In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Mixed Languages

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Textbooks on Language Contact
  • Handbooks
  • Bibliographies
  • Comparative Studies
  • Case Studies—Books
  • Case Studies—Articles
  • Genesis
  • Grammatical Theories
  • Australian Mixed Languages

Linguistics Mixed Languages
Peter Bakker
  • LAST REVIEWED: 19 September 2022
  • LAST MODIFIED: 25 June 2013
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199772810-0030


The identification of a set of contact languages, many of which shared structural and social features that set them apart from other results of language contact, has led to a broad acceptance of mixed languages since the 1990s. In this article, a rather restricted definition is followed. Mixed languages are languages in which whole component parts are from distinct language families or branches. In some, the vocabulary from one language and the grammatical system (phonology, morphology, syntax) from another are combined. This type has been called “intertwined” languages. A second type has verb phrases from one language and noun phrases from another. For a long time it was believed that Michif (Cree verbs, French nouns) was the only language of this type. In the meantime, information has come forward on a language with Igbo verbs and Ijo nouns spoken in Okrika, Nigeria (no publications yet), and extensive information has been obtained on two Australian mixed languages, Gurindji Kriol and Light Warlpiri (English Creole verb phrase, Aboriginal noun phrase). Languages with a mixed everyday vocabulary constitute a third type. A claim has been made that a few creole languages, such as Berbice Dutch (Dutch, Ijo) and pidgins (Trio-Ndyuka pidgin), constitute this third type. A final type consists of languages in which all of the vocabulary, including grammatical words and endings, are etymologically from one language, but they do not share the typological profile of the other languages of that family; instead, they have a typological profile close to, or identical to, that of another, typologically distinct, language family. The process involved has been called metatypy. Languages that could belong to this group include Sri Lanka Malay (Malay lexicon, Sinhala-Tamil typology) and Haitian Creole (French lexicon, Fongbe typology). Mixed languages are stable and should be distinguished from spontaneous language mixture (code-switching) in bilingual communities. Also languages with more than average lexical borrowing, such as Maltese, Chamorro, and English, do not belong to the special set of mixed languages: Their genetic affiliation is clear despite the lexical admixture, which affects mostly the nonbasic vocabulary. Specialists of pidgin and creole languages debate whether pidgins and creoles would be examples of mixed languages. As the lexicon is typically from only one language and the grammatical structures cannot be linked to one specific source, they fall outside the definition given above. Other terms used for mixed languages are split languages (Myers-Scotton), stable mixed languages (Matras), bilingual mixed languages (Thomason), intertwined languages (Bakker, for a specific type), converted languages (Bakker, for a specific type), syncretic languages (Dimmendaal), and hybrid languages.

General Overviews

Several studies deal with mixed languages in general. These studies can include discussions of the nature of mixed language or their very existence, or they can consist of discussions of general properties, sociohistorical studies, and more. Thomason and Kaufman 1988 is an influential book dealing with contact-induced change, which contains discussion of mixed languages such as Michif, Mednyj Aleut, and Ma’a. Bakker and Mous 1994 is the first book that brings together articles about a range of mixed languages. It is this work that started the discussion about general properties, but skeptical voices remain, such as Dimmendaal 1995. Matras 2003 casts doubt on earlier ideas of prototypical mixed languages by emphasizing their diversity. Matras and Bakker 2003b outlines some of the issues in the discussion, many sides of which are represented in Matras and Bakker 2003a. Van Coetsem 2000 embeds mixed languages in a general framework of language contact, as does Matras 2009.

  • Bakker, Peter, and Maarten Mous, eds. 1994. Mixed languages: 15 case studies in language intertwining. Amsterdam: IFOTT.

    Approximately a dozen mixed languages are discussed in contributions with different degrees of detail: Ammarna Akkadian (East/West Semitic), Romani mixed dialects (Romani lexicon), Michif (Cree verbs, French nouns), Town Frisian (Dutch lexicon, Frisian syntax), Shelta (English or Gaelic with other lexicon), Javindo (Javanese/Dutch), Island Carib (Arawak/Carib), Ma’a (Bantu/Cushitic), Media Lengua (Quechua/Spanish), Callahuaya (Quechua/Puquina), Petjo (Indonesian/Dutch), KiMwani (Swahili/Makonde).

  • Dimmendaal, Gerrit J. 1995. Do some languages have a multi-genetic or non-genetic origin? An exercise in taxonomy. In Proceedings of the Fifth Nilo-Saharan Conference, Nice, 1992. Edited by Robert Nicolai and Franz Rottland, 354–369. Cologne: Rüdiger Köppe.

    The author discusses several cases of mixed languages, and he is skeptical about some issues.

  • Matras, Yaron. 2003. Mixed languages: Re-examining the structural prototype. In The mixed language debate: Theoretical and empirical advances. Edited by Peter Bakker and Yaron Matras, 151–175. Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter.

    The author discusses earlier claims of a prototypical type of a mixed language in the light of the observed typological diversity.

  • Matras, Yaron. 2009. Language contact. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge Univ. Press.

    DOI: 10.1017/CBO9780511809873

    In this textbook, language is embedded in a pragmatic framework. One chapter is devoted to stable mixed languages. See also Matras 2000 (cited under Genesis).

  • Matras, Yaron, and Peter Bakker, eds. 2003a. The mixed language debate: Theoretical and empirical advances. Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter.

    DOI: 10.1515/9783110197242

    This book presents a spectrum of views on mixed languages and their classification, prototypes, and genesis. Contributions by Ad Backus, Peter Bakker, William Croft, Evgenij Golovko, Maarten Mous, Yaron Matras, Carol Myers-Scotton, Thomas Stolz, and Sarah Grey Thomason.

  • Matras, Yaron, and Peter Bakker. 2003b. The study of mixed languages. In The mixed language debate: Theoretical and empirical advances. Edited by Yaron Matras and Peter Bakker, 1–20. Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter.

    DOI: 10.1515/9783110197242

    A state-of-the-art volume on the field of mixed languages. Overview of research and theories.

  • Thomason, Sarah Grey, and Terrence Kaufman. 1988. Language contact, creolization, and genetic linguistics. Berkeley: Univ. of California Press.

    A seminal book with pioneering inclusion of mixed languages within modern historical linguistics embedded in a framework of language contact. Rich in data and original thinking.

  • van Coetsem, Frans. 2000. A general and unified theory of the transmission process in language contact. Monografien zur Sprachwissenschaft 19. Heidelberg, Germany: Universitätsverlag C. Winter.

    Contains discussion of mixed languages, such as Michif, throughout. 309 pp.

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