In contact linguistics, a substratum (lat. "sub": "under" + "stratum": "layer" → "lower layer") is a language that influences another one while that second, intrusive, language supplants it. Similarly, a superstratum is an intrusive language that exerts influence on another language. An adstratum refers to a language that is in contact with another language in a neighbour population without either identifiably having 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 (the local language persists and the intrusive language disappears) or the substratum (the local language disappears and the intrusive language persists) case 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 favour of Romance).


The term is also used of substrate interference, i.e. the influence exerted by the substratum language 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 mutual borrowing between languages of roughly equal prestige and no language replacement, and superstratum, which refers to the influence a socially dominating language has on another, receding language which might be eventually 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). Then language B 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. A Celtic people, the Gauls, 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 favour 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 ninety) as well as place-names of Gaulish origin.

Another example is the influence of the North Germanic Norn language, extinct since the 18th century, on the Scots dialects of the Shetland and Orkney Islands.

Linguistic substrata may be difficult to detect, especially if the substratum 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; see "Germanic substrate hypothesis".

Creole languages typically have multiple substrata, rarely homogeneous ones.

The term was coined by Walter von Wartburg.


Substrata in Indo-European languages:
*Substrate in Vedic Sanskrit
*Pre-Greek substrate
*Germanic substrate hypothesis


In linguistics, a superstratum or superstrate 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.The term adstratum 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, 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 adstratum 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.

Notable examples

*Current result language – Substratum (Superstratum)

**French – Gaulish (Latin)Fact|date=May 2008
**Indian English – various Indian languages (substrate), especially Hindi (English)
**Irish EnglishIrish Gaelic (English)
**Jamaican English – African languages (British English)
**Haitian CreoleTaíno, African languages (French)
**Chavacano – pre-existing Filipino languages (Spanish) (arguably adstrata)


*cite book
first = Walter von
last = Wartburg
year = 1939
title = Réponses au Questionnaire du Ve Congrès international des Linguistes
location = Bruges

*cite book
first = Uriel
last = Weinreich
origyear = 1953
year = 1979
title = Languages in contact: findings and problems
location = New York
publisher = Mouton Publishers
isbn = 9789027926890

*Fréderic H. Jungemann, 1955. "La teoría del substrato y los dialectos hispano-romances y gascones". Madrid.
*John Victor Singler, 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.
*John Victor Singler, 1988. "The homogeneity of the substrate as a factor in pidgin/creole genesis." "Language" 64.27-51.

ee also

*Language shift
*Language transfer
*Cultural diffusion
*Pre-Greek substrate
*Indo-Aryan superstrate in Mitanni
*Substrate in Vedic Sanskrit
*Germanic substrate hypothesis

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  • substratum — ● substratum nom masculin (latin substratum, de substernere, subordonner) Formation géologique sous jacente à une unité charriée (substratum d une nappe) ou à une couverture sédimentaire. substratum [sypstʀatɔm] n. m. ÉTYM. 1745; mot lat., p. p.… …   Encyclopédie Universelle

  • substratum — 1630s, from Mod.L. substratum (pl. substrata), neut. sing. pp. of L. substernere to spread underneath, from sub (see SUB (Cf. sub )) + sternere (see STRATUM (Cf. stratum)) …   Etymology dictionary

  • Substratum — Sub*stra tum, n.; pl. {Substrata}. [L. substratus, p. p. of substernere to strew under; sub under + sternere to strew. See {Stratum}.] 1. That which is laid or spread under; that which underlies something, as a layer of earth lying under another; …   The Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • substratum — ► NOUN (pl. substrata) 1) an underlying layer or substance, in particular a layer of rock or soil beneath the surface of the ground. 2) a foundation or basis …   English terms dictionary

  • substratum — [sub′strāt΄əm, sub′strat΄əm] n. pl. substrata [sub′strāt΄ə, sub′strat΄ə] or substratums [ModL < L, neut. of substratus, pp. of substernere, to strew beneath < sub , under + sternere, to spread out < IE base * ster > STREW] 1. a) a… …   English World dictionary

  • substratum — [[t]sʌ̱bstrɑːtəm, AM stre͟ɪt [/t]] substrata N COUNT: with supp, usu N of n A substratum of something is a layer that lies under the surface of another layer, or a feature that is less obvious than other features. [FORMAL] ...its deep substratum… …   English dictionary

  • substratum — sub|stra|tum [ˌsʌbˈstra:təm US ˈstreı ] n plural substrata [ tə] technical a layer that lies beneath another layer, especially in the earth ▪ a substratum of rock ▪ a social substratum …   Dictionary of contemporary English

  • substratum — noun plural substrata, (C) 1 a layer that lies beneath another layer, especially in the earth: a substratum of rock 2 formal a quality that is hidden: a substratum of truth in the argument …   Longman dictionary of contemporary English

  • substratum — UK [ˈsʌbˌstrɑːtəm] / US [ˈsʌbˌstreɪtəm] / US [ˈsʌbˌstrɑtəm] noun [countable] Word forms substratum : singular substratum plural substrata UK [ˈsʌbˌstrɑːtə] / US [ˈsʌbˌstreɪtə] / US [ˈsʌbˌstrɑtə] 1) a layer of something that is below another layer …   English dictionary

  • substratum — substrative, substratal, adj. /sub stray teuhm, strat euhm, sub stray teuhm, strat euhm/, n., pl. substrata / stray teuh, strat euh, stray teuh, strat euh/, substratums. 1. something that is spread or laid under something else; a stratum or layer …   Universalium

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