Koiné language

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In linguistics, a koiné language (κοινή common language in Koiné Greek) is a standard language or dialect that has arisen as a result of contact between two or more mutually intelligible varieties (dialects) of the same language.[citation needed] Since the speakers have understood one another from before the advent of the koiné, the koineisation process is not as drastic as pidginization and creolization. Normal influence between neighbouring dialects is not regarded as koineisation. A koiné variety emerges as a new spoken variety in addition to the originating dialects; it does not change any existing dialect. This separates koineisation from normal evolution of dialects.[citation needed]


The linguist Paul Kerswill identifies two types of koinés: regional and immigrant. A regional koiné is formed when a strong regional dialect comes into contact with dialects of speakers who move into the region. Often the use of the koiné spreads beyond the region where it was formed. The original koiné was of the regional variety. It was based on the Attic Greek dialect that underwent a koineization process when it came into contact with other Greek dialects spoken in the Athenian seaport Piraeus and ultimately became the lingua franca of the Hellenistic world.

An immigrant koiné is a new dialect that forms in a community settled by immigrants speaking two or more mutually intelligible dialects of the same language. Kerswill examines two examples of immigrant koiné in detail. The first involves the development of Hindi-based koinés. In the late 19th and early 20th century speakers of a variety of Hindi dialects were conscripted to serve as indentured laborers throughout the colonial world. Speakers of these dialects came together in varying proportions under different conditions and developed distinctive Hindi koinés. These Hindi/Bhojpuri dialects are found in Fiji, Guyana, Mauritius, South Africa, Suriname, and Trinidad & Tobago.

Kerswill also examines the Norwegian dialects that emerged in two towns which were located around smelters built at the head of the Sørfjord branch of the Hardangerfjord in the mid-twentieth century. The towns, Odda and Tyssedal, both drew migrants from different parts of Norway. The workers in Odda came predominantly (86%) from western Norway. In Tyssedal only about one-third came from western Norway; a third came from eastern Norway; and the rest from other parts of the country. The dialects that evolved in these two towns were thus very different from each other.


Mesthrie recognizes two basic steps in this process: accommodation and focusing. Peter Trudgill sees three processes in operation during what Mesthrie calls the accommodation period: mixing, leveling and simplification. The processes of leveling and simplification are both dependent on a wide range of factors, including the differential prestige related of the contributing dialects, socio-political contexts in which the new dialect develops, and individual networks of adults involved in the accommodation process. Additionally, both Trudgill and Mesthrie also comment on the process of reallocation, in which features that have been retained from contributing dialects take on new meanings or functions within the new dialect.

Trudgill posits a multi-generational model of the development of a koiné. During the first (i.e., immigrant) generation, the speakers of the contributing dialects mix, and there is some leveling. The first native-born generation of speakers continues the leveling process. However, in the instances Trudgill was able to document (e.g., first generation speakers of New Zealand English and of the Tyssedal and Odda dialects of Norwegian), the speech of this generation still reflected considerable variability in use of marked forms, both between speakers and in the repertoire of individual speakers. It is the third generation that focuses the variations and stabilizes the dialect. Trudgill admits that there are cases where the focusing can take place in the first generation of native-born speakers and also instances where it might be in the fourth or even later generations. The dialect in its emerging state, a state marked by heterogeneity of forms, Trudgill calls interdialect, often called an interlanguage in other dialect studies.

Below is a partial list of koiné languages.


  • Britain, D; Trudgill, Peter (1999), "Migration, new-dialect formation and sociolinguistic refunctionalisation: Reallocation as an outcome of dialect contact.", Transactions of the Philological Society 97 (2): 245–256 
  • Kerswill, P., "Koineization and Accommodation", in Trudgill, Peter; Schilling-Estes, N, The handbook of language variation and change, Oxford: Blackwell Publishing, pp. 669–702 
  • Mesthrie, R. (2001), "Koinés", in Mesthrie, R., Concise encyclopedia of sociolinguistics, Amsterdam: Elsevier, pp. 485–489 
  • Siegel, Jeff (1985), "Koines and koineization.", Language in Society 14 (3): 357–378 
  • Trudgill, Peter (1986), Dialects in contact, Oxford: Blackwell Publishing 


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