Which languages is claimed to have switched families?
October 14, 2012 5:29 PM   Subscribe

Which language is claimed to have shifted between language families?

I'm looking for the name of a language I read about a few years ago, which has been claimed by some to has shifted from its original language family to another. Basically, the degree of borrowing was so great that though it started out as "language of kind A with elements of king B", it could now be regarded as "language of kind B with elements of kind A".

I seem to recall that the language was African, maybe east-central, and not widely spoken.

I'm not really interested in whether such a shift is possible or not, but rather just the name of the language that this has been claimed for.

posted by Jehan to Writing & Language (6 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Ack, sorry for all the spelling mistakes!
posted by Jehan at 5:30 PM on October 14, 2012

Possibly Ma'a, which is a Cushitic language that's heavily borrowed Bantu morphology, syntax, and lexicon. (But the basic vocabulary remains Cushitic.) Thomason & Kaufman have a chapter on it; they discuss but reject the idea that it has changed families.
posted by zompist at 6:07 PM on October 14, 2012 [2 favorites]

That's the one, thanks!
posted by Jehan at 6:46 PM on October 14, 2012

I don't think it has entirely "shifted families", but Maltese, which is considered to be in the Semitic family, has borrowed so heavily from Italian (and uses the Latin alphabet, unlike any other Semitic language) that it might be considered a kind of hybrid. The structure is recognizable as Semitic, however I'm pretty sure that over the centuries not just Italian words, but some Italian-like syntax, has gained a hold. As I do not personally speak Maltese, though, I can't comment further.
posted by RRgal at 8:17 PM on October 14, 2012 [1 favorite]

Just wanted to throw the term Sprachbund out there; there are some examples of similar phenomena in the article.
posted by Jelly at 6:42 AM on October 15, 2012

Thanks for the reference to Sprachbund, jelly... I hadn't heard the term before (and no mention is made of Maltese so I'm not sure if it applies to that particular language). Now I'm certain of it -- when I retire I am going back to college for a second Bachelor's in linguistics!
posted by RRgal at 8:11 AM on October 15, 2012

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