In the Strand today I saw a book by Carol Myers-Scotton called Contact Linguistics. The book is written in a rebarbative theoretical jargon that (for instance) replaces “clause” with CP, which stands for some gobbledygook phrase that thankfully eludes my memory, but it includes brief sections on three “mixed languages” that I had been unaware of and that sound fascinating.
The first is Michif, described in this online article as follows:
The Michif language is spoken by Metis, the descendants of European fur traders (often French Canadians) and Cree-speaking Amerindian women. It is spoken in scattered Metis communities in the provinces of Saskatchewan and Manitoba in Canada and in North Dakota and Montana in the United States…. It is spoken outside the French-speaking part of Canada and the Cree-speaking areas of North America…. Michif is a rather peculiar language. It is half Cree (an Amerindian language) and half French. It is a mixed language, drawing its nouns from a European language and its verbs [and grammatical structure—LH] from an Amerindian language.
The second is Medny Aleut (also called Copper Island Aleut), probably now extinct or close to it, which has Aleut lexical items embedded in Russian grammar; the third, and best known, is Mbugu (also called Ma’a), which has Cushitic vocabulary and Bantu grammar. More such languages are dealt with in this 1994 collection of papers.
These languages pose a problem for historical linguists, who tend to like neat “family trees” (as in this amazing page, which also has beautiful maps) showing languages splitting neatly into daughter languages in such a way that each language is traceable (in theory) back through a single lineage; fortunately, these mixtures are rare enough not to disturb the general picture too much, and they don’t destroy the usefulness of the traditional model any more than the existence of people who cannot be clearly defined as “male” or “female” nullifies the concept of gender. (If you think it does, you may have wandered into this blog by mistake; I suggest you flee back here.)