Sally Thomason sally at THOMASON.ORG
Sat Mar 6 14:41:53 UTC 1999

About the hypothesis that Michif is a French-based creole: this
is a recurring suggestion, but it really doesn't fit either the
linguistic or the social facts of Michif development and current
state.  Creoles, in all cases, show the effects of imperfect
learning, usually of a European colonizer's language; in almost
all creoles the vocabulary comes overwhelmingly from a single
language (namely, the colonial power's language).  But the
grammar, notoriously, doesn't come from that language or from any
other single language. True, there are a few creoles, like
Berbice Dutch, that derive a significant portion of their grammar
from a single substrate language, and a few, like Reunionese,
that derive a significant portion of their grammar from the
colonial language.  But even in those cases quite a bit of the
grammar can't be traced to any single language.

Michif contrasts very sharply with this situation: both grammatical
components, the French and the Cree parts, can be traced directly
to French and Cree, respectively, with very little distortion of
any kind.  The lexicon is also split half-and-half (roughly).  The
language *had* to have been created by fluent bilinguals; there
is no other way to account for the intact French and Cree grammar
in the noun phrases and verb phrases, respectively.  But creoles,
notoriously, are not created by fluent bilinguals.

Languages like Michif and creoles do share one important feature:
they are all mixed languages, not the result of ordinary gradual
language change but of (relatively abrupt) creation.  They don't
fit into a traditional family tree of language relationship.  But
they arose through quite different sorts of linguistic processes.

   -- Sally Thomason

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