Serving both to retain ties to the old country and help integration into new cultures, hybrid languages are a vital mainstay for immigrant communities. With the current European refugee crisis still ongoing, we can expect more to emerge, as world-renowned linguist Ghil'ad Zuckermann tells Ross Davies.
“Let’s be clear on one thing – there is no such thing as a pure language,” affirms Professor Ghil'ad Zuckermann.
Zuckermann is speaking to me over the phone from his office at the University of Adelaide, where he is Chair of linguistics and endangered languages. “If a language is considered pure, it cannot be a real living language,” he continues, not even a minute into our interview, and well into his stride.
“Even C++ is not a pure computer programming language. Every language is mixed.”
Some languages, however, have enjoyed an organic evolution over the course of centuries. English is a good example, whose traditional lexicon derives from Latin and French – with an ample dollop of German thrown in – that has gradually been sustained across history.
Israeli Hebrew, on the other hand, is the result of what Zuckermann defines as “hybridic genesis”; a tongue born out of unique context, as opposed to the simple passing of time.
“No one spoke Hebrew at the fin de siècle,” explains Zuckermann. “For nearly 1800 years, it was sleeping beauty of a language, if you will. Then, suddenly, with the migration of Jews into Palestine, people sought to reclaim Isaiah’s Hebrew.
“Except they couldn’t lose their mother tongues. So what we got instead was the fusion on all levels – from grammar and lexicon to vocabulary – of the likes of Yiddish Russian and Polish, creating a new language in the process.”
For Zuckermann – who is fluent in 13 languages – Israeli Hebrew is the par excellence definition of a hybrid language, or ethnolect. While impossible to put a number on, Zuckermann’s studies point to there being “hundreds” of mixed languages in use today.
Some are better known than others. Originally coined in the 1940s in reference to a hybrid language used by Mexican migrants living in Texas, “Spanglish” has grown in both its number of users and importance in the US.
Read the full article in Overseas, turn to page 20.