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A mixed language is a language that arises through the fusion of two source languages, normally in situations of thorough bilingualism, so that it is not possible to classify the resulting language as belonging to either of the language families that were its sources. Although the concept is frequently encountered in historical linguistics from the early twentieth century, attested cases of language mixture, as opposed to code-switching, substrata, or lexical borrowing, are quite rare. A mixed language may mark the appearance of a new ethnic or cultural group, such as the Métis. The fusion of more than two languages is not attested.
Every language is mixed to some extent but few languages are "mixed languages" in the specific sense here.
A mixed language differs from a pidgin in that the speakers developing the language are fluent, even native, speakers of both languages, whereas a pidgin develops when groups of people with little knowledge of each other's languages come into contact and have need of a basic communication system, as for trade, but do not have enough contact to learn each other's language.
In a mixed language, both source languages are clearly identifiable. This differs from a creole language, which generally has one identifiable parent, in addition to diverse input which cannot be traced to any particular language. While creoles tend to have drastically simplified morphologies, mixed languages often retain the inflectional complexities of both parent languages.
Finally, a mixed language differs from code-switching, such as Spanglish or Portuñol, in that, once it has developed, the fusion of the source languages is fixed in the grammar and vocabulary, and speakers do not need to know the source languages in order to speak it. But, linguists believe that mixed languages evolve from persistent code-switching, with younger generations picking up the code-switching, but not necessarily the source languages that generated it.
Most portmanteau language names, such as Franglais and Anglo-Romani, are not mixed languages, or even examples of code-switching, but registers of a language (here French and English), characterized by large numbers of loanwords from a second language (here English and Romani). Middle English (the immediate fore-runner of Modern English) developed from such a situation, incorporating many Norman borrowings into Old English, but it is not considered a mixed language.
Languages generally accepted as mixed:
- Michif, a mixture of French and Cree, where the nouns and adjectives tend to be French (including agreement), and the polysynthetic verbs are entirely Cree. There are two simultaneous gender systems, French masculine/feminine as well as Cree animate/inanimate, and the Cree obviative (fourth person).
- Mednyj Aleut, a mixture of Russian and Aleut, which retains Aleut verbs but has replaced most of the inflectional endings with their Russian equivalents.
- Cappadocian Greek, comprising mostly Greek root words, but with many Turkish grammatical endings and Turkish vowel harmony, and no gender.
- Mbugu or Ma’a, an inherited East Cushitic vocabulary with a borrowed Bantu morphology in one of two registers, the other register being Bantu.
- Media Lengua, an inherited Quechua grammar and phonology with a borrowed Spanish lexicon (see relexification). The stability of Media Lengua as a language has been disputed.
- Light Warlpiri, with Kriol verbs and verbal morphology and Warlpiri nouns and nominal morphology, in addition to numerous English loan words.
- Gurindji Kriol, which emerged from code-switching between Australian Kriol and Gurindji. This mixed language is structurally similar to Light Warlpiri.
- Erromintxela, which derives most of its lexicon from Kalderash Romani but uses Basque grammar and syntax.
The histories of these languages differ. Michif and Mednyj Aleut appear to have risen through the mixture and intermarriage of two bilingual peoples, French with Cree and Russian with Aleut. Cappadocian Greek and Media Lengua, on the other hand, appear to have arisen as minority languages (Greek and Quechua) shifted under the influence of the surrounding majority language (Turkish and Spanish). While the Greek and Quechua were bilingual in Turkish and Spanish, the reverse was not true. The history of Mbugu is not known.
Possible mixed languages include:
- Wutunhua (a mixture of Chinese and Tibetan).
- Yeniche (a mixture of German, Yiddish, and Romani).
- Jopará, mixture of Guaraní and Spanish, Spanish verbs are changed to match Guaraní phonology and conjugated following Guaraní patterns.
- Biblical Hebrew, according to a theory of the Hebrew verbal system postulated by Hans Bauer.
- Bonin English (a mixture of Japanese and English)
- Manglish - Malaysian English with a mixture of English, Malay and even Hokkien.
- Zuckermann (2009) p. 48, citing Hjelmslev (1938) and Schuchardt (1884).
- Bakker, Peter (1997). A Language of Our Own: The Genesis of Michif, the Mixed Cree-French Language of the Canadian Metis. Oxford: Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-509712-2.
- Bakker, P., and M. Mous, eds. (1994). Mixed languages: 15 case studies in language intertwining. Amsterdam: IFOTT.
- Matras, Yaron and Peter Bakker, eds. (2003). The Mixed Language Debate: Theoretical and Empirical Advances. Berlin: Walter de Gruyter. ISBN 3-11-017776-5.
- Mous, Maarten. 2003. The making of a mixed language: The case of Ma'a/Mbugu. Creole language library (No. 26). Amsterdam: J. Benjamins Pub. Co.
- Sebba, Mark (1997). Contact Languages: Pidgins and Creoles. MacMillan. ISBN 0-333-63024-6.
- Thomason, Sarah and Terrence Kaufman (1988). Language Contact, Creolization, and Genetic Linguistics. University of California Press. ISBN 0-520-07893-4.
- Zuckermann, Ghil'ad (2009). "Hybridity versus Revivability: Multiple Causation, Forms and Patterns." Journal of Language Contact, Varia 2:40-67.