in which most of the words are Latinate?

Come to think of it, how does English break down etymologically? I expect if you went through the entries in a complete dictionary, most would ultimately derive from Latin, because so many formal and technical (but rarely used) words are from French or straight from Latin, but if you go through the text in novels or newspapers, most are Germanic.

(Has distant memories of my original question...)
EDIT: Thanks for the tip on Gullah, Dave. I’d never heard of it!

EDIT2: I think I can answer my own question: Maltese (definitely in the Arabic family). Most of its common words are ultimately from Latin.

[ Edited: 03 February 2011 03:01 AM by OP Tipping ]
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Posted: 03 February 2011 04:21 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 9 ]
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For English (and probably many other languages), what you use as your corpus will influence the distribution of etymologies. The most commonly used words in English are all from Old English; you have to get past the hundred most common words before you find one with a Romance or Latin etymology. (And what the most common words are will vary depending on the type of writing you sample; you get different results for literature, journalism, science writing, etc.) But if you look at all the etymologies in a dictionary, words with roots in Old English will only make up a few percent.

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Posted: 03 February 2011 07:39 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 10 ]
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there is considerably more Latin in them than Irish or Scots Gaelic.

Do you have a citation for that?  There’s tons of Latin in Irish (I haven’t studied Scots Gaelic, but it’s an offshoot of Irish anyway).

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Posted: 29 December 2011 05:35 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 11 ]
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Now I know I _have_ heard of Gullah, but under the name Geechee, referenced in the movie A Soldier’s Story.

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