FW: Book Review - An Introduction to Pidgins and Creoles
FW: Book Review - An Introduction to Pidgins and Creoles
From: Danny Yee [mailto:danny@...]
Sent: Thursday, February 01, 2001 8:53 AM
Subject: Book Review - An Introduction to Pidgins and Creoles
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TITLE: An Introduction to Pidgins and Creoles
AUTHOR: John Holm
PUBLISHER: Cambridge University Press 2000
OTHER: 282 pages, references, index
_An Introduction to Pidgins and Creoles_ is obviously intended to be a
textbook for linguistics students, but the bulk of it is general enough
to be of wider appeal. Holm writes clearly and explains all technical
terms, and his introduction assumes little. A pidgin is a reduced
language resulting from contact between groups with no common language,
while a creole is a pidgin or jargon that has become the native language
of an entire speech community, often as a result of slavery or other
population displacements. The superstrate language, spoken by those
with more power, is the source of most of a creole's vocabulary, while
its substrate languages are those spoken by the source populations.
Of course things aren't that simple. Chapter two outlines some of
the theoretical debates over the nature of pidgins, creoles, and the
processes (such as nativization and stabilisation) that change them.
Holm begins historically, tracing the early history of European pidgins
and creoles (touching on Lingua Franca and maritime jargon) and the work
of Van Name and Schuchardt in the second half of the nineteenth century.
He switches to a more thematic presentation for the modern debates.
One of these is between universalists, who argue that all creoles share
common features resulting from human language universals (in domains such
as adult language learning) and substratists, who stress the influence
of substrate languages. Others centre on the "creole continuum", the
social continuum of dialects produced when creoles in prolonged contact
with their superstrates "decreolize", and the amorphous boundaries
between creoles and post- and semi-creoles. And one controversial idea
is monogenesis, that all creoles (or all Atlantic creoles) derive from
a single source, a Portuguese-based pidgin.
Holm describes his own position as "moderate substratist".
"[W]hile universal tendencies in adult second-language acquisition
carried over into pidiginization and creolization play a role in
shaping creole languages... a significant number of the features
in a creole language that are not attributable to its superstrate
can be traced to parallel features in its substrate languages.
Together with creole-internal innovations, borrowing from adstrate
languages (those which are neither superstrate nor substrate)
and the convergence of all or some of the above, these account
for the features that distinguish creoles from their lexical
_An Introduction to Pidgins and Creoles_ is, however, a survey of creoles
with some suggestions as to theoretical implications, not an argument
for a particular theoretical position.
Chapter three is a sociolinguistic survey of the world's creoles, with
a brief introduction to a group of languages followed by a more detailed
look at one example. The seven covered are the Portuguese-based creoles
(example Angolar Creole Portuguese), Spanish-based creoles (Papiamentu
Creole Spanish), the Dutch-based creoles (Negerhollands Creole Dutch), the
French-based creoles (Haitian Creole French), the English-based Atlantic
creoles (Jamaican Creole English), the English-based Pacific pidgins and
creoles (Tok Pisin), and pidgins and creoles based on other languages
(Nubi Creole Arabic). Overall it is clear that "sociolinguistic factors
are essential parts of the definition of both pidgins and creoles".
The remaining chapters are more technical, but even here Holm glosses
technical terms as he goes, making it easier for non-specialists.
When the comparative phonology in chapter five comes to apicals, for
example, the discussion begins "Apical consonants are produced with
the tip of the tongue against the upper teeth or the alveolar ridge;
they can be a stop (e.g. [d]), a nasal [n], a lateral [l] or a flap
[r]. These sounds are related in a number of African languages ...".
Creole phonology exhibits some universal tendencies, but also clear
evidence of substrate influence, of a 'double identity': "the balance of
European versus non-European features varies considerably from creole
to creole, all varieties - even post-creoles and semi-creoles - share
this double identity to some degree".
Chapter four covers lexicosemantics, looking at the kinds of words
retained and the kinds of changes they undergo. While most creole lexical
terms come from the superstrate language, they are often derived from
archaic and dialect/regional forms. Substrate influence shows itself
in some direct borrowing/retention, but more widely in patterns of
morphological and semantic changes to superstrate lexical items. Creole
lexicosemantics is a powerful tool for social history, providing evidence
for patterns in immigration and slave-taking (highlighting, for example,
the general importance of Portuguese in the Atlantic slave trade).
Chapter six is a comparison, across the seven creoles described in chapter
three, of various syntactical features: tense, aspect and other verbal
markers; forms of "be"; serial verbs; noun phrase features; function
words; and word order. Nubi Creole Arabic and Tok Pisin form a kind of
"outgroup", with Atlantic creoles "a typological group of languages
_sui generis_". From this survey Holm finds
"a strong case for parallel independent development ... It is
hardly controversial to observe that the Atlantic creoles arose
among speakers of partially similar African languages learning
partially similar European languages under partially similar
But it has uncovered "no linguistic data that could be interpreted as
unambiguous evidence of neurally based universals".
%T An Introduction to Pidgins and Creoles
%A Holm, John
%I Cambridge University Press
%O paperback, references, index
%G ISBN 0-521-58581-3
8 January 2001
Copyright (c) 2001 Danny Yee http://danny.oz.au/
Danny Yee's Book Reviews http://dannyreviews.com/
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