next up previous
Next: Objections to Polygenesis Up: No Title Previous: No Title

Problems with these hypotheses:

  1. All French Creoles are mutually intelligible, no matter where they are found (Caribbean, AFrica, Indian Ocean)
  2. All early reports indicated the masters learned from the subalterns, not vice versa.

  3. All Creoles are typologically similar, so could be based on lots of different kinds of baby-talk.
  4. Similarities were originally explained as due to the African origin of the first subalterns, such that the universally-seen features were supposedly to be found in the African donor languages.
  5. But these similarities surface in areas even where no African influence can be imputed: Pitcairnese, Chinook Jargon, Nagamese, Bazaar Hindi, etc.

Strong Proponents of Polygenesis:

R. Hall explains two mechanisms:

  1. Spontaneous Generation of Pidgin (eventually becomes CReole?)
  2. Diffusion from old to new situation.

Objections to Polygenesis

How to explain similarities where no genetic link is known?

  1. Elimination of inflection, gender, PNG
  2. identity of adjectives and adverbs
  3. iteration (reduplication) for intensification of adv/adj `big-big'
  4. development of aspect instead of tense
  5. development of compound prepositions using Portuguese ``na" and ``de"

Strong defense of Monogenesis:

  1. Navarro Tomas (1951) argued that Papiamento was not a blend of port/Spanish/African elements but originated in Portuguese pidgin used in slave trade. Key importance of Portuguese in slave trade, and even in origin of Afrikaans? (Hesseling 1923).

  2. Whinnon (1956) showed that 4 diff. creoles in Philippines didn't have diverse origins but came from common source in Moluccas which originated in Portuguese pidgin. Similar to Goan Portuguese-Creole in India, Sri Lanka, etc.

  3. 16th C. Portuguese pidgin replaced Arabic and Malay as trade languages in Far East, was used from India to Indonesia to Japan. Asian Spanish Crs. were relexified (Spanish replaced Portuguese). Case can be made that Chinese Pidgin E. was relexified from pidgin Portuguese Thus almost all Pidgin(s)/Creole(s) can be shown to have some Portuguese origin, which then goes back to Sabir.

  4. In any event, it is easier to posit divergence and relexification of all Pidgin(s)/Creole(s) than to posit convergence toward structural similarity.

Post-Creole Continuum

Bickerton posits the notion that some former Creoles are beginning to merge with the standard language they received their vocabulary from, in the post-colonial situation. Thus Jamaican Creole has clearly merged with Standard Jamaican English---there is a continuum of styles or levels from

  1. Basilect or the lowest prestige form. Usu. spoken by least educated rural males; on plantations, ``field" hands.

  2. Mesolects or higher prestigious forms than the Basilect; on plantations, spoken by house servants/slaves.

  3. Acrolect, which is the highest prestige form and may even be classified as a regional or social dialect of the donor language (e.g. English). Influences and is influenced by regional (e.g. southern) SAE.
Thus American Black English, seen as having a Creole origin similar to Gullah or Jamaican Crl., is now supposedly a Post-Creole continuum, merging at the acrolect level with `Standard' American English. In most Creole situations, speakers control a number of levels and can shift up or down; noone controls all levels. White (or Standard) speakers are never confronted with basilect forms, only the ``highest" forms are shown to them.

Educational Policy

How to deal with the variability of BEV (or Jamaican Creole, or Haitian Creole) in schools? Previously teachers considered it substandard, corrupt, an evidence of linguistic and mental deficit. More enlightened attempts try to build on it, valorize it, emphasize that the diglossia is natural but that BEV is not marketable; teach SAE (Standard French in Haiti, etc.) as a second dialect? Begin literacy in BEV, switch to SAE? BEV is clearly a strong marker of ethnic identity, especially among teenage males. BEV forms seem to increase during adolescence (machismo? Covert prestige?) which is counterproductive to the marketability notion.

Harold Schiffman
last modified 10/30/00