Superstrat (linguistics)

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The term superstrate (Latin stratum, layer ) is mainly used in diachronic linguistics in connection with language contact situations. The term - developed by Walther von Wartburg in 1932 - describes a language or variety that initially (still) superimposes a “conquered” language for reasons of power politics, but is later dropped or given up by the conquerors. These (conquerors) are ethnically and linguistically absorbed by the natives, maintaining old language habits. Traces of the language of the conquerors are therefore retained even after they have changed language and are also taken over by the conquered over time.

In general, the following categories of linguistic variation can be distinguished:

  • diaphasic variation: the variation of a language depending on the communicative situation, i.e. in relation to the communicative context: intention, style (e.g. the individual language of Cicero in the Roman Senate, in family and friends, etc.)
  • Diatopic variation: the variation of a language, for example Latin , in space (territory), i.e. the geographical reference: dialects (dialect), region lects , (such as spoken Latin in Gaul at the time of the Roman conquest, Latin in Hispania)
  • Diastatic variation: the variation of a language, depending on the social class, i.e. in relation to the social class: "Gossenssprache" (occupational group, generation, gender, etc.)

Historical examples

  • At the end of the Roman Empire, the Germanic tribe of the Franks conquered the Roman province of Gaul and established themselves there as the ruling upper class. Since the Roman culture was very attractive to these Teutons and they were numerically in the minority compared to the Vulgar Latin- speaking Celto-Roman population of Gaul, they gave up their West Franconian language and adopted the Gallic Vulgar Latin, which subsequently developed into Old French . A large number of Germanic words came into the vocabulary, making modern French the one that has the greatest Germanic influence of the great Romance languages.
  • The Roman province of Hispania was also conquered by a Germanic tribe, the Visigoths . They established the Visigoth Empire there and established themselves as a military upper class over the Roman population. Like the Franks, the Visigoths soon adopted the language of their subordinates, who, although defeated militarily, had a superior and attractive culture. Unlike France, the Visigoths only lasted until 711 AD, when most of their empire was conquered by the Arab Moors . Only in the mountainous north of the Iberian Peninsula could small Christian empires survive, ruled by a class of aristocrats descended from Visigoths. In the south, an Arab upper class ruled over the Romansh-speaking majority population for several centuries. Only later did these small kingdoms recapture the Iberian Peninsula from the Muslim Moors by 1492. The Spanish language therefore has two superstrates, a Visigoth and an Arabic, whereby the Visigoth superstrat in modern Spanish vocabulary is limited to a few words, personal names and place names, while the Arabic traces are immensely larger.
  • The situation is similar in the Portuguese language . This also has a small Germanic superstrat from the Suebi , who established themselves in the northwest of the Iberian Peninsula. Much more important there, too, is the Arab superstrat from the Moors, who ruled the south of the country for centuries. The difference in influences between north and south still determines the dialects in Portugal today. The Arab influence is most noticeable in the south, in the Alentejo and Algarve regions . The Galician north, on the other hand, the actual place of origin of the Portuguese language, came to the Kingdom of Castile in the 13th century and has been exposed to the influence of the Castilian language ever since. The Galician language and the Portuguese language are now two separate languages, but they are very closely related. Galician lacks the Arabic superstrat; Arabic words only came into the language via the Castilian superstrat.
  • The former Roman province of Britain (their spoken language was the substrate language ) was conquered and settled by the Anglo-Saxons in the 5th century . The Vulgar Latin previously spoken there disappeared and the Celtic languages were pushed to the edge of the British Isles. In 1066, however, Anglo-Saxon England was conquered by the Old French- speaking Normans , who were now a numerically weak but militarily strong upper class over the rural Anglo-Saxon population. For a long time, both groups of the population spoke their own language. Over time, however, the Normans gave up their old French more and more and learned the Germanic language of their subordinates. At the same time, the Anglo-Saxons took more and more French forms from the Normans. The Norman-Old French superstrat in English is therefore particularly pronounced. The modern English language has a lot of originally French words and forms, for which there are often corresponding originally Anglo-Saxon words. Usually the French word form is used more in sophisticated language and officially, while the Anglo-Saxon terms are used more colloquially. Often there are two terms for an object, an originally Anglo-Saxon and an originally Old French, but today they usually have a different focus ( house / manson, freedom / liberty, holidays / vacation, pig / pork, cow / beef, big / large, etc. )

See also