The Development of Creole Vernaculars and Cultures

      I gave up on teaching a general course on “pidgins and creoles” years ago, because I could never cover in one quarter or semester most of the synchronic and diachronic issues, structural and ethnographic, that arise from such a broadly defined topic. The other reason is that there is no strong motivation for discussing creoles and pidgins together, at least based on my research on these subjects. Neither variety can be typologically defined by a particular set of structural features, and they do not fit in the same global type of languages anyway. Moreover, history provides no evidence in support of the traditional assumption that creoles have evolved from pidgin ancestors. Nor is there any particular evolutionary evidence to support the position that Michel DeGraff (2003, discussion article in Language) has characterized as “Creole Exceptionalism.” This course advocates uniformitarianism, arguing that creole vernaculars have developed by the same evolutionary processes that can be observed in the histories of other natural languages, being evolutionary outcomes of linguistic competition and selection in particular communities, plantation settlement colonies with racially segregated populations in this case. I submit that contact, of dialects and/or different languages, has played an equally important role in the restructuring of every communal language into a new system. The key to understanding this approach is situating the contact that really matters at the level of idiolects, native and xenolectal, and invoking the feature pool, where competition and selection take place as part of the restructuring process. The composition of the feature pool determines the extent to which xenolectal elements influence the structure of the new, outcome system. One of the hypotheses to be verified in this course is that competition and selection (which account for the evolution of some languages – by some sort of hybridization – into creole vernaculars) can also be observed in other, non-linguistic cultural domains, such as cuisine, dance, music, religion, and folk medicine. We hope to articulate ways in which findings in one domain can enrich research in another. The course is based primarily on my book The Ecology of Language Evolution (2001, Cambridge University Press) and on Robert Chaudenson’s Creolization of Language and Cultutre (2001, Routledge). These books are complemented by a rich list of references relevant to specific issues discussed in the course.



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