Substrate (linguistics)

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The term substrate (from Latin stratum 'layer') was coined around 1875 by the Italian linguist Graziadio Ascoli in connection with his investigations into the causes of sound change . Today the term is mainly used in diachronic linguistics in connection with language contact or language mixing and denotes both

  • the original language of an area that triggers contact-induced change in one or more newly immigrated languages, as well
  • the results of this contact-induced change in the overlying language.

The latter are also called substrate interference. The overlapping language, which can also trigger contact-induced change in the opposite direction, is accordingly called a superstrate . In the case of influencing by neighboring languages, one speaks of an astrate .

Examples of substrate languages

If a language community adopts the language of an immigrant, often conquering people, the overlapping language can be influenced by the habits of the native speakers. That happened z. B. with the European colonial language Latin or with the North Germanic , which spread north to the originally Sami-speaking areas. How far the substrate influence actually extends is often controversial in individual cases.

In Creolism , too , one speaks of substrate influences. Here, the term substrate means the mother tongues of socially and economically subordinate populations in colonial situations. An example of this is the influence of African languages ​​on the Creole languages ​​produced in the Caribbean by slaves from Africa and their descendants.

Examples of substrate influences

Substrate interference is often found in phonology because the speakers of the original language often retain their peculiarities of pronunciation and intonation when they switch languages. The syntax and (less often) the morphology can also be affected. In contrast, substrate influence is limited in vocabulary mostly on areas for which the mass of new immigrant speaker has no names (for example, corridor , place and river names or animal and plant names) or that were not needed in the contact. For example, the Gaulish name for larch was retained in French , although the Romans also knew it, of course.


  • Johannes Bechert, Wolfgang Wildgen: Introduction to language contact research. Knowledge Buchges., Darmstadt 1991.
  • Sarah Gray Thomason, Terrence Kaufman: Language contact, creolisation, and genetic linguistics. University of California Press, Berkeley 1988.
  • Uriel Weinreich: Languages ​​in Contact. 1977.

Web links

Wiktionary: Substrate  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations
Wiktionary: Substrate language  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations

Individual evidence

  1. See Johannes Kramer: "Are the Romance languages ​​creolized Latin?", In: Zeitschrift für Romanische Philologie 115 (1999), 1–19.
  2. ^ Jurij Kusmenko : The Sami influence on the Scandinavian languages: a contribution to the Scandinavian language history (= Berlin contributions to Scandinavian studies, 10). Humboldt University of Berlin, Berlin 2008, ISBN 978-3-932406-25-6 .
  3. Silvia Kouwenberg, John Victor Singler: Introduction . In: Silvia Kouwenberg, John Victor Singler (eds.): The Handbook of Pidgin and Creole Studies. John Wiley & Sons Ltd., Chichester 2008, ISBN 978-0-631-22902-5 .