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This article is about the term in linguistics. For other uses, see Stratum (disambiguation).
"Substratum" redirects here. For other uses, see substrate (disambiguation).

In linguistics, a stratum or strate (Latin: layer) is a language that influences, or is influenced by another through contact. A substratum or substrate is a language which has lower power or prestige than another, while a superstratum or superstrate is the language that has higher power or prestige. Both substratum and superstratum languages influence each other, but in different ways. An adstratum or adstrate refers to a language that is in contact with another language in a neighbor population without having identifiably higher or lower prestige. The terms "superstrate" and "adstrate" were first used by two different authors in 1932.[1]

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 and many other languages).

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 (plural: substrata) or substrate 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 replacing 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 equal "value", 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 favor of the other language, generally because they believe that it will help them achieve certain goals within government, the workplace, and in social settings. 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).

One example of a substrate language is Gaulish, from the ancient Celtic people The Gauls. The Gauls lived in the modern French-speaking territory before the arrival of the Romans namely, the invasion of Julius Caesar's militia. Given the cultural, economic and political advantages that came with being a Latin speaker, the Gauls eventually abandoned their language in favor of the language brought to them by the Romans, which evolved in this region until eventually it took the form of the French language that is known today. The Gaulish speech disappeared, but remnants of its vocabulary survive 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.

In the Arab Middle East and North Africa, colloquial Arabic dialects, most especially Levantine, Egyptian, and Maghreb dialects, often exhibit significant substrata from other regional Semitic, Iranian, Turkic, and Berber languages as well as colonial European languages due to the regions' long histories of indigenous multiculturalism as well as foreign imperialism.

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 vocabulary. There are similar arguments for a Sanskrit substrate, and a Greek one.

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


A superstratum (plural: superstrata) or superstrate offers the counterpart to a substratum. When one language succeeds another, linguists label the former a superstratum and the latter a substratum.

A superstrate may also represent an imposed linguistic element akin to what occurred with English and Norman after the Norman Conquest of 1066 when use of the English language carried low prestige. The international scientific vocabulary coinages from Greek and Latin roots adopted by European languages (and subsequently by other languages) to describe scientific topics (sociology, zoology, philosophy, botany, medicine, all "-logy" words, etc.) can also be termed a superstratum, although for this last case, "adstratum" might be a better designation (despite the prestige of science and of its language). In the case of French, for example, Latin is the superstrate and Gaulish the substrate.

Several theories infer an Altaic superstratum in the phylogenetic make-up of the languages of East Asia. For instance, some linguists contend that Japanese consists of an Altaic superstratum projected onto an Austronesian substratum.[2] Similarly, some scholars suggest that the Chinese language of Northern China underwent Altaicization to different degrees, though alternative views detect Altaic substrate effects.[3]


An adstratum (plural: adstrata) or adstrate 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 Greek and Latin coinages adopted by European languages (and now, languages worldwide) to describe scientific topics (sociology, medicine, anatomy, biology, all the '-logy' 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 and Yiddish which has adstrata from Hebrew, Aramaic and Slavic.

Notable examples of substrate or superstrate influence

Substrate influence on superstrate

Area Resultant language Substrate Superstrate Superstrate introduced by
Eastern Mediterranean Lebanese, Syrian and Palestinian Arabic Western Aramaic language and Phoenician language, later French language Classical Arabic Arabs during the Muslim conquests
Egypt Egyptian Arabic Coptic language and Nubian language
Iran Khuzestani Arabic Persian
Mesopotamia (Iraq), northwest Syria, southeastern Turkey, and southwestern Iran Mesopotamian Arabic Aramaic, Akkadian, Kurdish, Persian, and Turkish languages
Maghreb (North Africa) Algerian, Libyan, Moroccan, and Tunisian Arabic Berber languages, Punic language, and Vulgar Latin, later French (for Algerian, Moroccan, and Tunisian Arabic), Italian (for Libyan Arabic), and Spanish (for Moroccan Arabic)
Saudi Arabia Saudi Arabic South Semitic languages, Western Aramaic language, Eastern Aramaic language and Coptic language
Yemen Yemeni Arabic South Semitic languages
Ethiopia Amharic Central Cushitic languages South Semitic languages Bronze Age Semitic expansion
Eritrea/Ethiopia Tigrinya Central Cushitic and North Cushitic languages
Ireland Irish English Irish (Gaelic) Early Modern English the English during the Plantations of Ireland in the 16th century
Scotland Scottish English Scots and Scottish Gaelic languages the English during Scottish Reformation in the 16th century
Romania Romanian Dacian language Vulgar Latin, later Slavic languages, Hungarian language, German language Romans during the Roman Empire, later various tribes (Goths, Gepids, Huns, Slavs) during the Migration Period
Sápmi (Lapland) Sami languages Local Old European languages Early Proto-Finnic
Singapore Singaporean Mandarin Southern Chinese dialects: Min Nan, Teochew, Cantonese, Hainanese Standard Mandarin Singapore Government during the Speak Mandarin Campaign
Italy Italian Italic languages and Gaulish language Vulgar Latin, later Ostrogothic and Lombardic languages Romans during the Roman Empire, later various Germanic peoples during the Migration Period
France French Gaulish Vulgar Latin, later Old Frankish[4]
Portugal Portuguese Gallaecian and Lusitanian languages Vulgar Latin, later Visigothic
Spain Spanish Paleohispanic languages (including especially Basque and Celtiberian languages) Vulgar Latin, later Visigothic
Andalusia Andalusian Spanish Mozarabic, later Arabic (Andalusi Arabic which was based on Classical Arabic) Spanish of the advance of the Reconquista Castilians during the advance of the Reconquista
Canary Islands Canarian Spanish Amazigh Andalusian Spanish in the incorporation of the Canary Islands into the Crown of Castile Andalusians during the incorporation of the Canary Islands into the Crown of Castile
Mexico Mexican Spanish Nahuatl and Mayan languages Spanish of the 15th century Spaniards during the Spanish Conquest
of the 15th century
Spanish Caribbean Cuban, Dominican, and Puerto Rican Spanish Taíno language of the natives and African languages brought by African slaves
Chile Chilean Spanish German, Mapudungun, Quechua and Aymara languages
Colombia Colombian Spanish Chibchan, Arawak and Cariban languages, Lebanese Arabic, and Syrian Arabic
Venezuela Venezuelan Spanish Wayuu, Warao, Pemon, Mapoyo, Panare, Puinave, Pémono, Sapé, Sikiana, Yabarana, and Yaruro languages, Lebanese Arabic, and Syrian Arabic
Paraguay Paraguayan Spanish Guaraní language
Central Andes Andean Spanish Quechua language, Aymara language
Río de la Plata Rioplatense Spanish Italian language, German language, French language, Lebanese Arabic, Syrian Arabic, Quechua language and Guaraní language
Jamaica Jamaican Patois African languages of transported African slaves Early Modern English the English during the British Empire
Australia Australian English languages of Australian Aborigines
New Zealand New Zealand English Maori language
India Indian English various language substrates from Indian languages, especially Hindi Early Modern English
Israel Standard Modern Israeli (non-Oriental) Hebrew principally the Yiddish language,
and various other European languages
of European Jewish immigrants to Israel, also Judeo-Arabic
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
Shetland and Orkney Insular Scots Norn Scots Acquisition by Scotland in the 15th century
Norway Bokmål Old Norwegian Danish Union with Danish crown, 1380–1814.

Superstrate influence on substrate

Area Resultant language Substrate Superstrate Superstrate introduced by
France Old French Low Latin Old Frankish Merovingians' dominance of Gaul around 500
England Middle English Old English Old French Normans during the Norman conquest
Norway Nynorsk Old Norwegian Danish Union with Danish crown, 1380–1814.

See also

Further reading

  • 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.
  • McWhorter, John (2007). Language Interrupted: Signs of Non-Native Acquisition in Standard Language Grammars. USA: Oxford University Press.
  • 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 (1983). "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.
  • Vovin, Alexander (1994). "Long-distance relationships, recontruction methodology and the origins of Japanese". Diachronica 11:1.95–114.


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