– about half-way through Our Magnificent Bastard Tongue. It’s clear McWhorter is applying the same techniques to English that he has to the Spanish Creoles and a number of languages incl. English in Language Interrupted, i.e. he’s looking at the socio-historical situation and asking, “Is there evidence in the language that reflects the social situation? If so, let’s take it into account even if it flies in the face of conventional interpretations.”
The result is a fascinating look at early English, in the period when the Germanic peoples invaded with the language that would become English. The Celts were there already, of course, and, according to the usual account, were pushed back and counted for nothing in the development of English. Think The Story of English, The Mother Tongue episode.
Just as he did with the Spanish creoles, he looks at what happened, most probably, in those first centuries. Did the Celts go away? Were they killed off? No. They stayed around and were dominated by Germanic speakers, Anglo-Saxons. So they learned Old English. But there were so many of them and only about 250,000 Germanic types, that they learned English only as best they could. They therefore gave a heavy Celtic inflection to English in its developmental phase, incl. do-support and the present progressive tense.
talks about the origins of do-support in English as originating in Celtic. I have just noticed in Norwegian the following usage: No, I don’t = ’Nei, jeg gjor ikke det’ in answer to “Do you like it here in this country?” lit. No, I do not that.
McWhorter did this with Spanish creoles, his original field of expertise, by showing that Spanish creoles are almost non-existent b/c Spanish laborers were brought over to Cuba and the Africans worked side-by-side with them, thus learning Spanish directly from native speakers. When larger numbers of slaves began coming over, they had Spanish-speaking fellow slaves to learn from and thus had no need for a pidgin which would develop into a creole.
So here, the opposite occurred: the Celts had to learn English but were not in direct daily contact with native English speakers. We see that even here in the Southwest U.S. where people growing up in heavily Hispanic areas where lots of Spanish is spoken do speak English but which overlays of Spanish word choice (“barely”), syntax (“I saw yesterday my daughter”), some grammar (can’t think of any examples), and, of course, pronunciation and intonation.
McWhorter’s trump card is that do-support occurs in no other language in the world and the present progressive nowhere in other Germanic languages, but both occurred in Celtic at the time of the Germanic invasion.
McWhorter talks about the origins of do-support in English as originating in Celtic. I have just noticed in Norwegian the following usage: No, I don’t = ’Nei, jeg gjor ikke det’ in answer to “Do you like it here in this country?” lit. No, I do not that.