The Creole Hypothesis for Middle English

1. IntroductionThroughout its history, the English language has been influenced by a variety of socio-historical incidents. One of the most remarkable linguistic developments and changes has been the drastic transition from Old English to Middle English. Poussa (1982: 67) describes the mechanism which triggered the development of Old English into Middle English as “the great unsolved problem in English philology”. Indeed, many authors have attempted to reveal the underlying causes for the outstanding differences between the languages of the two periods, but they have been rather far from providing satisfactory explanations when considered that each proposal has generated more controversies about the issue. One idea that initiated everlasting disputes regarding the causes for the sudden and immense change from Old English to Middle English is that Middle English might be a creole language resulting from language contact.

The creole hypothesis for Middle English has been advocated by scholars such as Domingue (1977), Bailey and Maroldt (1977), Poussa (1982), and Milroy (1984) who point out the similarities between the characteristics of Middle English and the common features found in creole languages. However, they do not completely agree on a certain creolization scenario. Even though they claim that Middle English is a creole, they diverge from each other when it comes to determine the superstrate language that might have impacted on English most profoundly. Moreover, the creole hypothesis has provoked so much opposition among some scholars that the opponents of the hypothesis have not only refused the creolist arguments, but also disagreed on each other`s reasoning. This paper will examine the two of the problems with the creole hypothesis which have drawn reactions from the opponents, and led them to diverge from each other in their arguments; the definition of creole and the causes for the changes and developments in Middle En.