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In linguistics, a stratum or strate (Latin: layer) is a language that influences, or is influenced by another through contact. A substratum is a language which has lower power or status than another, while a superstratum is the language that has higher power or status. Both substratum and superstratum languages influence each other, but in different ways. An adstratum refers to a language that is in contact with another language in a neighbor population without having identifiably higher or lower prestige.

Thus, both terms refer to a situation where an intrusive language establishes itself in the territory of another, typically as the result of migration. Whether the superstratum case (the local language persists and the intrusive language disappears) or the substratum one (the local language disappears and the intrusive language persists) applies will normally only be evident after several generations, during which the intrusive language exists within a diaspora culture. In order for the intrusive language to persist (substratum case), the immigrant population will either need to take the position of a political elite or immigrate in significant numbers relative to the local population. (i.e. the intrusion qualifies as an invasion or colonisation, an example would be the Roman Empire giving rise to Romance languages outside of Italy, displacing Gaulish).

The superstratum case refers to elite populations which eventually adopt the local language (an example would be the Burgundians and Franks in France, who eventually abandoned their Germanic dialects in favor of Romance).



A substratum or substrate (plural: substrata or substrates) is a language that influences an intrusive language that supplants it. The term is also used of substrate interference, i.e. the influence the substratum language exerts on the supplanting language. According to some classifications, this is one of three main types of linguistic interference: substratum interference differs from both adstratum, which involves no language replacement but rather mutual borrowing between languages of roughly equal prestige, and superstratum, which refers to the influence a socially dominating language has on another, receding language that might eventually be relegated to the status of a substratum language.

In a typical case of substrate interference, a language A occupies a given territory and another language B arrives in the same territory (brought, for example, with migrations of population). Language B then begins to supplant language A: the speakers of language A abandon their own language in favour of B, generally because they believe that it is in their best (e.g. economic, political, cultural, social) interests to do so. During the language shift, however, the receding language A still influences language B (for example, through the transfer of loanwords, place names, or grammatical patterns from A to B).

For example, Gaulish is a substratum of French. The Gauls, a Celtic people, lived in the current French-speaking territory before the arrival of the Romans. Given the cultural, economic and political prestige which Latin enjoyed, the Gauls eventually abandoned their language in favor of Latin, which evolved in this region until eventually it took the form of Modern French. The Gaulish speech disappeared, but it remains detectable in some French words (approximately 150) as well as place-names of Gaulish origin.

Another example is the influence of the now extinct North Germanic Norn language on the Scots dialects of the Shetland and Orkney islands.

Linguistic substrata may be difficult to detect, especially if the substrate language and its nearest relatives are extinct. For example, the earliest form of the Germanic languages may have been influenced by a non-Indo-European language, purportedly the source of about one quarter of the most ancient Germanic word-stock. There are similar arguments for a Sanskrit subtstrate, and a Greek one.

Typically, Creole languages have multiple substrata, with the actual influence of such languages being indeterminate.


A superstratum or superstrate (plural: superstrata or superstrates) is the counterpart to a substratum. When one language succeeds another, the former is termed the superstratum and the latter the substratum. In the case of French, for example, Vulgar Latin is the superstrate and Gaulic is the substrate.

It is also used to describe an imposed linguistic element, akin to what English underwent after 1066 with Norman. The Neo-Latin and Neo-Greek coinages adopted by European languages (and now, languages worldwide) to describe scientific topics (anatomy, medicine, botany, zoology, all the '-ology' words, etc.) can also be termed a superstratum, although for this last, adstratum would be a better choice.

Several theories infer an Altaic superstratum in the phylogenetic make-up of the languages of South-East Asia. For instance, a prevailing view among linguists contends that Japanese consists of a Altaic superstratum projected onto an Austronesian substratum.[1] Similarly, the Chinese language of Northern China is alleged to have undergone Altaicization to different degrees.[2]


An adstratum or adstrate (plural: adstrata or adstrates) refers to a language which is equal in prestige to another. Generally the term is used only when speaking about languages in a particular country or geopolitical region. For example, early in England's history, Old English and Norse had an adstratal relationship.

The phenomenon is relatively rare today, since modern nations generally have only one dominant language (often corresponding to the dialect of the capital). In India, where dozens of languages are widespread, many could be said to share an adstratal relationship, although Hindi is certainly dominant in North India. A more accurate example would be the situation in Belgium, where the French and Dutch languages have roughly the same status, and could justifiably be called adstrates.

The term is also used to identify systematic influences or a layer of borrowings in a given language from another language where the two languages coexist as separate entities. Many modern languages have an appreciable adstratum from English. The Neo-Latin and Neo-Greek coinages adopted by European languages (and now, languages worldwide) to describe scientific topics (anatomy, medicine, botany, zoology, all the '-ology' words, etc.) can also justifiably be called adstrata. Another example is found in the Spanish and Portuguese languages, which contain a heavy Semitic (particularly Arabic) adstratum.

Notable examples of substrate inference

Area Resultant Language Substrate Superstrate Language introduced by
Belarus and Russia Belarusian language and Southern Russian dialects Local Baltic languages Old East Slavic Slavic expansion
Lebanon Lebanese Arabic Western Aramaic language Classical Arabic Arabians during the Muslim conquests
Syria Syrian Arabic Western Aramaic language
Palestine/Israel Palestinian Arabic Western Aramaic language
and possibly ancient Hebrew
Egypt Egyptian Arabic Coptic language
Morocco Moroccan Arabic Berber languages
Lappland Sami languages Local Old European languages Early Proto-Finnic
Ireland Irish English Irish language Early Modern English the English during the Plantations of Ireland in the 16th century
Spain Spanish Paleohispanic languages Vulgar Latin Romans during the Roman Empire
France French Gaulish Vulgar Latin, later Frankish[3]
Mexico Mexican Spanish Nahuatl and Mayan languages Spanish of the 15th century Spaniards during the Spanish Conquest
of the 15th century
Chile Chilean Spanish Mapudungun, Quechua and Aymara languages
Paraguay Paraguayan Spanish Guaraní language
Peru Peruvian Spanish Quechua language
Argentina Argentine Spanish Italian language, Quechua language and Guaraní language
Jamaica Jamaican English African languages of transported African slaves Early Modern English the English during the British Empire
India Indian English various language substrates from Indian languages, especially Hindi Modern English
Israel Standard Modern Israeli (non-Oriental) Hebrew principally the Yiddish language,
and various other European languages
of European Jewish immigrants to Israel
Biblical Hebrew European Jews in the late 19th
and early 20th centuries
who revived then re-introduced Hebrew
Austria Austrian German Austro-Bavarian Standard German Empress Maria Theresa upon adoption
of Gottsched's Standard German in the late 18th century
Switzerland Swiss Standard German Alemannic Adoption of Standard German
by the reforms of the Zürich Bible in 1665 and 1755
Ukraine Ukrainian Russian Ukrainian Russian Russian rule

See also


  1. ^ Benedict (1990), Lewin (1976), Matsumoto (1975), Miller (1967), Murayama (1976), Shibatani (1990).
  2. ^ Hashimoto (1986), Janhunen (1996).
  3. ^ Michaelis, Susanne (2008). Roots of Creole structures: weighing the contribution of substrates and superstrates. John Benjamins Publishing Company. p. XVI. ISBN 9027252556, 9789027252555. Retrieved 2010-01-20. 
  • Benedict, Paul K. (1990). Japanese/Austro-Tai. Ann Arbor: Karoma.
  • Cravens, Thomas D. (1994). "Substratum." The Encyclopedia of Language and Linguistics, ed. by R.E. Asher et al. Vol. 1, pp. 4396-4398. Oxford: Pergamon Press.
  • Hashimoto, Mantaro J. (1986). ""The Altaicization of Northern Chinese." Contributions to Sino-Tibetan studies, eds John McCoy & Timoty Light, 76-97. Leiden: Brill.
  • Janhunen, Juha (1996). Manchuria: An Ethnic History. Helsinki: Finno-Ugrian Society.
  • Jungemann, Frédéric H. (1955). La teoría del substrato y los dialectos hispano-romances y gascones. Madrid.
  • Lewin, Bruno (1976). "Japanese and Korean: The Problems and History of a Linguistic Comparison." Journal of Japanese Studies 2:2.389-412
  • Matsumoto, Katsumi (1975). "Kodai nihongoboin soshikikõ: naiteki saiken no kokoromi." Bulletin of the Faculty of Law and Letters (Kanazawa University) 22.83-152.
  • Miller, Roy Andrew (1967). The Japanese language. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
  • Murayama, Shichiro (1976). "The Malayo-Polynesian Component in the Japanese Language." Journal of Japanese Studies 2:2.413-436
  • Shibatani, Masayoshi (1990). The languages of Japan. Cambridge: Cambridge UP.
  • Singler, John Victor (19830. "The influence of African languages on pidgins and creoles." Current Approaches to African Linguistics (vol.2), ed. by J. Kaye et al., 65-77. Dordrecht.
  • Singler, John Victor (1988). "The homogeneity of the substrate as a factor in pidgin/creole genesis." Language 64.27-51.
  • Voivin, Alexander (1994). "Long-distance relationships, recontruction methodology and the origins of Japanese." Diachronica 11:1.95-114.
  • Wartburg, Walter von (1939). Réponses au Questionnaire du Ve Congrès international des Linguistes. Bruges. 
  • Weinreich, Uriel (1979) [1953]. Languages in contact: findings and problems. New York: Mouton Publishers. ISBN 9789027926890. 

Simple English

In linguistics, a Stratum or Strate is a language that changes another, or is changed by another.

A substratum is the language which is changed, and a superstratum is the language which changes it. An adstatrum is where two languages change each other at the same time.



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