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Simplicity and Complexity in Creoles and Pidgins: What’s the Metric?

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Cited by. Crossref Citations. This chapter has been cited by the following publications. This list is generated based on data provided by CrossRef. Kouwenberg, Silvia and Singler, John Victor Creolization in Context: Historical and Typological Perspectives. Annual Review of Linguistics, Vol.

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Summary This chapter discusses sociolinguistic divisions associated with differences in social prestige, wealth, and power. A nagging issue arising from this chapter is that we are not told why or when a sound is considered marked, thus by what metric the valuation is made.


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Although this may not appear critical in a book whose focus is synchrony rather than the genesis of the relevant language varieties, it is indeed also the fact that their emergence is contact-based that brings up the question. As a speaker of Bantu languages that use them, I think they are regular consonant clusters which differ from similar NC combinations in European languages by their syllabification conventions: in Bantu and other such languages the nasal forms a syllable with the following consonant and therefore can appear in word-initial position, whereas in European languages the nasal forms a syllable with the preceding vowel, possibly nasalizing the vowel, and cannot occur in word-initial position.

Prenasalization may thus be considered a phonological phenomenon, conditioned by its position within a word, rather than a phonemic one, which would increase the phonemic inventory of a language. This reinterpretation of facts may thus bear on how one assesses the complexity of the phonemic inventory of a language in comparison with another. Nonetheless, this is the kind of study that, regardless of the sketchy and meager information it provides on each of the languages discussed, lays the groundwork for a comparison of creoles and pidgins world-wide to double-check whether they are not more related to their lexifiers than they constitute together a particular type of languages.

One has to ask why the comparison with languages that were not part of the encounters that produced ACELCs, when what matters is really the languages that were involved in the relevant contacts.

I also deplore the absence of information that may link specific ACELCs to particular language groups, typological or genetic, on the West African coast. Such information might help us verify whether the tonal patterns are retentions from specific language groups, simple physical reinterpretations of stress as tones see below , or innovations that incorporate materials from both the lexifier and some substrate languages, as has been debated about morphosyntactic features.

Creole language

There are also noticeable prosodic differences between, say, Jamaican Creole and Nigerian Pidgin English NPE , which are probably attributable largely to variation in how the plantations were peopled. However, all depends on whether, in the first place, we agree with this characterization. There also arises the question of whether there is sufficient evidence to characterize the ACELCs as tonal languages, other than the fact that they are associated primarily with descendants of Africans.

Although NPE may be, which is well justified by the West African ecology of its evolution, is this necessarily true of Jamaican Creole. I am no expert on this, but as a native speaker of tonal languages, my impression is that Papiamentu is perhaps the only Caribbean creole that I know that sounds like a tonal language. The above reservations notwithstanding, Faraclas draws attention to the fact that prosodic features are equally relevant to discussions of complexity, though he does not articulate explicitly what are the factors or features he used to measure complexity.

This is an opposition that Gullah captures in pronouncing the vowel of main-verb go just like in Southern English with a weak diphthong [o w ] or a lengthened monophthong [o:] but that of the second with a schwa, which is often reduced to a mere [g] in fast speech. The question is whether this prosodic contrast is a tonal one or one that is more adequately described in the way I just did.

Thus, what is particularly West African about it? It is unlike the anterior bin attested in Atlantic English creoles. In a somewhat different vein, I am generally intrigued by what appears to be a conflation of tone and intonation in this chapter, which are distinguished from each other even in studies of African tonal languages.

Creole languages | linguistics | Britannica

Klein subscribes to the same measure of complexity as Bakker, after Maddieson : the larger the number of individual phonemes, the more complex the phonemic system is. Unlike Bakker, however, Klein also examines combinatorial possibilities, which are not different from those of its English lexifier. There are random consonant cluster reductions but these may be associated with particular idiolects in particular speech events.

He does not question the accuracy of the transcriptions, such as whether they might reproduce some stereotypes associated with a basilectal speech putatively uniform from the Caribbean to North America. Whoever may want to explain this state of affairs by invoking decreolization should know that I have found no historical data in support of this hypothesis Mufwene The question is thus whether one can assess the complexity of language relative to another or others based on surface characteristics only.

Both the physical and abstract aspects of a language must count, as they are both part of the system that enables speakers to communicate. Those statistics about the distribution of particular parametric options around the world mean nothing, especially those born by languages to which the creators of creoles had no access. Such languages did not constitute an option for them e.

After all, creoles are not languages created ex nihilo , nor were they ever planned by a language architect with foresight for the rightly disputed simplest system that would presumably be suitable for the relevant language contacts and competitions. The view presupposes that speakers of all the relevant substrate languages were present a the strategic moment whichever it may have been when creoles putatively emerged abruptly?

As we have increasingly been learning about the sociohistorical ecologies of the emergence of various creoles, which appears to have been gradual, such a population-wide evolution of colonial languages, influenced simultaneously, at a particular phase of the development of a colony, by all the languages associated with the different slaves, was apparently never the case. The scenario would not even apply to pidgins, especially if one factors in the role of interpreters, including the indigenous grumetes.

They are not commonly attested among the substrate languages of Atlantic and Indian Ocean creoles. Also, the vocalic systems of French creoles, for instance, suggest a certain amount of conservatism from their 17 th - and 18 th -century French lexifiers, starting with the pronunciation of the first personal singular pronoun mwe. So does the confusion of it and hit -like sequences in their realizations as recognized by the author himself on p, 98 , though we cannot deny the role of partial congruence between the lexifier and substrate languages.

It is thus not surprising that, like Gullah with the bilabial fricative, Saramaccan allegedly has labiovelar stops 90 , which, incidentally, are rare among the Bantu languages, as well as prenasalized stops The English translation is yet another strategy in which swimming remains the main activity and the activity of crossing is expressed as an accomplishment, in a prepositional adjunct. Will the next question be: Which language is more evolved than which one s?

Is this an option worth exploring? Perhaps, but whoever subscribes to it should explain what justifies it from an evolutionary perspective.

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Cantonese and CPE long paratactic strings of lexical items in serial verb constructions can display complicated patterns of argument realization, which may be difficult to process, especially when one argument has more than one semantic role in a sentence She states on p. Nobody could examine the diachronic evidence thoroughly and then not believe that creoles derive from pidgins which underwent rapid grammatical expansion, generally resulting in morphological systems which are quite different from those employed likewise in their lexifiers in regard to the categories expressed and the means by which these are expressed The reasons for this negative assessment are the following: 1 it is not clear from the citations at the outset what position the author wants to defend; 2 some examples, such as 14 , do not illustrate the analysis in the preceding paragraph; and, quite critically, 3 the author does not make a distinction between, on the one hand, reflexive constructions, in which no reflexive pronoun need be used, and, on the other, those constructions in which a reflexive pronoun is actually used.