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Article

Anne Zribi-Hertz

French-based creole languages (FBCLs) may be characterized as a group by one historical and two linguistic properties. Their shared historical feature is that they arose between the 16th and 19th centuries as vehicular (hence oral) languages in French colonies, through language contact between the colonial variety of French spoken by the French settlers and the typologically and genetically diverse languages spoken upon arrival by the imported slaves—the imported workers or the local people in the case of Tayo, which emerged in the 19th century after the abolition of slavery and whose status as an FBCL is controversial. The linguistic features characterizing FBCLs are (a) that their lexicon is dominantly derived from French while their phonology and morphosyntax are both reminiscent of, and different from, those of known dialectal varieties of French; and (b) that they stand as first languages (L1s), namely, are acquired by children and are used for all-purpose communication—as opposed to pidgins, types of contact languages used only as vehicular L2s for specific-interaction purposes (e.g., trade). Beyond these broad defining features, there is much variation among FBCLs with respect to the locations, periods, and historical conditions of their emergence; the relevant contact languages involved in their development; and the grammatical properties of the resulting creoles. And the details of the linguistic change process known as creolization are yet to be settled. FBCLs thus defined currently include on the American continent: Guyanese 1 (in French Guiana), Karipúna (Brazil, near the French-Guiana border), and Louisiana Creole (on the decrease), in Louisiana; in the Caribbean: Haitian (in the independent Republic of Haiti), St. Lucian (in the state of Sainte-Lucie), and the creoles spoken in the French-controlled territories of Martinique, Guadeloupe, Dominique, Saint-Barthélémy, and Northern part of Saint-Martin; in the Indian Ocean, off the shores of Eastern Africa: Mauritian (in Mauritius), Seychelles Creole (in the Seychelles), Rodrigues Creole (in the Rodrigues Island, controlled by Mauritius), and Reunion Creole (in the island of Reunion, a French-controlled territory); and in Southern New Caledonia: Tayo.

Article

Armin Schwegler, Bart Jacobs, and Nicolas Quint

We offer a global overview of Spanish-based Creoles and the state of the art of the discipline. First, we present what is generally considered “the group” of Spanish-based Creoles. Two Creoles are then discussed in some detail, Palenquero and Papiamentu, providing sketches of their (a) sociolinguistic history and (b) linguistic structure. Completing this overview, we cover Chabacano (spoken in the Philippines), albeit in briefer fashion due to limitations of space. Attention is then turned to several Latin American areas that once may have been Creole speaking (these include Highland Bolivia, Peru, and western Colombia). We also make reference to Bozal Spanish, that is, the L2 Spanish formerly spoken in the Caribbean and elsewhere by slaves born in Africa.

Article

John McWhorter

Creole languages have mostly resulted from interactions between Europeans and subordinated peoples amid colonization, trade, and imperialism. Given that the creation of these languages was usually driven as much by adults as children, second-language acquisition has a larger effect upon creole language structures than it does under most other conditions of language change and contact. Namely, it has traditionally been supposed that creole languages begin as makeshift pidgin varieties, expanded from this into full languages. However, various creolists have proposed that most creoles did not in fact emerge in this way; some argue that creoles are relexifications of indigenous languages, while others argue that nothing distinguishes creole genesis from language contact more generally.

Article

African American English (AAE) originated from contact between Africans and Whites during slavery. The trajectory of slavery in the United States was different from that in the Caribbean, but in areas where population ratios and time frames were most like those in the Caribbean, a creole language, Gullah, emerged. In other areas, various degrees of creolization may have taken place. As a result, early AAE was not monolithic and included some regional variation. In recordings with former slaves and African Americans born during the last half of the 19th century, the reflexes of AAE’s origins appear in features that have strong parallels with Gullah and Caribbean creoles, including zero copula/auxiliary, monophthongal /e/ and /o/, fully back vowels, and non-front onsets of /au/. As African Americans moved from slavery into farm tenancy, features emerged in AAE that were shared with Southern White vernaculars. These include grammatical forms such as yall and fixin’ to and phonological features like monophthongal /ai/ and the pin/pen merger. However, even as shared features emerged, AAE maintained its distinctiveness by typically not participating in the Southern Shift that affected vowels in Southern White vernaculars. Developments during the Great Migration in the 20th century enhanced AAE’s distinctiveness. During the Great Migration such well-known features as durative/habitual be, ain’t for didn’t, and had + past as a simple past became widespread. AAE, then, is a product both of its unique heritage and the historical and demographic processes that promoted its independent development and also of people who valued (and still value) it as a mode of communication and as an instrument for identity and solidarity.

Article

Felicity Meakins

Mixed languages are a rare category of contact language which has gone from being an oddity of contact linguistics to the subject of media excitement, at least for one mixed language—Light Warlpiri. They show considerable diversity in structure, social function, and historical origins; nonetheless, they all emerged in situations of bilingualism where a common language is already present. In this respect, they do not serve a communicative function, but rather are markers of an in-group identity. Mixed languages provide a unique opportunity to study the often observable birth, life, and death of languages both in terms of the sociohistorical context of language genesis and the structural evolution of language.

Article

Four types of English exist in Africa, identifiable in terms of history, functions, and linguistic characteristics. West African Pidgin English has a history going back to the 15th century, 400 years before formal colonization. Creole varieties of English have a history going back to repatriation of slaves from the Caribbean and the United States in the 19th century. Second language varieties, which are the most widespread on the continent, are prototypically associated with British colonization and its education systems. L1 (First language) English occurred mostly in Southern and East Africa, and is best represented in South Africa. The latter shows significant similarities with the other major Southern Hemisphere varieties of English in Australia and New Zealand. All four subgroups of English are growing in numbers.

Article

Silvio Moreira de Sousa, Johannes Mücke, and Philipp Krämer

As an institutionalized subfield of academic research, Creole studies (or Creolistics) emerged in the second half of the 20th century on the basis of pioneering works in the last decades of the 19th century and first half of the 20th century. Yet its research traditions—just like the Creole languages themselves—are much older and are deeply intertwined with the history of European colonialism, slavery, and Christian missionary activities all around the globe. Throughout the history of research, creolists focused on the emergence of Creole languages and their grammatical structures—often in comparison to European colonial languages. In connection with the observations in grammar and history, creolists discussed theoretical matters such as the role of language acquisition in creolization, the status of Creoles among the other languages in the world, and the social conditions in which they are or were spoken. These discussions molded the way in which the acquired knowledge was transmitted to the following generations of creolists.

Article

William R. Leben

About 7,000 languages are spoken around the world today. The actual number depends on where the line is drawn between language and dialect—an arbitrary decision, because languages are always in flux. But specialists applying a reasonably uniform criterion across the globe count well over 2,000 languages in Asia and Africa, while Europe has just shy of 300. In between are the Pacific region, with over 1,300 languages, and the Americas, with just over 1,000. Languages spoken natively by over a million speakers number around 250, but the vast majority have very few speakers. Something like half are thought likely to disappear over the next few decades, as speakers of endangered languages turn to more widely spoken ones. The languages of the world are grouped into perhaps 430 language families, based on their origin, as determined by comparing similarities among languages and deducing how they evolved from earlier ones. As with languages, there’s quite a lot of disagreement about the number of language families, reflecting our meager knowledge of many present-day languages and even sparser knowledge of their history. The figure 430 comes from Glottolog.org, which actually lists them all. While the world’s language families may well go back to a smaller number of original languages, even to a single mother tongue, scholars disagree on how far back current methods permit us to trace the history of languages. While it is normal for languages to borrow from other languages, occasionally a totally new language is created by mixing elements of two distinct languages to such a degree that we would not want to identify one of the source languages as the mother tongue. This is what led to the development of Media Lengua, a language of Ecuador formed through contact among speakers of Spanish and speakers of Quechua. In this language, practically all the word stems are from Spanish, while all of the endings are from Quechua. Just a handful of languages have come into being in this way, but less extreme forms of language mixture have resulted in over a hundred pidgins and creoles currently spoken in many parts of the world. Most arose during Europe’s colonial era, when European colonists used their language to communicate with local inhabitants, who in turn blended vocabulary from the European language with grammar largely from their native language. Also among the languages of the world are about 300 sign languages used mainly in communicating among and with the deaf. The structure of sign languages typically has little historical connection to the structure of nearby spoken languages. Some languages have been constructed expressly, often by a single individual, to meet communication demands among speakers with no common language. Esperanto, designed to serve as a universal language and used as a second language by some two million, according to some estimates, is the prime example, but it is only one among several hundred would-be international auxiliary languages. This essay surveys the languages of the world continent by continent, ending with descriptions of sign languages and of pidgins and creoles. A set of references grouped by section appears at the very end. The main source for data on language classification, numbers of languages, and speakers is the 19th edition of Ethnologue (see Resources), except where a different source is cited.