LINGUIST List 2.250

Monday, 27 May 1991

Disc: The Survival of African Languages among Slaves

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  1. Margaret Fleck, survival or not of African languages among slaves
  2. BILL ELDRIDGE, Re: Responses: African, Analogy, Acronyms, Hyouston

Message 1: survival or not of African languages among slaves

Date: Mon, 20 May 91 15:42:27 BST
From: Margaret Fleck <>
Subject: survival or not of African languages among slaves

 >>Third, if by "survival" you mean "survival to the present", I don't know
 >>of any other immigrant groups which have maintained their original languages
 >>for as much as three or four generations, ...

Aren't the Amish communities that old? 

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Message 2: Re: Responses: African, Analogy, Acronyms, Hyouston

Date: Tue, 21 May 1991 00:16:18 +0800
Subject: Re: Responses: African, Analogy, Acronyms, Hyouston
A few comments on responses to my letter.
 First, I agree that the diversity of African languages amongst
slaves probably forced the use of English as lingua franca. I don't
think I stated that there was such a thing as "African", but the
chance that many Africans speaking the same or similar language
would be thrown together was probably slim. I don't think of the
modern black dialects as reflecting enough African language to think
of the language having survived. Perhaps the "Gullah" example
offered has enough evidence of this. The Spanish spoken in southern
Colorado has survived in that it still is closer to Spanish Castilian
of the 16th Century than to the modern Latin American Spanish dialects
(which contain a large amount of native american influences as well -
I may be overstating this point a little bit).
I think the slave situation was quite different from other immigrant
situations, especially when much of the free immigration was to the
cities, where assimilation over several generations may be faster,
while slaves were kept together (of course social shunning of various
ethnic groups has created large barriers even in cities, and so on...).
And I still don't know if there was a Catch-22 that said slaves had to
speak English but couldn't study anything. I suppose a good comparison
would be with the slave situation in Haiti and various countries in
Latin America.
 On a different note, I mentioned that I thought the Russian language
would have been useful for Eastern bloc countries. This is probably
quite questionable, but I thought that 1) it would provide an obvious
language for regional cooperation, and 2) Russian has occasionally been
studied by businessmen and scientists in the west, whereas Czech and
Hungarian have not. The situation in Prague is now leaning towards
English as the lingua franca in professional situations, despite or
because of past connections with Germany (there's also the possibility
that Germany has its hands full in rebuilding its eastern sector and
doesn't have the time or resources to spread its influence elsewhere).
Unfortunately the average person here speaks no foreign language, so
that the reunification with the rest of the world will take a bit
more time than many had hoped. At the same time, language and race
differences are causing many groups to fight amongst one another when
cooperation would be more helpful.

 Bill Eldridge
 Czechoslovak Academy of Sciences

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