SARGASSO 2004-05, I
CREOLISTICS AND CARIBBEAN LANGUAGES
SARGASSO 2004-05, I Creolistics and Caribbean Languages
Sargasso, a peer-reviewed journal of literature, language, and culture edited at the
University of Puerto Rico, publishes critical essays, interviews, book reviews, and
some poems and short stories. Sargasso particularly welcomes material written
by/about the people of the Caribbean region and its diaspora. Unless otherwise
specified, essays and critical studies should conform to the style of the MLA
Handbook. Short stories should be kept to no more than 2,500 words in length,
and poems should be kept to no more than twenty to thirty lines. All
correspondence must include a S.A.S.E. For electronic submission, write to:
P.O. Box 22831, UPR Station
San Juan, Puerto Rico 00931-2831
Lowell Fiet, Founding Editor
Ian A. Bethell Bennett, Managing Editor
Don E. Walicek, Editor
Sally Everson and Mae Teitelbaum, Co-Editors
Jessica Adams, Tulane University
Mary Ann Gosser-Esquilin, Florida Atlantic University
Peter Roberts, University of the West Indies, Cave Hill
Ivette Romero, Marist College
Felipe Smith, Tulane University
Antonio Garcia Padilla, President of the University of Puerto Rico
Gladys Escalona de Motta, Chancellor, Rio Piedras Campus
Jose L. Ramos Escobar, Dean of Humanities
Cover: Maria Rivera Cirino
Layout: Marcos Pastrana
Opinions and views expressed in Sargasso are those of the individual authors and are not
necessarily shared by Sargasso's Editorial Committee. All rights return to the authors. This
journal is indexed by MLA. Copies of Sargasso 2004-05, I as well as previous issues are on
deposit in the Library of Congress. Filed May 2005. ISSN 1060-5533
INTRO DUCTION ............................ ................................................... vii
Creole Exceptionalism and Accidents of History:
A Conversation with Michel DeGraff
(interview by Don E. W alicek) ............................... .................... 1
Nicholas Faraclas and Marta Viada Bellido de Luna
Pidgins and Creoles of the Colonial Era: Languages
of Social Contact or Languages of Social Contract? ............... 35
Mervyn C. Alleyne
Lest W e Forget .................................................................. 61
The Borrowing and Innovation of Food Terms in the
Anglophone Caribbean ............................................................... 77
Gregory 0. Simire
The Status of kom and the Time-Aspect-Modality
System of Anglo-Nigerian Pidgin .......................... .................. 97
Postcolonial Creole(s), Decreolization,
and Guyanese English ........................................... .................. 113
Atlas of the Languages of Suriname, edited by Jacques Arends
and Eithne B. Carlin.................................................... .................... 141
Clifton D. Armstrong
Phonology and Morphology of Creole Languages,
edited by Ingo Plag ............................................. ...................... 143
Spoken Soul: The Story of Black English
by John Rickford and Russell Rickford..................................... 146
Creole Recitations: John Jacob Thomas and Colonial
Formation in the Late Nineteenth-Century Caribbean
by Faith Sm ith ..................................................... ...................... 149
Discourse: Exploring Prestige Formation and Change Across
Caribbean English-lexicons by Susanne M,hleisen .................. 152
Contact Englishes of the Eastern Caribbean
edited by Michael Aceto and Jeffrey P. Williams..................... 155
LIST OF CONTRIBUTORS ....................................... .... ................. 159
Though Sargasso is a journal devoted to Caribbean literature,
language, and culture and has had a number of special themes
over the years, this is the first issue to be devoted solely to
linguistics. This idea was borne at the University of Puerto Rico's an-
nual doctoral symposium in Caribbean Language and Literature that I
attended in March 2002. During the symposium's final session, held at
the Museo de las Americas in Old San Juan, a lively and impassioned
discussion ensued concerning research on language and the future of
Caribbean Studies. The dynamics of the question and answer session
pulled people out of their chairs and onto their feet, occasionally with
hands waving in the air. It seemed that almost everyone in the room
wanted to speak.
The topic generating most of the discussion was the relationship
between linguists and the community, particularly questions of social
responsibility on the part of the researcher. Several people in atten-
dance, including Lorna Goodison and Glyne Griffith, agreed that the
energy and concern expressed that day should be tapped again, rather
than simply let go. Over a plate of mofongo at ElJibarito late that after-
noon, I became involved in efforts to bring some of the questions and
excitement that were so apparent that day to the pages of Sargasso.
The first contribution included in this volume is an interview with
linguist Michel DeGraff. DeGraff's work has played a major role in con-
vincing a growing number of linguists around the world to ask key ques-
tions about how Creole languages are studied and to reconsider widely
accepted ideas about their relationship to non-Creoles. In the conver-
sation with DeGraff included here, he discusses a number of issues
pertinent to contemporary research in the field of Creole Studies. Spe-
cial attention is given to two concepts central to his recent work on
Creole languages and ideology, Creole Exceptionalism and Postcolonial
Creolistics. Intimately familiar with theoretical linguistics and the his-
tory of Creole Studies, DeGraff points out that research on Caribbean
languages is a field of inquiry that has been and continues to be influ-
enced by knowledge production from other areas and other periods.
Other contributors to this issue explore some of these same matters
and as a group formulate a set of queries that have implications for
virtually every area of research in creolistics.
The article that follows, written by Nicholas Faraclas and Marta Viada
Bellido de Luna, focuses on Cant and other languages that emerged
among sailors and workers in the British Empire during the eighteenth
century. Pointing out that Creoles are often described as "contact lan-
guages," they suggest that more attention be given to theories of so-
cial contract, as "contact alone" is not is not sufficient for language
genesis. The next contribution is by Mervyn Alleyne, a linguist whose
work has provided essential theoretical and practical points of refer-
ence as well as invaluable inspiration to many of those contributing to
this issue. His paper, an essay on indigenous languages, compliments
DeGraff's call for social and scientific responsibility on the part of lin-
guists. Alleyne calls upon linguists to undertake work with an applied
focus vis-a-vis the realization of a partnership between the linguist and
the community. He also identifies several topics of study that deserve
further investigation by linguists.
The three papers that follow address more specific topics. Michael
Aceto discusses food terms from the Anglophone West Indies. He ex-
amines the origins of these lexical items in terms of four broad catego-
ries: Amerindian, African, English, and Indic. In his conclusion, Aceto
points out that the same cognitive and social processes operate for
Creole and non-Creole languages, even while the majority of Creole
languages tend not to have formal writing systems and continue to be
treated by many speakers and researchers as exceptional. Next, Gre-
gory Simire describes a West African Creole referred to here as Anglo-
Nigerian Pidgin (elsewhere it is called Nigerian Pidgin English). Using
data from fieldwork, Simire describes the use of kom and the language's
tense, aspect, and mood system. The final essay included here is by
Shobha Satyanath. Satyanath questions the utility and validity of two
ideological constructs, decreolization and the creole continuum. Syn-
thesizing findings from several studies that she has conducted in
Guyana, she argues that these concepts are theoretically unviable and
This issue marks Sargasso's twentieth birthday. We celebrate this,
as suggested by its title, by bringing together and disseminating re-
search related to Creole languages. The scholarly expertise, commit-
ment, and patience of Sally Everson and Mae Teitelbaum, the other
two doctoral students working on the editorial committee, have made
this possible. Additional thanks to Lydia Plat6n for help at the very
end. Finally, a special thanks goes out to Michel DeGraff for granting
the interview included here, for his willingness to converse and share
his knowledge, and for the illuminating contributions that he has made
to the field of Creole Studies.
Don E. Walicek
and Accidents of History:
A Conversation with Michel DeGraff
Interview by Don E. Walicek,
The University of Puerto Rico at Rio Piedras
Recorded May 9, 2004 at the Ray
and Maria Stata Center, MIT Campus
D W-So I'll start with a question about where all of this may have,
in a sense, started did you grow up in Haiti?
MD-Yes, I did. I left Haiti when I was nineteen. I went from Port-
au-Prince to New York City in August 1982 and stayed there for three
and a half years, getting a degree in computer science at the City Colle-
ge of New York where I graduated in December 1985. I eventually went
back to New York, actually to the Graduate Center of the City University
of New York [CUNY] in 1992, for a one-year post-doctoral fellowship in
linguistics with Richard Kayne. While at CUNY, I taught a graduate
seminar on generative-syntax topics related to my dissertation on
Haitian Creole. At CUNY, I also worked with John Holm and other
creolists on the Comparative Creole Syntax project. It's at CUNY that I
convinced myself that I was finally becoming a bona fide linguist.
DW-The product of the Comparative Creole Syntax project is coming
out soon, right?
MD-(laughter) Yes, that project has been in the works since 1993.
For one reason or another, the projects I get involved in usually take a
long time to finish. So, I do hope it gets published soon.
DW-What's your earliest recollection of thinking about language as
a scientific object of study?
MD-That probably came while I was an undergraduate working as
an intern at Bell Labs in Murray Hill, New Jersey, in the Summer of
MICHEL DEGRAFF / DON E. WALICEK
1985. Back then, at Bell Labs I was a computer scientist writing programs
for linguists and artificial-intelligence researchers. My first
programming assignment at Bell Labs was part of a larger project on
speech synthesis. The overall goal was to output the pronunciation of
input texts such as articles from The New York Times. The programs
would take electronic texts as input and map this input into phonemic
representations that could then be pronounced as human-like speech.
My first project was to get the text-to-speech programs to appropriately
approximate the correct pronunciation of French names-that is, to
pronounce French names as would, say, a knowledgeable radio
announcer. To do this, I had to tweak the algorithm that already worked
on English words, and make it correctly pronounce names like
"Catherine Deneuve" for example. It's probably then that I first thought
about the internal workings of language as an object of scientific study.
It's also at Bell Labs that I first met, up close and personal, "real"
linguists, including computational linguists-people like Ken Church,
who was my supervisor at the Labs, Mitch Marcus, who was to later
become my thesis co-advisor, Richard Sproat, Chilin Shih, Julia
Hirschberg, Mary Beckman, Mark Liberman, Janet Pierrehumbert,
Osamu Fujimura. And I must be missing some names. Oh, man, was I
impressed and inspired!
So, that internship at Bell Labs in Summer 1985 was a key moment
in my eventually becoming a linguist. Then after finishing up my last
semester of computer science at City College in the Fall of 1985, I1 went
back to work at Bell Labs. I moved from New York City to Murray Hill,
New Jersey, in January 1986.
DW-Where did you study before going back to New York, to the
MD-After working at Bell Labs for 8 months or so in 1986, I went to
the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia where I studied for six
years. That's where I received my Ph.D.
DW-Did you do your M.A. in linguistics along the way?
MD-No. You see, all my undergraduate and graduate degrees are
technically in computer science. While I was at UPenn [University of
Pennsylvania] there was, and there still is now, intensive collaboration
between linguists, psychologists, philosophers and computer
scientists. UPenn has a very strong interdisciplinary program in
cognitive science, with linguistics as one strong focus. Even though I
was matriculated in computer science, I was able, and even encouraged,
CREOLE EXCEPTIONALISM AND ACCIDENTS OF HISTORY
to take quite a few courses in linguistics. Actually my thesis committee
had more linguists than computer scientists-no less than four: Tony
Kroch, Gillian Sankoff, Sabine latridou, who is now my colleague at
MIT and whose office is right next door, and Pieter Muysken, my external
reader, who was then at the University of Amsterdam. The two computer
scientists were Mitch Marcus and Aravind Joshi. My dissertation is
really a linguistic study, though officially I was in computer science
DW-Were there particular linguists who were influential for you when
you were first starting out as a linguist?
MD-I've already mentioned the Bell Lab linguists. The linguist that
first got me thinking seriously about Creoles is Gillian Sankoff. She was
one of my professors and thesis advisors at UPenn. I took her graduate
seminar on Pidgins and Creoles and of course I started thinking about
where my own language fit or didn't fit within the various theories that
were surveyed in class and within the folk theories I had previously
absorbed about Haitian Creole.
DW-What is your dissertation about?
MD-It's about Haitian Creole and its syntactic properties, how we
can use the principles-and-parameters framework, alongside some very,
very, restricted version of the Language Bioprogram Hypothesis, to
understand the emergence of various structures in Haitian Creole.
Actually the thesis is very humble in scope: I focused on only two sets
of syntactic properties, namely subject- and predication-related
DW-Where did your social-scientific perspective come from then? Is
it a result of outside reading?
MD-Yes, yes, as a result of my curiosity. While I was a graduate
student, most of my courses were in linguistics and computer science.
I didn't take any course in social theory or in philosophy of science.
You see, even I myself never seriously questioned basic dogma in Creole
Studies while I was working on my dissertation. So if you look at my
dissertation and my earliest publications, you will see that I somewhat
accepted some of the standard claims about Creoles, even though these
claims, by and large, were contradicted by data I had access to, data
that were right on the tip of my tongue, and literally so-data about
Haitian Creole morphology, for example... I would write about these
data only much later on, in the late '90s... In the early '90s, during my
dissertating years, there I was with the relevant data right on the tip of
MICHEL DEGRAFF / DON E. WALICEK
my tongue, yet when doing my linguistic work I was not using these
data to check what were sometimes quite spectacularly erroneous
claims, such as the then traditional view that Creoles, because of their
ancestry in Pidgin languages, are extraordinarily simple languages with
exceptionally reduced morphology. In fact, I didn't even discuss the
relevant morphology data in my thesis, even though these data, as I
would understand later on, are most germane to elucidating the role of
acquisition in Creole genesis.
Eventually, as part of an introspective exercise in reflexive sociology,
I became curious as to how any linguist, including myself, could ever
believe in hypotheses that are so straightforwardly falsified by data
that are quite accessible-data that I and any other Creole speaker
have direct access to.
DW-So, the theory had for you too become the data, at least for a
MD-Yes, that seems the right way to put it. That realization led me to
look into issues of epistemology and issues of how perception is
influenced by our positioning within certain hierarchies of power and
within certain socio-historical contexts. I kept stepping back and back
and back in order to understand how power hierarchies from the very
beginning of Creole Studies onward would influence creolists' views of
what Creole languages look like or should look like. And then I wanted to
understand when and how, in the history of creolistics, prescription first
became description without the creolist being aware of the trumpery.
DW-Were you reading people like Foucault, Said, and Bourdieu as
you started to identify what you would eventually term 'Creole
MD-That must have come later, probably while discussing these
matters with various colleagues. I really cannot remember how I first
came to read these authors. Now looking back, it seems natural that I
had to read these authors because they carefully look at the relationship
between power and knowledge. Also relevant here is that these authors
have dissected the relationship between, on the one hand, our positions
within various social hierarchies and, on the other hand, our ways of
understanding or not understanding the world. In the case at hand, I
myself was interested in the relationship between, on the one hand,
the development and structure of colonial and post-colonial societies
and, on the other hand, creolists' mis-representations of the
development and structures of Creole languages.
CREOLE EXCEPTIONALISM AND ACCIDENTS OF HISTORY
DW-In my case I read those authors first. When I started in Creole
Studies I felt in a sense like an outsider, coming to linguistics from social
anthropology. I wanted creolists to pay more attention to ideology so I
spoke about this at a Caribe 2000 conference in Puerto Rico. I talked
about what I saw as a general absence of discussions of linguists'
community involvement in Creole-speaking communities. That
generated a lot of discussion. Lowell Fiet, the founding editor of
Sargasso, suggested that a volume of the journal be set aside to this
and related issues. Shortly thereafter I discovered your work, which I
consider extremely relevant. That's how I got here. Since then I've
discussed Creole Exceptionalism at a couple of conferences.
Occasionally people have reacted with a lot of suspicion. More than
once I've been told that exceptionalism toward Creoles is something
of the past.
MD-Oh, I see. That's not surprising though. We linguists, it seems to
me, like to believe that, by and large, we are a progressive and liberal
bunch. So some of us may become quite testy as soon as the egalitarian
credentials of our field are questioned. Well, some creolists have taken
the sort of criticism you've read in my Language discussion note
'Against Creole Exceptionalism' as a personal attack on their integrity.'
Others feel that they have been personally accused of racism. It's like a
knee-jerk reflex. In fact, lately I have been brainstorming, alone then
with some colleagues, on how to frame my critique of Creole
Exceptionalism in a way that will allow creolists to feel less defensive
and more empathic vis-A-vis the reflexive approach I have proposed in
my recent writings.
DW-My next question is about your definition of Creoles, specifically
the way you define this group of languages in 'Against Creole
Exceptionalism.' You write that you are relying on "a language-external
sociohistorical definition." You also state that you see Creoles as
varieties that "developed between Europeans and Africans during
colonization." Would this definition open up "Creole" to include
Caribbean varieties of Spanish, or am I pushing it too far? I am taking
the definition word by word, trying to read outside the usual set of
See DeGraff, M. 2003. 'Against Creole Exceptionalism,' Language, 79, 2, 391-410
and DeGraff M. 2004. 'Against Creole Exeptionalism (redux),' Language, 80, 4, 834-
MICHEL DEGRAFF / DON E. WALICEK
MD-That's a good and fair question. One of the points that I have tried
to make and that other people have tried to make, like Salikoko Mufwene
from the early 1980s onward, is that there is no valid structural criteria
for what a Creole is. So, if the term "Creole" can refer to any restructured
variety spoken between Europeans and Africans in the context of
language contact in the Caribbean, then why don't we call "Creoles" the
varieties of Caribbean Spanish that you mention? Note though that in
my Language article I explicitly consider "Creoles" as an ostensivee label,"
that is, a label that I take to refer to certain, not necessarily all, varieties
that developed between Europeans and Africans in the colonial
Caribbean. In explaining my use of the term "Creole," I do not appeal to
any "if and only if" definition: I do not appeal to any set of necessary and
sufficient conditions for the use of this term.
Be that as it may, one can reasonably wonder whether there was a
period when certain Caribbean Spanish varieties, such as those you have
in mind, were referred to as "Creoles" by contemporary observers. This
is conceivable given that such varieties were spoken by people called
"Creoles"-that is, by the locally-born-among others. But this is really
a question for historians. In the meantime, you may well be right: my
use of the term may open up these Caribbean Spanish varieties for
consideration as Creoles.
In any case, for me the label is not crucial. I don't believe that any
grouping of "Creole" languages, under any sort of criteria, is going to
give us any special access to, say, the workings of the language acquisition
device. In other words, my hunch is that putting the label "Creole" on
some subset of the world's languages does not automatically offer the
linguist any epistemological advantage: Creole languages, under
whatever definition, do not exclusively hold the key to Universal
Grammar or to any other scientific holy grail. The label "Creole" is really
incidental, you see. As far as I can tell, whether or not a particular
language is called "Creole" by linguists or others is a fact of a purely
sociohistorical nature. This is essentially Salikoko's argument from the
early eighties onward.
DW-Right. But, grouping a certain variety that emerged between
Africans and Europeans with other Creoles when other creolists reject
this move for the same language seems to be a powerful statement, a
logical consequence of your definition, and to me one that underscores
what Creoles are. Varieties like Puerto Rican Spanish, Samana English,
and African-American Vernacular English come to mind. Your definition
CREOLE EXCEPTIONALISM AND ACCIDENTS OF HISTORY
allows a system of classification that would include these languages as
Creoles while those proposed by others don't.
MD-Yes, I understand what you're saying. But I myself would not
want to say that. I doubt that my use of the term "Creole" offers any
rigorous system of linguistic classification. Again, I take "Creole" to be
a somewhat ad hoc ostensive label that is used to point to certain
speech varieties. This label "Creole" really doesn't have any operational
and strictly-linguistic theoretical criteria. I don't take it to imply that if
you have a certain broadly-defined socio-historical context, then you
necessarily have Creole formation. I really meant to say in the Language
article that this label "Creole" is ostensive, and the ostention-how we
list the membership of the class of "Creole" languages-can happen in
various ways. For example, some of the varieties that linguists call
Creoles were already called "Creole" by their speakers themselves
before any bona fide linguist showed up in that Creole community. So
these are "Creole" languages because their speakers themselves refer
to them as such, and those speakers, by and large, don't care about
any linguistic or sociohistorical definition of the term that would apply
to other languages besides their own. This is true of the majority of
Haitian Creole speakers for example.
In any case, calling these languages "Creoles" or "patois" or "broken
French" or "x" or "y" is not going to turn them into special windows
onto UG or onto language-evolution processes, pace a certain school
of creolistics. You see, what I am trying to argue against is this
hypothesis that there is certain feature "+Creole" with special linguistic
properties and that languages with such a "+Creole" feature will teach
us something unique about our language faculty. Recall that the term
"Creole" was once used to single out groups of people: the "Creole"
slaves versus the African-born slaves, "the Creole whites" versus the
European-born whites, and so on. Later the term "Creole" was extended
to the speech varieties spoken by the "Creole" people. So, if you look
at the history of the term, there again it is clear that the term originally
had no linguistic-structural weight attached to it. The idea then was
simply that these were "Creole" people by virtue of their place of birth
and family history, and so their speech was called "Creole" by extension
of the ethnographic use of the term. At first, there was no claim that
"Creole" speech had sui generis structural properties that invariably
held across space and across time.
DW-I see. Speaking of these names, I have noticed that when you
write the word "Creole" you capitalize the 'c.' Others don't.
MICHEL DEGRAFF / DON E. WALICEK
MD-Yes, I had to forcefully ask editors for the permission to do so. I
still remember lengthy exchanges with several editors about my capital
"C" in "Creole." The way I see it, although the term "Creole" has no
linguistic-structural correlates, we can reasonably consider Creoles-
specially the classic Creoles of the Caribbean-as a group of languages
with commonalities in their social history and the related geopolitics,
thus the need for the capital "C," somewhat on a par with, say, Romance
or African languages.
DW-So you see the word as a proper noun and to not recognize that
is to adhere to exceptional rules in terms of the rules of capitalization.
MD-Exactly. Consider terms such as "Romance languages" and
"African languages." They too rely on a variety of assumptions about
sociohistorical and geopolitical, not necessarily structural,
commonalities. In the case of "Creole" with capital "C," I had to ask
editors to allow that and some have actually refused. Fortunately,
Language editor Brian Joseph graciously went along with my
DW-Another area in which creolistics may stand out from other areas
of linguistics is the researcher's fluency in the language being studied.
Do you think creolists who are not native speakers should try to learn
to speak the languages they study?
MD-Of course. Can you imagine a scholarly society of germanicists
who by and large do not speak any Germanic language fluently. Or can
you imagine a scholarly society of sinologists where little Chinese is
spoken fluently? In Creole Studies many creolists are not fluent in any
of the languages they study. This seems an exceptional state of affairs-
perhaps another facet of Creole Exceptionalism.
DW-As you have pointed out, in 1914 Hugo Schuchardt wrote that
"Creole languages have not yet been generally appreciated for their
general significance." Ninety years have passed, do you still think that's
MD-In some ways, yes, but not in all quarters. Look at the work of
people like, say, Enoch Aboh, Marlyse Baptista, Jean-Robert Cadely,
Viviane D6prez, Stephanie Durrleman, Salikoko Mufwene, Pieter
Muysken, Tonjes Veenstra, etc. There are many others, but these are
some of the creolists that I've read recently, so their names are still
fresh in my mind. These linguists, each in their own way, are trying to
make Creoles relevant to theoretical linguistics in a coherent and
constructive fashion that is straightforwardly uniformitarian. But in
CREOLE EXCEPTIONALISM AND ACCIDENTS OF HISTORY 9
some other instances-some of them quite spectacular and popular-
Creoles are still being confined to small corners of linguistic typology
in a way that makes them mostly irrelevant to general linguistics.
Indeed, as I point out at the end of that Language article, many linguists
have still not heeded Schuchardt's judicious exhortation.
DW-Another way of discussing quarters is, I suppose, in terms of
institutions. For example, it is only recently that many major universities
have someone who specializes in Creoles on their faculty. Do you think
this can be taken as a sign of their significance being recognized, as a
sign that Creoles are now more widely recognized as languages worthy
of serious study?
MD-Yes, that's right. We can perhaps explore another perspective
on Creole Exceptionalism by surveying creolists who teach in linguistic
departments. In what capacity were these creolists hired? Ideally, you
would want to have creolists in all branches of linguistics, being hired
in all quarters of the discipline, not only as creolists per se or as
sociolinguists per se. Of course, it's a good thing to have some creolists
hired as creolists or as sociolinguists, but any given creolist has to be
recognized for their potential contributions to general linguistics, as
syntacticians, as semanticists, as phonologists and so on.
DW-So they would be all over the place.
MD-Yes, not only as creolists, but as general linguists as well, working
in various subfields of, say, so-called core theoretical linguistics. I am
not sure this has happened yet, but mine is only an unconfirmed
intuition-I don't have any reliable statistics handy on the employment
profiles of creolists. We do have to be careful about broad
generalizations and I may well have the wrong impression. I hope I do!
But I suspect that there is a tendency to find creolists confined to certain
areas of linguistics. This seems an important issue to address toward
the unmarginalization of both Creole languages and Creole Studies.
DW-Perhaps creolists are found most often as sociolinguists?
MD-Yes, it seems so, and for good reasons, given at least the
fascinating social factors involved in the creation of, and in the linguistic
variation found in, Creole communities. Yet we should resist any
tendency to marginalize Creoles and creolists. I see this tendency
toward marginalization reflected in textbooks. If you look at major
linguistics textbooks, the chapters where Creole languages and their
development are discussed are usually distinct from the chapters where,
say, Romance and Germanic languages and their development are
MICHEL DEGRAFF / DON E. WALICEK
discussed. You will find Romance and Germanic languages discussed
within the context of, for example, Stammbaumtheorie models of
language change. Then you get Creoles in a separate chapter as if they
unquestionably were the products of distinct processes of language
development-sui generis processes of so-called creolization.
It seems to me that the segregation of creolistics from general lin-
guistics is reified in the make-up of linguistic textbooks where Creole
languages are introduced in distinct chapters as if they were a special
kind of languages with their own exceptional laws of evolution and
their own exceptional structural profiles. This is Creole Exceptionalism
to the hilt.
DW-The problem that you are pointing to, the content of textbooks,
seems to guarantee that highly problematic ideas are likely to be per-
petuated among future linguists.
DW-So in that instance general linguistics seems to be rejecting cer-
tain ideas that have gained ground in creolistics, change is taking place
at a slow pace. In other instances it is perhaps less so. I recently read a
handout that you passed out in 1998 in St. Lucia.2 In it you discuss
language change and language acquisition and the need for creolists
to dialogue with specialists in these areas. You describe this sort of
collaboration as producing "new data," because at that point the type
of collaboration you envisioned had not been systematically consid-
ered. Your handout states that there should be intradisciplinary dia-
logue among these subfields of linguistics. Do you think that has hap-
pened more since then?
MD-I think so. I think that people are being more constructive and
more precise in their interdisciplinary agendas. People are making theo-
retical claims that have more empirical bite and analytical depth. We
must remember that efforts to connect creolization to acquisition
started quite a long time ago. So if you look at works in the nineteenth
century by Lucien Adam, Auguste de Saint-Quentin, Julien Vinson,
Adolfo Coelho, and so on, you can see that very early on there were
claims made that creolization should be understood from the perspec-
2 DeGraff, M. 1998. Expanding the theoretical and empirical horizons of Creole-
genesis research. Paper presented at the Society for Caribbean Linguists meeting
in St. Lucia. August, 1998.
CREOLE EXCEPTIONALISM AND ACCIDENTS OF HISTORY 11
tive of language acquisition. But these earlier claims were very gen-
eral, very broad claims. In contrast, recent efforts in that vein have
been more careful and more precise. Linguists have been making lots
of efforts to consider concrete datasets in trying to determine the pre-
cise nature of the relationship between acquisition and creolization-
and more generally the relationship between acquisition and language
change. That I find exciting.3
DW-One of the texts that I have reread a few times recently is Com-
parative Afro-American.4 It was published in 1980 but the work that
went into it began well before that. In the 'Introduction,' Alleyne says
that when he initiated the work his interest was "overwhelmingly aca-
demic and objective." He explains that later there were many turns of
events, specifically what he calls the "Black Revolution." He states that
this gave the study of Creoles a new significance, that the study "of Cre-
oles took on a new dimension and a new significance having become
involved in the social, cultural, and political conflicts of our times." This
is exciting. When I read that I felt optimistic about the significance and
potential reception of the work linguists can do. It seems that there was
a point of entry available at that time, a chance for research to be uti-
lized. Yet much later the field seems to me to still be dealing with many
of the same issues. De you find that science is more open to uniformitar-
ian ideas about Creoles at certain historical moments and then other
instances in which we are in a sense pushed back?
MD-You are probably right. Maybe these issues will always be around.
In this light, the question is how many people are going to be in one
camp versus the other. So if you look, for example, at a scholar like
William Greenfield, an early nineteenth-century missionary, you see
that in a way he was already uniformitarian. He was very much ahead
of his times. One could even call him Chomskyan. Of course I mean
:For recent work on acquisition and Creole languages see DeGraff, M. (ed.) 2001.
Language Creation and Language Change. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press. Also see the
special issue of Studies in Second Language Acquisition 25, 2 edited by S. Kouwenberg
and P. Patrick. For early creolists' opinions on creolization as language acquisition
see: Vinson, J. 1889. Cr&oles. Dictionnaire des sciences anthropologiques, edited by
A. Bertillon et al., 345-47. Paris: Doin. Also see Saint-Quentin, A. 1872 .
Introduction a I'histoire de Cayenne..., with Etude sur la grammaire Creole by Auguste
de Saint-Quentin. Antibes: J. Marchand. 1980. Cayenne: Comite de la Culture, de
I'Education et de l'Environment, R6gion Guyane.
4 See Alleyne, M. 1980. Comparative Afro-American. Ann Arbor: Karoma Publishers.
MICHEL DEGRAFF / DON E. WALICEK
"Chomskyan" before there was Chomsky. Indeed Greenfield believed
that, when it comes to the history of languages like Sranan in Surinam
and to the role of African speakers in the development of Sranan, the
same mechanisms operated in the minds of these speakers as did in
the minds of the speakers who contributed to the development of, say,
English. Adolfo Coelho, in the latter half of the nineteenth century, made
somewhat similar claims. For Greenfield back in 1830, as for Chomsky
more than a century later, the human language faculty is the same in
all climes, so there cannot be any fundamental difference in the mental
mechanisms involved in the history of Creoles versus non-Creoles.5
But, not many people paid attention to what Greenfield was saying
about the non-exceptional nature of Creole languages. Today again we
have people like myself, Mufwene and others making arguments that
in essence, if not in the details, are similar to Greenfield's.
Today, though, we have many more linguists studying Creoles from
within an egalitarian framework A la Greenfield. Maybe there will al-
ways be anti-Greenfield holdovers. Again we're talking about people,
and people, including creolists, always have special interests, agendas
and assumptions that go beyond linguistics proper-interests, agen-
das and assumptions of a sociohistorical and political nature. It seems
that we will always find people whose perceptions of linguistic data
are influenced by factors such as socioeconomic standing and politi-
cal and psychological interests, that is, by biases of various sorts. This
points to the usefulness of being aware of how we perceive certain
groups of people (for example, Haitians) while we are in the business
of analyzing and constructing theories about the languages they speak
(for example, Haitian Creole). Linguists are human beings. As human
beings we allow other factors beyond linguistic data to influence our
theories. This must also be true even-or, rather, specially-with people
like myself. I happen to be both a creolist and a Creole speaker, and it
is probably because of my particular history that I am sensitive to cer-
tain problems and got to investigate certain issues and make certain
claims. At the same time, it's also because of my personal history that
I no doubt am oblivious to certain other problems. So in some sense I
too am letting my personal history influence my problem-solving and
theory-making practices. Who doesn't? In my own case, I must hope,
of course, that this is a good thing, although I must try to continuously
5 See Greenfield, W. 1830. A Defence of the Surinam Negro-English Version of the
New Testament. London: Samuel Bagster.
CREOLE EXCEPTIONALISM AND ACCIDENTS OF HISTORY
monitor my personal motivations and their influence on my analyses,
as I must continue to search for the blind spots that my personal his-
tory induce in my scientific endeavors. Not an easy task.
DW-What do you think about the emphasis on language genesis
within Creole Studies? Do you think that the present focus on Creole
genesis is indicative of Creole Exceptionalism?
MD-That's a good question why is the genesis question so impor-
tant in Creole Studies? I suspect that all scientists are, in principle,
fascinated by myths of geneses. How did it all start? Our universe, the
earth, life, our human-ness? Where do they come from? How did they
originate? This preoccupation with beginnings is not exclusive to Pid-
gin and Creole Studies. You know, it's also found in fields like physics,
astronomy, biology, anthropology, etc. In these disciplines as well, re-
searchers have long been intrigued by beginnings. Think of Darwin,
for example. Perhaps, the need to wonder how we got to be where we
are is something that is genetically wired in our human species.
In Creole Studies this preoccupation with beginnings is related to,
among other things, the too common belief that Creoles are completely
new languages, the newest languages that are available to inspection
by linguists. If that is true, then we creolists would of course want to
use them as test tubes toward understanding the processes whereby
languages are created across generations and even in the species-in
the evolutionary beginnings of homo sapiens. By definition then,
creolists would be empirically better equipped than other linguists to
investigate processes of language genesis. The idea is that other lan-
guages like English and French were created too long ago to be suc-
cessfully mined for precise hints regarding the language-genesis riddle.
But then one question to ask is whether Creole languages are as radi-
cally "new" as they are so often claimed to be.
As a matter of fact, this idea of newness is one of the assump-
tions that I have questioned in some of my recent work. By what
criteria are Creoles considered to be completely new languages? Are
Creoles considered completely new because somehow we have as-
sumed-because we have postulated by fiat-that they have to be
so? Is it because we have assumed that the people involved in their
formation (for example, the Africans in the colonial Caribbean) could
in no way replicate any of the structures that underlie the languages
they were being exposed to (for example, the European languages
spoken in the colonial Caribbean). So, the story goes, these Afri-
MICHEL DEGRAFF / DON E. WALICEK
cans and their descendants had to create completely new languages
from scratch so to speak, with completely new structures. Or, as
another story goes, these Africans in the Caribbean had to replicate
European-sounding languages with underlying structures derived
exclusively from their native African languages. I myself question
all these assumptions about the development of Creole languages.
I've done this in a 2001 commentary on "Neo-Darwinian linguistics" in
Linguistic Typology and a 2002 review article on "Relexification" in An-
DW-You mean you question the idea of a break in transmission?
MD-That's right. If we start questioning these claims that there some-
how existed a break in transmission in the history of Creole languages,
then this act of questioning may lead us to conclude that Creole lan-
guages are not radically newer than French or English. In fact, if you
select your parameters carefully then you can actually claim that in
some ways the history of English and of French must have involved a
greater break in transmission than the history of Haitian Creole did. If
that is the case, then Creoles cannot by any means be singled out in
terms of what they may tell us about genesis processes. I elaborate
this argument in a chapter to appear in Kayne and Cinque's Oxford
Handbook of Comparative Syntax [Oxford University Press]. There is a
pre-publication version of that chapter on my MIT website.
DW-That reminds me of something Alleyne says in the paper of his
to be included in this volume of Sargasso. He presents the idea that
once we depart from the issue of genesis, then Creolistics is just like
any other linguistics.7
MD-Of course, I agree with Alleyne. And even when we consider their
phylogeny, Creoles may not constitute a special case. Again, take the
criterion of newness. Well, I doubt that we have a reliable metric for
what constitutes a new language. What constitutes new-ness seems
quite subjective. This is something that I discuss at length in that 2001
commentary on 'Neo-Darwinian Linguistics' in Linguistic Typology that
I mentioned earlier. If you are going to define new languages in terms
of speech communities, then Caribbean Creoles are definitely new
See M. DeGraff's 'On the origin of Creoles: a Cartesian critique of Neo-Darwinian
linguistics' in Linguistic Typology 5, 2/3, 2001 and 'Relexification: a reevaluation' in
Anthropological Linguistics 44, 4, 2002.
7 See M. Alleyne's article 'Lest We Forget' in this volume.
CREOLE EXCEPTIONALISM AND ACCIDENTS OF HISTORY
because Creole communities in the Caribbean were to a large extent
created anew so to speak, made up of people coming from different
places and cultures. But I am not sure that this sort of sociohistorical
scenario and this sort of newness warrant the singling out of Creole
languages in our investigation of language genesis. The history of the
world-including the history of, say, Romance and Germanic lan-
guages-is replete of such cases where new communities are formed
that adopt and adapt some pre-existing language as their new commu-
nal language. Creole languages are yet another instantiation of this
quite common sociohistorical scenario where new communities adopt
and adapt some so-called "old" language as their so-called "new" lan-
guage. In this light, the creation of so-called "new" languages becomes
a rather banal phenomenon. In fact, Meillet took this idea even fur-
ther with his logically coherent claim that every instance of language
acquisition is an instance of language creation-"total re-creation"
he called it. By the way, Meillet also argued that various syntactic
properties of French and English were completely new creations when
compared with their analogues in their Latin and Old Germanic an-
DW-You include an interesting quote from Saussure at the beginning
of 'Against Creole Exceptionalism.' In 1916 he wrote, "no other subject
[outside of language] has fostered more absurd notions, more illusions,
and more fantasies" and then he goes on to identify denouncing and
eradicating these as the primary task of the linguist.' You ask what to
do when prejudices, illusions, and fantasies underlie some of the
foundations of Creole Studies. But one of the things I have noticed is
that in describing anti-exceptionalism, which I think of as your act of
eradication and denouncement, you pull from early creolists' work.
Are these early uniformitarian ideas, and the resistance to the
dominant view embodied in them, also part of the foundation of Pidgin
and Creole Studies?
MD-It seems that you are now going back to the 1830s and referring
to figures like William Greenfield. Earlier in this interview, I mentioned
that, as an egalitarian and a uniformitarian creolist in the nineteenth
century, Greenfield belonged to a minority. Besides, Greenfield's views
have been neglected for the larger part of the nineteenth and twentieth
I See Saussure, F. 1916. Trans. by R. Harris. Course in General Linguistics. La Salle,
IL: Open Court.
MICHEL DEGRAFF / DON E. WALICEK
centuries. What Greenfield was saying is that there is no intrinsic
difference in the way Creoles are created versus the way non-Creoles
are created. He noted that in all cases of language evolution, in all
instances of language change, there is language contact. What
Greenfield was saying back in the nineteenth century was a radical
claim, a claim that was rejected by most of his contemporaries,
including the well-meaning missionaries who were Greenfield's
You see, Greenfield was making his uniformitarian claims to support
the idea of writing the Bible using Sranan. This was a very difficult
argument to accept: back then, Africans were perceived, had to be
perceived, as lesser humans with lesser cognitive capacities. After all,
Africans as allegedly lesser beings were often considered as slaves by
nature-designed by God to serve as slaves for the benefit of Europeans.
When he was alive, Greenfield's views were not part of what Thomas
Kuhn called "normal science"-his views were then "unthinkable" in
Foucault's sense. During Greenfield's time, as well as before and after,
"normal science" and "thinkable thoughts" in linguistics viewed Creoles
as exceptional, as extraordinarily simplified languages, as degenerate
languages, as impoverished languages, etc. The majority of early
creolists believed, had to believe, that Creoles belong to lesser realms
of linguistic typology, so the parity of Creoles and non-Creoles was
"unthinkable." These anti-egalitarian beliefs form the foundation of
My argument in 'Against Creole Exceptionalism' is that such beliefs
were banal consequences of the larger sociohistorical and geopolitical
context of early Creole Studies. It is that anti-egalitarian social context
that made Uniformitarianism unthinkable in early creolistics. Such
context, it seems to me, is important for contemporary linguists to
keep in mind, specially when considering that many of the claims now
being made about Creole languages are in various ways similar to these
early claims that were steeped in erroneous race-based theories.
Though patently erroneous, these racist theories were useful as they
served to justify and maintain slavery and colonialism. These theories
were partly motivated by some of the pragmatic concerns that tried to
reduce Africans to lesser humans as they were exploited as slave labor,
a crucial ingredient in the development of the colonial plantations
where Caribbean Creoles emerged.
DW-Keeping in mind that you have done an archaeology of Creole
Exceptionalism, what I wonder is whether it might be possible and
CREOLE EXCEPTIONALISM AND ACCIDENTS OF HISTORY
useful to do an archaeology of the opposite, uniformitarianism or anti-
exceptionalism, even though people like Greenfield were few and far
between and had their points of view marginalized. You mention others
in your own work too, though I realize some of them only reject
exceptionalism as it pertains to specific topics. Thomas, for example,
goes back and forth. Saint-Quentin, whom you also mention, is also
someone who cites parallels between Romance languages and Creole
MD-You're making a fascinating and constructive point here. Indeed
one component of a complete archaeology of Creole Exceptionalism
would involve a study of these early scholars who argue against Creole
Exceptionalism. In that vein, if you look at J.J. Thomas's views, many
of which were very progressive, you see that even he was quite
ambivalent about Creoles. Faith Smith does a good job of showing where
some of J.J. Thomas's ambivalence comes from. Some of his progressive
views were often contradicted by some other beliefs, like his prejudices
DW-It seems that something similar can be said about Sylvain's 1936
publication. I notice that you emphasize some of her negative views
and others present them as more progressive.10 In each case a different
side of her stance is highlighted. I suppose it's hard to make a broad
MD-Yes, this would require a different kind of work from what I have
done so far. What I have done for example in that Language discussion
note you're referring to is to look at broad, very broad, trends of Creole
Exceptionalism. That Language article is a macroscopic study of Creole
Exceptionalism. What you are now pointing out is that we also need
microscopic studies: we need to look at particular authors and to see
9 Thomas's views on French Creole in Trinidad include: Thomas, J.J. 1869. The
Theory and Practice of Creole Grammar. Reprint, London: New Beacon Books;
Thomas, J.J. 1870. 'Creole Philology: Extracts from an Essay on the Philology of the
Creole Dialect, by the Author of the Creole Grammar.' Trubner's American and Oriental
Library Record, 31, 57-58. For a broader view of Thomas see Smith, F. 2002. Creole
Recitations, John Jacob Thomas and Colonial Formation in the Late Nineteenth-Century
Caribbean. Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press. Also see S. Everson's review
of Smith (2002) in this volume.
"I For an example of S. Sylvain's views on Haitian Creole, see her 1936 Le creole
haitien. Wettern: Impr. De Meester. Geneve: Slatkine Reprints, 1979.
MICHEL DEGRAFF / DON E. WALICEK
how their ideas emerged and evolved across their writings. How did
their views get to be so different from the majority view? That's a
Toward the beginning of this interview, you asked how I myself
became interested in Foucault. Actually, if I could go back to the
beginning of the interview and answer that question again, my answer
would be different now that we've already spoken quite a bit. In a way,
you are pushing me to look at my own work in a microscopic way,
basically to do a microscopic reflexive study of my own work. To me
what I did in the discussion note was grossly macroscopic. But what
you are asking me now about people like Greenfield, Sylvain, and
Thomas points to the fact that they are to some substantial degree
different from the rest, and not so straightforwardly classifiable vis-A-
vis Creole Exceptionalism. You are asking me about the origins and the
extent of their differences vis-A-vis the majority views. How did they
come to be so different and how different are they really, once we start
looking very closely at their often ambivalent views on Creole
languages? And you are also asking me about the evolution of my own
writing and the influence of my personal history therein. This is
archeology of a microscopic sort, of a sort that I have not attempted
yet. This is a worthwhile research project though, perhaps for a
dissertation in the history of creolistics.
DW-Maybe Greenfield, Sylvain, and Thomas are different for some
of the reasons that you are in a sense different?
MD-Perhaps. These reasons are what we could call accidents of
history. That's why if I were asked again the question how I came to
identify Creole Exceptionalism I would answer it somewhat differently:
I would probably trace it back further.
Maybe the accidents of history that I could talk about would go even
further back in time. I could talk about my growing up in Haiti, my
being exposed to various prejudices-virulent prejudices-against my
native Haitian Creole, which many educated Haitians still consider
I could also go back to the times when as a child I believed that I
spoke "one and a half language." Haitian Creole, the language I was
most fluent in, would then count as one "half" language language
whereas French, the language of prestige, of authority, of the classroom,
etc., would count as one "full" language.
CREOLE EXCEPTIONALISM AND ACCIDENTS OF HISTORY
Then I could go back to my trying to reconcile these ideas that I
believed in as a child in Haiti and these ideas that I studied later as a
doctoral student in linguistics at UPenn. These accidents of history
would include my trying to come to terms with these two sets of ideas,
a process that actually took quite some time. Sometimes these two
sets of ideas would clash-for example, vis-a-vis the generativist's study
of a Universal Grammar common to all the species-or they would
overlap-for example, vis-a-vis certain creolists' claims that Creoles
emerge from a sui generis "abnormal and catastrophic break in
Perhaps we can see some of this resolution process unfurling in the
two sets of items that you have asked me about: my thesis alongside
my early post-thesis publications versus my more recent work. While
writing my thesis, I found myself far removed from my childhood belief
that Haitian Creole was a broken half language, yet not so far removed
from the scholarly dogma that Creoles are exceptional languages whose
history includes a catastrophic and abnormal break in transmission.
Then later on, I started realizing that, with respect to their respective
historical roots and political implications, the scholarly dogmas were
not far removed from the dogmas in my childhood.
DW-Then maybe there are two intertwined narratives, but getting at
this latter one requires making more connections.
MD-Exactly, it takes more reflexivity. The way I discussed this earlier
in the interview now seems too restricted: that earlier discussion
acknowledges only one set of events. This limitation has become clear
as we have continued talking.
DW-I have a quote from this same note to ask you about. You write
that, "the mental processes underlying Creole genesis are similar to
those underlying language change." Why do you use the word "similar"
here. Are they similar or the same?
MD-The human mind is basically the same all over-with the same
basic morphology and physiology-but I would guess that no two
human minds are exactly the same down to fine-grained neurological
make-up. Quite early on in the history of Creole Studies-in 1830
actually-William Greenfield, whom I've mentioned before, made the
then-spectacular, and thoroughly modern, statement that "The human
mind is the same in every clime; and accordingly we find nearly the
same process adopted in the formation of language in every country."
Greenfield was comparing the history of Sranan with that of English.
MICHEL DEGRAFF / DON E. WALICEK
Something like Greenfield's uniformitarian stance was at the core of
my concluding chapter in the MIT Press volume I edited on the role of
language acquisition in language creation and language change [see
note 3]. As to what might account for my use of the word "similar,"
rather than "identical," well, in the case of the Caribbean there seems
to have been a higher proportion of adult second-language learners in
the language-contact situation as compared to other cases such as the
history of, say, Faroese, a Germanic language spoken on a small island
in Northern Europe, a language spoken in a relatively homogeneous
community with fewer migrants than in the colonial Caribbean.
DW-You are referring to sociohistorical influences, sociohistorical
circumstances that are supposedly seldom seen, right?
MD-Yes. Going back to Greenfield, one could ask whether, in principle,
mental processes of a different nature might kick in when you have so
many adult second-language learners involved in the language-contact
situation as compared to monolingual situations. Then again, pure
monolingualism may well be an illusion. There's always language
contact to some degree, there always exist different dialects, or at the
very least different idiolects, that co-exist within any single community.
Even in the case of the Faroese Islands, it has been shown that there
are dialects that are structurally quite distinct-in terms of, for example,
By using the term "similar" I was being cautious about the possibility
that a higher degree of language contact with a higher proportion of
adult second-language learners may evoke acquisition strategies that
are distinct from their counterparts in more homogeneous communities
with fewer or no adult second-language learners. I suppose that whether
things are "identical" or "similar" depends on the granularity of the
comparison. Perhaps, with the appropriate caveats, I may be content
to use "identical" given my working assumptions that the human mind
is basically the same across the species and that language change, like
Creole formation, implicates language contact.
DW-Now a follow-up question, is creolization normal language change
in extraordinary circumstances?
MD-Well, yes. (quiet laughter) Then again I may even want to question
usual assumptions-here the assumption that the circumstances
surrounding Creole formation were all that extraordinary. In some
cases, say if you look at the history of Romance, you may not have
CREOLE EXCEPTIONALISM AND ACCIDENTS OF HISTORY 21
slavery strictly speaking, but you have conditions that were quite
"rough" so to speak, conditions entailed by various kinds of imperialism
that brought diverse populations into contact, such as in the case of
the emergence of Old French from vulgar Latin.
DW-This is one reason I think that it is useful to trace the history of
the plantation economy in the Caribbean back to what happened in
MD-Absolutely. Then we might even question the use of the phrase
"extraordinary circumstances" in the case of Creole formation. I don't
want to minimize the exceptional horror of slavery per se. But perhaps
in the history of humanity the socio-linguistic circumstances of massive
language contact aren't really rare at all. It could very well be that these
socio-linguistic circumstances had obtained many times before, times
when diverse populations with diverse languages were brought together
by force. Salikoko Mufwene makes related arguments, and much more
extensively so, in his book The Ecology of Language Evolution.
DW-In another of your articles, 'On the Origins of Creoles,' to me
you seem to do two things. You document the influence of scientific
racism on ideas about Creole languages. Then you do something which
I saw as quite different, you show that many of the specific arguments
made based on data from Creole languages actually don't even hold
up as arguments, that they are flawed in terms of their mechanics and
linguistic rationale. What I want to know is if you also see these as two
MD-No, I see them as parts of one and the same task, but at the same
time I can distinguish them as sub-tasks.
At first what you have is a series of claims on, for example, the
extraordinary simplicity or the degeneracy of Creole-for example, the
claim that Creoles lack morphology. Originally these claims were related
to the then-common belief that Creole speakers, specially those of
African descent, were cognitively inferior beings, and thus deserve their
low socioeconomic status in the Caribbean plantation hierarchy. I have
tried to argue that, given the geopolitical and psychological interests
of early creolists, these Creole speakers could not be considered
cognitively on a par with the Europeans who owned the Africans
enslaved on Caribbean plantations. There you have this direct link
between knowledge and power: a particular and peculiar sort of pseudo-
knowledge is produced in order to justify and perpetuate a particular,
and all too real and brutal, hierarchy of power.
MICHEL DEGRAFF / DON E. WALICEK
I'd like to believe that this early stage of Creole Studies can be
distinguished from the contemporary stage. Certain creolists are still
making claims that in many dimensions resemble the colonial canards
whereby Creoles are primitive and maximally simple languages-some
widely quoted modern hypotheses even go so far as to consider Creoles
as living replicas of the earliest human languages. Yet I doubt that
contemporary creolists would by and large want to contribute to the
oppression of Creole speakers. I would venture the guess that most
creolists see their work-at least their linguistic-theoretical work-as
orthogonal to the current socio-political status of Creole speakers. In
fact, many creolists are quite remote from Creole communities and
quite remote from the individuals whose policies and politics directly
affect the well-being of Creole communities. Yet what I am trying to say
- unfortunately, in a convoluted way-is that there is a textual and
ideological link between early and contemporary creolistics in terms
of the spirit of certain claims about Creole structures or lack hereof.
Although the two sets of scholars-from the past and in the present-
have clearly distinct geopolitical interests vis-A-vis Creole speakers and
their communities, there is somehow this continuity, this textual
continuity that leads all the way from the theoretical claims that were
made in early creolistics to the claims that are being made today in
For me, one way to become aware of and understand and demystify
this continuity is to recognize the fact that creolists like other scholars
often inherit earlier claims, some of them quite erroneous, without
questioning them. This is perhaps so in my case as well. You see, when
I came on the stage of Creole Studies I was reading all this stuff published
by eminent linguists-linguists that commanded the respect of my
teachers and mentors. To reject their ideas would have appeared as
treason so to speak, so I accepted these ideas too uncritically. In some
sense, my goal became to confirm these ideas.
What I am trying to say is that we should be extremely careful before
we adopt claims from earlier works. What we should do is to approach
these claims critically, especially when these claims are about people
that historically have been perceived as inferior in various dimensions,
people who by and large did not participate in, and could not benefit
from, the production of this knowledge and the exercise of power
encouraged and/or made possible by such knowledge.
DW-I am interested in your statement that contemporary linguists
are not benefiting from this relationship in the same way. Many
CREOLE EXCEPTIONALISM AND ACCIDENTS OF HISTORY 23
professional creolists are from the countries that have recently had a
dominating role in history, for example the European countries that
colonized the Caribbean. So in terms of larger units like nations or
institutions, even maybe universities at some level, aren't these bound
up in these same power relations?
MD-Yes, that is an important issue to explore. There might be a
continuity of imbalance between the relevant scholars and their object
of study, in this case the people being studied-a continuity of power
imbalance between creolists and Creole speakers. That's probably true.
But I would want to be careful, here because you see, in the case of
early creolists like Saint-Quentin, Vinson, Adam, etc., they were quite
explicit as to why Creole structures were so extraordinarily simple,
why they had to be so simple. The answer was that Creole speakers
themselves were generally primitive human beings-"with limited
intelligence" in Saint-Quentin's words or "of a race that is linguistically
inferior" in Vinson's words. Scholars like Saint-Quentin, Vinson, Adam,
Baissac and so on were relatively unambiguous about their racist beliefs
and they expressed these beliefs in clear prose. For them, there was a
clear link between lack of linguistic structures and lack of cognitive
capacity on the part of the corresponding speaker. And this is exactly
where I want to draw a clean break between early creolists and most,
though not all, contemporary creolists.
You're right in pointing out that we still have a power imbalance
between the creolists and the people studied by creolists: the Creole
speakers that are studied by creolists are by and large excluded from
the centers of intellectual, economic and political power that are
generally accessible to the creolists, specially those creolists who live
and work in the U.S. and Europe. And the latter often derive academic
prestige and economic benefits from their study of Creole languages.
This tension-or 'paradox' if you will-reaches absurdly imperialistic
proportions when some of the same linguists who argue that Creole
languages are primitive, simple, poor, etc., use the study of these same
languages for their academic and individual enrichment. Yet I would
hesitate to say that contemporary creolists as a class look down upon
and want to dominate their objects of study like early creolists did.
DW-Right. So, you want to point out that it's much more complicated
MD-Exactly. I think there is much to be gained by looking at the ways
in which the relationship between Creole speakers and creolists have
24 MICHEL DEGRAFF / DON E. WALICEK
changed. But as you're alluding to, the power imbalance remains, if
under a different guise. And some of the theoretical claims that are
made about Creoles still reflect the early history of Creole Studies-a
history steeped in the savage inequalities of colonialism and slavery.
This is exactly what I am trying to alert linguists about, and I thank
you, Don, for your help in this project.
DW-Concerning a related point, in the discussion note you write that
it is surprising that some of the theoretically and empirically problematic
aspects of nineteenth-century Creole writings are found in modern
linguistics. It is surprising in a sense, it's also alarming. But when you
consider the political and economic relationships that exist now and
more covert forms of racism, such as institutional racism, and even
ideas about culture, it looks like fertile ground for these early notions.
When these realities are centered it's not surprising.
MD-OK, it's not surprising, I agree. You see, perhaps I use the term
"surprising" because I am trying to be generous-charitable-to some
extent. You see, the fact is that most contemporary creolists have
altogether rejected the race-based arguments of early creolists. This is
something that I point out in that Language article 'Against Creole
Exceptionalism.' Considering the history of our field, one could have
expected more reflexivity on the part of contemporary creolists,
especially in light of the overtly racist tone of earlier claims and of the
recurrent parallels between earlier theories and contemporary theories.
Perhaps the most striking and long-standing continuity between early
and contemporary theories is the view that Creoles are primitive
languages, in one way or another. Today one fashionable claim that
has gained much ground among both linguists and evolutionary
theorists is that Pidgins resemble the structureless proto-language
spoken by our pre-linguistic homo erectus ancestors and that Creoles
resemble the archetypal human language, the first human language
spoken by some of our earliest homo sapiens ancestors. In effect, such
claims turn Creole speakers like myself into the linguistic "living fossils"
of our primitive hominid ancestors 200,000 years ago at the cusp of
the evolution of the earliest human language from protolanguage! Isn't
it surprising that there is still so little reflexivity among contemporary
scholars regarding these absurd claims and their textual links with the
racist colonial past of our field?
DW-I follow you. Switching gears a bit, I'd like to talk about
'Postcolonial Creolistics.' You define this approach to studying Creole
languages first as the deconstruction of two types of fallacies. You tell
CREOLE EXCEPTIONALISM AND ACCIDENTS OF HISTORY
us that these are theoretical and empirical fallacies concerning our
knowledge and lack of knowledge about Creole languages. Second,
you say that it focuses on the relationship among three things: these
fallacies, the sociohistorical development of Creole Studies, and the
sociohistorical environments in which these languages emerged. You
write that this sort of linguistics has four characteristics; it is reflexive,
Cartesian-Uniformitarian, scientifically responsible, and socially
responsible. My question is is this a call for activism? I'm not sure
because "deconstruction" might mean just making things clear, setting
things on the table and then being done, which makes me think it's not
a call for activism. But at the same time these are very powerful
statements, full of hope and possibility.
MD-Yes, of course I do want it to be a call for activism, but not
activism of a dogmatic sort. Here again, I don't want to, and I cannot,
ascribe intent to and police individual creolists. This issue goes back
to something that you mentioned earlier. You mentioned earlier that
many linguists who study Creoles come from outside the corresponding
Creole communities. I do believe that one way-perhaps the principal
way-to get rid of some of the older myths on Creoles is to have Creole
speakers read what creolists write about them and to eventually
maximize the intersection between the two sets, between Creole
speakers and creolists.
My hunch is that if scholars knew that the people they are writing
about can read and understand what is being said about them, then
scholars would be more careful in their writing, and their claims would
be more responsible vis-a-vis the data and more respectful vis-a-vis
their subjects. But too few Creole speakers have any clue what is being
written about them by creolists. This state of affairs is causing lots of
"junk" to be written about Creole speakers and their languages.
It makes sense to me that creolists should help engage more Creole
speakers in Creole Studies. But this notion that there should be more
Creole speakers involved as creolists and as equal partners in Creole
Studies is, for some, a radical proposal, a proposal that is quite
disturbing. In fact, in a footnote at the end of my Language article
"Against Creole Exceptionalism," I cite some creolists according to
whom Creole speakers qua linguists don't have much to contribute to
Creole Studies. Can you imagine the methodological and sociological
import of such claims? These, I take it, are radically exceptionalist
claims about the study of Creole languages and about the role of native
MICHEL DEGRAFF / DON E. WALICEK
I myself, perhaps for obvious reasons, would like to see Creole Studies
open up to and attract many more native Creole speakers. This is the
only way the field can ever be on par with say, Romance linguistics or
Germanic linguistics. Of course there are other benefits to be gained
as well-psychological benefits, for example. We must remember that
there are many Creole speakers who hold negative views of their
languages; these Creole speakers would benefit from learning more
about their languages and perchance from contributing to scientific
progress in their twin roles as Creole speakers and as creolists. And
here I am talking from first-person experience.
DW-Creole speakers even deny the existence of Creole languages in
MD-Here's one postcolonial call for activism. We creolists should
help convince Creole speakers that their language is just like any other
language. This is surely one way of fighting anti-Creole negative
attitudes. In Haiti, for example, Haitian Creole is still being stigmatized
in various domains of use. Having Creole speakers become major
players in Creole Studies would certainly help elevate the status of
Creole languages and their speakers, specially so if investigations are
carried out and published in the languages being investigated-as Yves
Dejean has done for Haitian Creole, for example. People wouldn't be
able to claim so easily that Creole languages are a cognitive handicap
for their speakers or that Creole languages cannot express abstract
thought or that Creole languages cannot, and should not, be used in
What you call activism is basically a fight against ignorance and
against pseudo-science in neo-colonial linguistics. And there too it helps
to show how our contemporary attitudes about culture, including
language and religion, are rooted in historical events, and how historical
analysis may help elucidate the causes of various sorts of still prevailing
ambivalence, including the kind of ambivalence that deprives Haitian
Creole in Haiti, and other Haitian cultural phenomena like Vodou, of
much symbolic capital. In any case, Creole languages have long
benefitted creolists materially and otherwise, so it's now time that
Creole languages benefit Creole speakers as well, at all levels of their
lives: educational, cultural, intellectual, political, scientific, and
DW-One thing that is fairly consistent among Creole languages is the
stigma attached to them. So, I am tempted to say that this work as I am
CREOLE EXCEPTIONALISM AND ACCIDENTS OF HISTORY 27
imagining it should be engaged somehow in countering this stigma. But
I don't see you policing creolistics or wanting to do so. You don't go as
far as to say, "this is the way things must be done." So, is Postcolonial
Creolistics just a choice, an alternative that you hope people will take?
MD-(laughter) Actually I am quite happy if some creolists may just
want to identify the morpho-phonological contexts in which nasal
vowels occur, in, say, Haitian Creole, and to understand the mechanisms
that determine their distribution, and I am even happier if they do it
well, with reliable data and elegant and insightful analyses. This type
of work may seem detached from concerns of Postcolonial Creolistics,
yet such work is necessary, perhaps even more necessary than the
"activism" in Postcolonial Creolistics.
DW-So, do you see Postcolonial Creolistics as some sort of proposal,
a suggested framework?
MD-It's more of a warning than a framework, I think-something like
a manifesto, a constructive warning toward more reflexivity in our
theory-making. This warning applies specially to a subset of the claims
that have been made about Creoles-those claims that make Creoles
look intrinsically special in the structural or developmental sense, with
the implication that Creoles by nature are primitive, or less complex,
or less expressive, or less adequate, or... you name it, any claim that
makes Creole languages as a class look somehow inferior to non-Creole
languages. This warning does not, and cannot, address the entire set
of concerns that linguists have about Creole languages.
DW-What do you think about a sort of working hypothesis that all of
the subfields of linguistics, all the potential areas of investigation on
Creoles, can contribute somehow to Postcolonial Creolistics?
MD-Well, let's see... Now I am thinking that another way to promote
Postcolonial Creolistics is simply to work on Creole languages the same
way one would work on non-Creole languages. Much of the theoretical
work currently being done on English, Russian, Japanese, Xhosa and
so on gives us a partial model for this. In these cases you have linguists
trying to understand the structures of these languages, coming up with
fine descriptions, insightful theories that can make non-trivial
predictions, and these linguists do not have to address any allegation
that the languages they study are inferior, degenerate, primitive,
extraordinarily simple, with abnormal catastrophic history, etc.
For example, many Japanese linguists, including native Japanese
speakers, do extremely important and fascinating work. They document
28 MICHEL DEGRAFF / DON E. WALICEK
intricate patterns in their language and come up with constructive
theoretical analyses in order to explain these patterns. In such work,
there usually is no mention of stigmas, prejudices, political concerns,
etc., concerning Japanese speakers and the languages they speak or
do not, cannot, speak. Unlike the anti-exceptionalist creolist, the
theoretical linguist working on Japanese usually need not concern
herself with suspicious and absurd allegations like, for example, some
hypothetical claim that Japanese is the world's simplest language.
DW-But, if the creolist knows that exceptionalism exists among
linguists and ideas of inferiority are rampant among speakers, then is
the equivalent of what the Japanese linguist does on Creoles, is that
acceptable according to the guideline of social responsibility that you
offer for Postcolonial Creolistics?
MD-That should be acceptable, no? Why should that be
unacceptable? By doing this kind of strictly theoretical work, the creolist
can bring to light patterns from Creole languages that are just as
complex and as fascinating as patterns in other languages such as
Japanese, thus concretely showing that Creole languages have as much
to offer to linguistics as other languages do.
If all that one were to read in Creole Studies is the kind of critique
that I have presented in 'Against Creole Exceptionalism,' then one would
become quickly bored. Notwithstanding my post-colonial political
agenda, I am certainly convinced that there is also a need for work
that addresses Creole languages qua languages within theoretical
frameworks that make no reference and leave no room for colonial or
postcolonial issues. Such work would be of the same caliber, and as
useful, as theoretical work on languages such as Japanese and English.
DW-I have imagined work within Postcolonial Creolistics that was of
the same caliber, but by definition the linguist was obligated to at least
share it with and use it for the benefit of the community. For example,
research could be used to counter ignorance about Creoles, for
contrastive analysis in education, to influence language attitudes, but
without these "extra" things, some sort of reinvestment, it would not
MD-I see your point. But, no, I wouldn't draw such a line between
postcolonial versus non-postcolonial creolistics. Try and think of it
this way. Consider, for example, generative analyses of English parasitic
gaps or Optimality-Theory analyses of reduplication in Tagalog. The
details of these analyses cannot so easily be shared with the speech
CREOLE EXCEPTIONALISM AND ACCIDENTS OF HISTORY 29
community per se. These theoretical investigations are of interest
primarily to the community of linguists, not to the communities of
English and Tagalog speakers. If you look at the bulk of work being
done in syntax, work that is published in journals like Linguistic Inquiry,
much of this work has no direct application for language pedagogy, for
changing public attitudes or for other applied purposes, and is not,
and cannot be, accessible to the public at large. Yet this theoretical
work is valuable scientific work. It allows the informed reader to
understand not only how English and Tagalog work, but also how the
In this vein, it is important to have theoretical work of similar caliber
on Creole languages as well, and it is a plus if some-or, one day, much-
of this work is carried out by native Creole speakers. Of course such
theoretical work need not mention postcolonialism, Creole
Exceptionalism, Creole-related social stigma, etc.
As it turns out, current MIT students whose works on Haitian Creole
I've been fortunate to read and comment on do not at all seem
concerned by issues of Creole genesis and Creole Exceptionalism, by
issues of anti-Creole prejudice, neo-colonialism in creolistics, etc. And
I find this refreshing. These students do not carry any Creole-
Exceptionalism chips on their shoulders, and their high-quality work
is strictly of a descriptive and theoretical nature. Some of their work is
rich in empirical discoveries which would not have been possible in
absence of the sophisticated theoretical framework that these students,
though not the general public, are fluent in. In effect, these MIT students,
and other theoreticians elsewhere who work on Creoles, are making
precious contributions, not only to creolistics, but to linguistic theory
at large. The increased production of high-caliber theoretical work on
Creole languages will surely contribute to putting these languages on
a par with English, Japanese, etc., at least on the academic level, and
even more so when this work starts involving a critical mass of native-
I must say that I myself am dying to get back deeper into this kind of
work where I can practice good theoretical linguistics without having
to monitor any postcolonial angst. I may even say that, when it comes
to linguistics per se, the strictly theoretical analytical work on the
syntax, semantics, pragmatics, morphology, phonology, phonetics of
Creole languages is even more important than the historiographical
reflexive work on creolists' ideologies. Yet the latter work may, to some
extent, be a pre-requisite for the former. For example, there are now
MICHEL DEGRAFF / DON E. WALICEK
Creole-related conferences and proceedings with "morphology" in their
titles. These would not exist if creolists were, as in the past, still
convinced for ideological reasons that Creole languages had no
morphology worth discussing, that "Creole morphology" was an
DW-Do you do fieldwork at this stage in your career?
MD-Yes, all the time, 24/7-on myself and my Haitian acquaintances.
More seriously, one of my pet projects is to document various dialects
of Haitian Creole. Now that I have tenure I will be able to tend to this
long-term, very long-term project more seriously. Luckily I have this
great colleague, Yves Dejean, who has already done an amazing amount
of recording of various groups in Haiti and who has shared much of his
original data with me.
DW- Are they geographically defined dialects?
MD- Well, there is variation of course. Much of it is worth studying
further. Yet, as far as I can tell, there isn't any amount of variation that
would prevent mutual intelligibility across varieties. Another colleague,
Dominique Fattier, has lots of relevant data some of which she has
described in her 6-volume dialect atlas of Haitian Creole. Regarding
Dejean's data: One item on my wishlist is one day to look for speakers
from the relevant dialects and have them trained to transcribe data
from the corresponding dialect. This is something that I look forward
to doing, some time soon I hope, though I still don't have the funding
for that. One advantage of that project is that it would provide the
opportunity to get more Creole speakers interested in linguistic work.
As I am sure you can imagine, this is a very long-term project.
DW-And you have a manuscript on Postcolonial Creolistics?
MD-Yes, I do. It's still in the "in preparation" stage.
DW-I thought so because it's listed in the discussion note as
"forthcoming." I've read the glimpse you've given of it in this discussion
note many times, squeezing it for all the information I can get. Now I'm
checking Amazon every few weeks to see if it's available."
MD-(laughter). No, no, it's not ready yet. There's still lots more work
to do. I'll let you know when it's out.
For more on Postcolonial Creolistics and Creole Exceptionalism see M. DeGraff's
forthcoming Postcolonial Creolistics: The Politics of Creole Studies. London: Blackwell.
CREOLE EXCEPTIONALISM AND ACCIDENTS OF HISTORY
DW-Has Hale's work been influential in the development of your
upcoming work and the ideas we've been discussing?
MD-Definitely-very much so. For someone like Ken Hale the native
speaker was central to good linguistic work, not just central as an
informant but also central as a linguist. For Ken the task of the linguist
who studies a language that he or she does not speak natively is to not
use the native speaker merely as informant, but to actually train the
informant to become a bona fide linguist. And Ken had such immense
passion and respect for both languages and their speakers; this should
be a model for all of us linguists.
DW-You talk about and use the term "creolophobia," and point out
that in certain historical contexts it is a "sensible investment strategy."
This is in your discussion of Bourdieu and symbolic capital. It reminds
me that the ambivalence on the part of Creole speakers toward Creoles
is linked to having a happy life, gaining employment, coping with what's
going on in a given sociohistorical context, one in which to not invest
in "creolophobia" would be an unwise move. How would Postcolonial
Creolistics succeed in challenging this ambivalence?
MD-To really deal with that ambivalence you have to go outside
linguistics. What I am trying to point out in the passage that you
mentioned is that the ambivalence is created by non-linguistic factors.
As I mentioned earlier, it is created because of a larger historical and
sociopolitical context. Redressing this ambivalence entails, among
other things, the creation of more socio-economic and political
opportunities for Creole speakers. That's really not the job of linguists
qua linguists. That's the job of politicians, economists, policy makers,
activists, etc. Linguists can surely fill such positions, and I can think of
a couple of examples of Caribbean linguists in governmental posts
where they can influence the design of policies that have direct impact
on Creole speakers.
Where the linguist qua linguist can help is in producing and
disseminating Creole-related knowledge that will ensure that the
powers-that-be, including the educational system, do not discriminate
against Creole speakers on the basis of their native languages.
In Haiti, for example, monolingual Creole speakers are still being
penalized as soon as they enter the school system. Creole speakers,
like speakers of other normal languages, are entitled to attend schools
where their native languages are used as languages of instruction. But
generally this is still not the case in the Caribbean. If in school you are
32 MICHEL DEGRAFF / DON E. WALICEK
constantly told that your language makes you worthless, that your lan-
guage is a cognitive handicap, then you're better off quickly abandon-
ing your native language and trying to use a soi-disant superior lan-
guage, though the latter is often not so easily accessible given current
demographics. That's a serious penalty. In the case of Haitian monolin-
gual Creole speakers, which constitute the majority in Haiti, how could
they ever learn before entering school a language, namely French, that
they have virtually no access to in their everyday lives? And sometimes
the school teachers themselves are barely fluent in French.
This sort of irrationality has been demystified by Yves Dejean in a long
series of writings, some of them in Haitian Creole. The title of Yves's most
recent monograph Yon lekWl tMt anba nan yon peyi tet anba translates as
"An upside-down school system in an upside-down country." The larger
question is how to ensure that Creole speakers get to share power and
have control over the making of policies that affect them. That larger ques-
tion goes way beyond linguistics per se. It involves turning the entire com-
DW-Do you feel like Postcolonial Creolistics is a timely proposal?
MD-(much laughter) Yes, it's been timely for the last four centuries!
For me in the twenty-first century, it is timely because I happen to be
writing at this particular moment. Abstracting away from the possibil-
ity of reincarnation, I couldn't have done this work at any other time. I
am lucky because there are people-like Salikoko Mufwene whom I
have already mentioned-who started doing similar work of
demystification even before I myself became a linguist.
DW-Is there any work you see as particularly urgent in Pidgin and
Creole Studies in general?
MD-There's so much that's urgent... Well, in my view more attention
needs to be given to description and theoretical analyses of Creole
languages. To me the field would be much more exciting if more
creolists were analyzing more data, with these data and analyses con-
tributing more insights to linguistic theory at large.
The field would surely benefit from more comparative work compar-
ing Creoles among themselves and comparing Creoles to non-Creoles
such as, say, Chinese, German, Irish, Hindi, Hebrew, Hausa, etc.
Theres a need for more fieldwork, more investigation of dialectal
variation, more training of native speakers as linguists, etc.
Actually, if I had to rank these projects in terms of urgency, what I
CREOLE EXCEPTIONALISM AND ACCIDENTS OF HISTORY
would put at the top is the opening up of all subfields of linguistics to
more Creole speakers. However, that project is perhaps the most
difficult. Here we have a major pipeline problem. Think of this challenge
in Haiti where ninety percent of
Haitians are either illiterate or subliterate. Nonetheless I think that
the training of Creole speakers as linguists is particularly urgent, to
make sure that we have more native speakers involved in the study of
Creole languages-this is a crucial methodological issue. Having more
Creole speakers become expert creolists will also help disseminate
the sort of knowledge that will enhance the status of both Creole
languages and Creole speakers in Creole communities and in the
relevant school systems, scholarly societies, etc. When was the last
time you witnessed a native Saramaccan speaker present a paper at a
DW-One final question, I recently read the book Linguistic Fieldwork
edited by Newman and Ratliff in which Hale and others talk about the
importance of having native speakers as linguists and other issues
relevant to Postcolonial Creolistics.12 In his article David Gil writes
something that has stayed with me. He says, "the divide between
theoreticians and descriptivists can be described as blind people
groping at two different points of an elephant." Do you see things the
same way, either in Creole Studies or in linguistics in general?
MD-I myself don't see this as such an insuperable divide, especially
when I think of linguists such as Ken Hale or Richie Kayne. These are
great descriptivists and to me what makes them such great descriptivists
is that they are great theoreticians. As we know from Creole Studies, and
as I have learned through my personal history, often our data are
produced, or mis-produced, or eliminated, or caricatured because of
our theories. So I doubt we can really get at good data without a good
theory. I am not sure that I would want to say that theoreticians and
descriptivists are groping from two different places. There are no data,
no description without theory. Good theories produce good data and
good descriptions; bad theories produce bad data and bad descriptions.
It seems to me that ideally the theoretician and the descriptivist should
be one and the same.
12 For K. Hale's article 'Ulwa (Southern Sumu): The beginnings of a language
research project' and D. Gil's 'Escaping Eurocentrism: Fieldwork as a process of
unlearning,' see Newman, P. and Ratliff, M. (eds.) 2001. Linguistic Fieldwork. New
York: Cambridge University Press.
MICHEL DEGRAFF / DON E. WALICEK
DW-You mean existing in the same person, embodied in the same
MD-That's right. Because the data often coincide with the theory.
Take, for example, the idea of the "word" in linguistics, and consider
what a "word" is in a language like Mohawk. What in English would be
one sentence with three words-"I saw her", say-may well be just
one "word" in Mohawk. But how do we know that this three-word
English sentence really corresponds to one single word in Mohawk? In
order to begin to make any sense of this question, we need a theory of
what a "word" is. Even at this simple level of description you cannot
decide whether any given Mohawk utterance is one single word or more
than one word if you don't have a reliable theory for what a "word" is.
From that perspective, the often talked-about divide between data and
theory seems an illusion. Of course you can differentiate between a
shallow theory and a complex theory, but then in turn we can
differentiate a shallow description from a complex description. The
more elaborate your theory, the more intricate and complex data you
will be led to.
To go back to the Language discussion note that got you here, I think
that Bourdieu puts it very well when he explains that every theory is a
programme of perception.l We cannot perceive data without theory.
We cannot have theory alone, without data. Well, there may be
exceptions to that rule: I am not sure what to say about the apparently
data-less String Theory in theoretical physics. What a theory does is
allow us to perceive reality in different ways-or, at least, imagine reality
in previously unimaginable ways, as in the case of String Theory. Going
back to the beginning of this interview, here's what's important for us
creolists vis-a-vis Creole Exceptionalism: before deciding to hold on to
any theory, we must at the very least be reflexive and try to understand
the roots of that theory. Often the roots of our theories are outside of
science per se, having sprouted from our personal and collective
history, from our social positioning and special interests within the
world's various hierarchies.
: See Bourdieu, P. 1991. Language and Symbolic Power. Cambridge, MA: Harvard
Pidgins and Creoles of the Colonial Era:
Languages of Social Contact or
Languages of Social Contract?
This paper is dedicated to the
life and work of Roger M. Keesing
Nicholas Faraclas and Marta Viada Bellido de Luna
University of Puerto Rico, Rio Piedras
1.0 Plantation Slavery Abroad, Wage Slavery at Home: The First
Round of Global Enclosures
Up until and during the eighteenth century, the European powers were
not only seizing control over the land and the labor forces of the
Americas, Africa, and the Pacific, but they were also busy applying the
lessons learned from their experiences with indigenous peoples
overseas to their own populations, with similarly catastrophic
consequences. In this work, we will refer to the mechanism of the
ongoing process of primitive accumulation of capital as 'enclosures.'
The popular resistance unleashed by this new wave of enclosures was
so extensive and intense that the authorities found it necessary to
institute new systems of social control:
In the British Isles during this period there were developments that
led to the recomposition of the agrarian labor force: 1) a vast number
of parliamentary Enclosure Acts were passed that affected a quarter
of the arable land; 2) sheep were introduced into the Highlands, and
the crofting system elsewhere into arable farming; and 3) there was
an aggressive transition to cattle ranching in Ireland. In the face of
such expropriations, the agrarian populations had either to accept a
short life consumed in the new manufactories that were replacing the
FARACLAS / VIADA BELLIDO DE LUNA
'idle' conditions of the putting-out system of production, or to choose
between migration across the ocean, soldiering, sailoring or
prostitution in the city... In London the social life of this growing
mobbishh' population was controlled by the Bugging Act (1749), the
Licensing Act (1751) and the Marriage Act (1754), which marked
changes in wages [criminalizing customary income-perquisites],
drinking, and reproduction respectively (Linebaugh 1992: 221).
It is no coincidence that the indigenous populations of Europe faced
enclosures of their lands and labor at the very same time as analogous
enclosures were being faced by colonized indigenous populations.
Indeed, one set of enclosures was critically dependent on the other
set. In the twenty-first century, the enclosure of well-paid jobs in
'developed' (Minority World) countries depends on the enclosure of
land and human rights in 'developing' (Majority World) countries, which
has been instrumental in the creation of Majority World labor forces
that can (for the time being, at least) be induced to work at starvation
wages in runaway factories (Federici 1990).
In the eighteenth century, the social explosion created by the
continued forced removal of European peasants from the lands that
traditionally provided their livelihood would have been uncontainable
without: 1) the creation of manufacturing jobs by the wealth and trade
generated from the enclosure of colonized indigenous labor (the
enslavement of indigenous peoples on plantations); and 2) the
availability of homesteads in the colonies on recently enclosed
indigenous lands for Europeans who 'opted' to be transported overseas
(the forced expropriation of indigenous peoples).
1.1 The Factor of Consciousness in the Demise of the Plantation
Not only are enclosures in Minority World ('developed') countries
impossible without corresponding enclosures in the Majority World
('developing') countries, but any enclosure in material conditions
cannot be complete without a concomitant enclosure of consciousness.
The very definition of the term 'indigenous peoples' hinges crucially
on this fact. Indigenous peoples can be described as: 1) those peoples
who have not yet undergone the material enclosure of the land upon
which they traditionally depend for their subsistence; and/or 2) those
peoples who have not yet accepted the enclosure of their land as a
natural state of affairs, that is, who have not undergone the concomitant
enclosure of consciousness.
PIDGINS AND CREOLES OF THE COLONIAL ERA
From the beginning of the period of European empire building to the
present day, plantation systems have not proven very successful. It
will be argued in this paper that the decisive factor in the failure of
plantation systems has been the resistance of the plantation laborers
themselves. In order to make a plantation system work, it is necessary
to convince those who are forced to labor as slaves (or, more recently,
for slave wages) that it is their role 'in the natural order of things' to
perform hard work for someone else's benefit in exchange for food
and a few trade/consumer goods (the carrot) and to avoid hunger,
homelessness, criminalization, and violent punishments for
insubordination (the stick). The drastic enclosures of land, labor, and
lives upon which plantation systems depend have never been accepted
by those who perform the labor, the inducements have never been
sufficient, and indigenous peoples around the world have been
prepared to face the most violent consequences for their resistance
against the plantation regime.
The abortive Spanish and Portuguese experiments in plantation
slavery resulted in the massive genocide of indigenous peoples
throughout the Americas: a plurality of indigenous Americans was
willing to die rather than to accept its role in the 'New World Order.'
Under all of the European plantation regimes, a large number of the
enslaved died either in transport or before they could bear children
on the plantation. Without a doubt, many of these deaths can be
attributed to the material conditions to which slaves were subjected.
But even in such an oppressive situation, we must resist the modernist
temptation to elevate material conditions over consciousness, to
reduce the enslaved to a passive mass of oppressed peoples, rather
than recognizing them as powerful and resourceful agents for resistance
and change. The long record of slave revolts, mutinies, escapes and
other forms of resistance indicates that many of these deaths, as well
as the ultimate failure of the plantation system itself, may be attributed
to the fact that most of the enslaved never accepted their condition as
their fate and found ways to resist, often at the expense of their lives.
Such resistance took many forms, and it will be argued in this paper
that one of those forms was linguistic.
The English, French, Dutch, and American (U.S.) experiments in
plantation slavery, while more successful in the short term than their
Iberian predecessors, eventually had to be abandoned as well. The
demise of this 'new wave' of plantation slavery can be attributed
primarily to: 1) the willingness of African-Americans to give (and give
up) their lives to the struggle against slavery (as did the indigenous
FARACLAS / VIADA BELLIDO DE LUNA
Americans before them), which spurred technological innovation to
replace labor intensive plantation work with machines and drove
managerial innovation to replace outright slavery with wage-slavery;
and 2) the increasingly sophisticated organization of African-Americans
against slavery in the political, legal, moral, and ideological arenas,
which eventually enlisted enough allies within European and American
ruling circles to make slavery formally illegal by the end of the
2.0 Reconstructing Colonial Pidgins/Creoles as Languages of Human
A rapidly increasing body of linguistic evidence (Alleyne 1980, Faraclas
1990, and Parkvall 2000. among others) attests to the fact that, while
the European powers succeeded in alienating indigenous peoples from
their land and labor, they never succeeded in alienating them from
their cultures or their consciousness as powerful and resourceful agents
of history. Of all the areas in the social sciences, few are as closely
intertwined with the discourses and processes of European colonization
as pidgin and creole studies. In a quest that smacks of patriarchal
preoccupation with the determination of and control over the 'true'
lineage of the objects of its power, the science of creolistics has always
been obsessed with the question of how pidgin and creole languages
arise and develop. It is therefore not a coincidence that the creole
genesis debate has been and continues to be heavily influenced by the
attitudes of metropolitan societies toward their former or present
colonies, or of the post-industrial societies of the Minority World to
their post-colonies in the Majority World.
In line with ideas about the superiority of European peoples and
cultures that underpinned the colonial enterprise, Afro-Caribbean and
Indo-Pacific pidgins and creoles have for centuries been considered to
be 'bastardized' or 'broken' varieties of European languages. This
notion is still the one that most non-tertiary institutions of learning
pass on to their students and to which the overwhelming majority of
the world's peoples subscribe, including most of those who speak
pidgins and creoles. While such ideas are no longer given any serious
consideration among linguists, anthropologists, and others who have
attempted to study these languages, the legacy of centuries of
Eurocentric thinking from which such notions spring is still making
itself felt (Jourdan 1991). Children are still being shamed and punished
in African and Caribbean schools for speaking 'broken English' and
PIDGINS AND CREOLES OF THE COLONIAL ERA
linguists are still formulating theories of pidginization and creolization
that trivialize or deny the role that the enslaved peoples of Africa, the
Caribbean, and the Indo-Pacific must have played as creative agents in
the genesis and development of their pidgins and creoles.
2.1 Operational Definitions and an Example from Nigeria
For those who may not be familiar with some of the categories which
have been developed as tools in the search for creole origins, a few
very rough schemata and brief definitions are included here. Pidgins
arise from situations where speakers of several different languages
(commonly referred to as substrate languages) need a common
language for intercommunication, but where none of these substrate
languages is either viable or acceptable as the exclusive interlanguage.
In most cases, one of the languages involved in the contact situation
(usually that spoken by the most neutral, yet powerful and/or
prestigious group) provides most of the lexical items (words) of the
resulting pidgin. This language is normally referred to as the superstrate
or lexifier language. When a pidgin is used by a group as its main
language in day to day communication, it can be said to have become
a creole for that particular set of speakers.
For example, Nigerian Pidgin arose from a pidgin that grew out of a
trading situation where people speaking many different African
substrate languages needed a language with which to communicate
primarily with one another and secondarily with their overseas trading
partners, who spoke cantss', i.e., laboring class and sailors' varieties of
English (lexifier or superstrate language) and other English lexifier
pidgins (Goodman 1985: 119). For those who use Nigerian Pidgin as
their main language in daily life, the language can be considered to be
a creole. For those who use another African language as their main
language but who use Nigerian Pidgin for a restricted set of activities,
Nigerian Pidgin remains a pidgin.
A few words of caution are in order before we continue. Not all
language contact situations give rise to pidgins, but the processes of
pidginization and creolization may be far less exceptional in the 'normal'
development of languages than has been supposed. In this work, we
focus our attention on cases of pidginization/creolization during the
colonial era that involve European lexifier languages (English, French,
Dutch, Portuguese, or Spanish) and African or Pacific substrate
languages. But it should always be borne in mind that the majority of
cases of pidginization and creolization occurred earlier in human
40 FARACLAS / VIADA BELLIDO DE LUNA
history, with no contribution or influence whatsoever from European
languages, and that other cases, such as Middle English, involved
European languages exclusively.
2.2 Superstrates, 'Baby-Talk,' and Second Language Acquisition
Although the 'broken' or bastardisedd' theories of pidgin/creole genesis
are no longer given much credence, the superstrate bias that has
traditionally dominated the debate concerning the origins of pidgins
and creoles has persisted, in the form of a Eurocentric methodology
and even a few theoretical constructs. One such construct is referred
to as the 'baby-talk' theory (Ferguson 1971). The 'baby-talk' theory
sees pidgins and creoles as arising from attempts by superstrate
speakers to 'simplify' their language when speaking with colonised
peoples, much in the same way that adults modify their language when
talking to children. There is little evidence to support this theory. It
has proved extremely difficult to find any coherent set of strategies for
'simplification' used by European adults when speaking with children.
And even when an adventuresome linguist attempts to assemble such
a set of strategies (Ferguson 1971), these rarely match the structures
or forms found in pidgins and creoles. In fact, most of the superstrate
speakers with which colonised people had contact were sailors,
beachcombers, slave traders, overseers, runaways, pirates, and others
whose lack of 'family values' has left a much clearer mark on the often
quite 'spicy' lexicon of pidgins and creoles than any purported parental
strategies of endearment.
Other superstrate-oriented theories conceptualize the process of
pidginization/creolization as one of second language learning, i.e.
successive approximations by colonized peoples in their efforts to
speak the language of the metropole 'correctly' (Chaudenson 2001).
These theories fail to come to terms with the socio-historical context
within which most of the European lexifier pidgins and creoles
developed. In the first place, we must not forget that the majority of
superstrate speakers with which indigenous populations of the colonies
would have had any appreciable contact were the recently enclosed
and criminalized speakers of cants and nautical pidgins, rather than
speakers of standardized European languages. Secondly, most of the
European lexifier pidgins and creoles that evolved during the colonial
era have always been used primarily as a means of communication
among the non-European peoples of the colonies, rather than between
these peoples and their European colonizers. Finally, research has
PIDGINS AND CREOLES OF THE COLONIAL ERA
shown that it is extremely doubtful that people use the superstrate as
a target or model when speaking or learning pidgins and creoles
(Rickford 1983). While it is true that the superstrate language can be
identified as the ultimate source for most lexical items in a pidgin or a
creole language, most creole grammatical structures cannot normally
be traced to the superstrate.
More recently, it has been proposed that lower class, regional, and/
or nautical dialects of the lexifier languages were learned by slaves
during the initial period of colonization and that these varieties
gradually became more and more like African languages in those
colonies where a steady and substantial influx of African-born slaves
and their descendents eventually constituted the overwhelming
majority of the population (for example, see Chaudenson 2001). This
version of the superstrate hypothesis does not recognize the possibility
that the dialects of the lexifier language first learned by the slaves might
already have been influenced by the speech of Africans and African-
Americans (see section 3.1 below). In any case, whether the process
of colonial era creolization happened suddenly or gradually does not
have a direct bearing on the degree to which African language structures
shaped the resulting creoles.
2.3 A False Start for the Substrates and the Rise and Fall of Universals
From the 1960s onwards, as linguistics in general and creolistics in
particular have begun to mature as sciences, a few creolists have begun
to make cautious efforts toward the serious study of the linguistic
traditions and practices of substrate language speaking communities
in Africa and the Caribbean, but by the 1980s these efforts were being
branded 'butterfly collecting' and 'substratomania' by the proponents
of language universals-oriented theories, which attributed the genesis
and development of pidgins and creoles to Chomsky's 'language
learning device' or to Bickerton's 'bioprogram' (1981). Universalists
proposed that, given the catastrophic conditions brought about by
the plantation slave system, normal transfer of linguistic skills from
adults to children was impaired to the point that the children of slaves
had to 'reinvent' language with few or no linguistic or cultural resources,
apart from some innate language acquisition structure or programme
located in the brain of every human being.
Creoles were immediately thrust into the spotlight as the languages
which would most transparently exhibit innate linguistic categories
and structures used by all humans in acquiring and processing
42 FARACLAS / VIADA BELLIDO DE LUNA
language. But the light has by now dimmed on such language universals
hypotheses. Firstly, an ever increasing amount of evidence has been
found which indicates that a significant number of creoles fail to exhibit
the universal characteristics proposed by the universalists (Faraclas
2003). As this evidence has accumulated, the universalists have been
forced to banish more and more creoles from the sacrosanct category
of 'true' or 'classical' creoles, until only the very few which happen to
exhibit the chosen characteristics are left. Our emerging knowledge
concerning the demographics of plantation slavery also dealt a blow
to the universalist hypotheses. As noted above, the death rate among
plantation slaves was extremely high and the fertility rate
correspondingly low. This means that the influence and stability of
plantation born children's language would have been quite limited, in
the face of constant and successive waves of influence from African
languages and cultures as the 'casualties' were replaced by new
'recruits.' It has also been shown that many of the universal
characteristics of creoles proposed by the language universalists are
in fact areal characteristics that typify the languages of West Africa
and the Pacific (Faraclas 1990).
2.4 Monogenesis and Substrate Influence
McWhorter (2000) has proposed that the Caribbean plantation-era
creoles are all descended from Portuguese-, Dutch-, French-, and
English-lexifier pidgins and creoles that emerged around the trading
forts established by the European colonial powers along the West coast
of Africa from the fifteenth century to the nineteenth century. This
Afrogenesis theory of creole origins would make a scenario whereby
the linguistic traditions and practices of Africans played a major role
in shaping the creoles of the Atlantic even more plausible than theories
that posit the Caribbean as the region where colonial-era creoles were
created. In any case, whether one proposes a monogenetic, polygenetic,
Afrogenetic, or Caribbean genesis theory, the substantial influence of
the languages of the West coast of Africa on the plantation-era creoles
of the Atlantic must still be accounted for.
2.5 The Resurrection of Creole Speakers and their Linguistic and
Keesing (1988) demonstrated that the structures that are commonly
found in the pidgins and creoles of Melanesia are for the most part
PIDGINS AND CREOLES OF THE COLONIAL ERA
those that typify the Pacific languages spoken in the region. There is
therefore no need to rely exclusively or excessively on universals to
account for the presence of these structures in Melanesian pidgins
and creoles. Rather than the raw product of some innate structure in
the human brain, pidgins and creoles could be shown with far more
descriptive and explanatory adequacy as well as accountability to the
socio-historical facts to be creative extensions of substrate cultural
and linguistic patterns. Faraclas (1990) broadens Keesing's notion of
Melanesian pidgin/creole substrate from a single language or language
group to a Melanesian typological area, relying on his previous work in
Nigeria which indicates that the genesis and development of the
structures that typify Atlantic basin pidgins and creoles can be
accounted for more satisfactorily by continuity with African cultural
and linguistic traditions, than by the operation of linguistic universals
or some linguistic 'bioprogram.'
Furthermore, at the most fundamental level, too many of the current
superstrate and language universals oriented theories share a basic
flaw that makes them problematic, even if some convincing evidence
could be found to support them. This basic oversight sheds
considerable light on why such counterintuitive and unsubstantiable
theories could ever have been taken seriously in the first place: Most
of the superstrate and language universals theories for pidgin and creole
genesis which have been proposed to date either trivialise or
completely deny any meaningful agency, power, or resourcefulness on
the part of the pidgin and creole speakers themselves in the
pidginization and creolization processes. This is not surprising when
we consider that in the dominant discourse of colonialism ('the white
man's burden'), as well as in the dominant discourse of post-colonialism
('development'), the role of the peoples of the colonies or the post-
colonial 'developing' countries is that of undervalued producers of raw
materials for the metropoles, of passive consumers of metropolitan
culture and goods, or as sufferers of catastrophe and oppression in
their unending quest to become 'civilized' or 'developed.'
There is a growing realization among those who study pidgins and
creoles that it is necessary to put pidgin and creole speakers, their
language habits, their culture, and their praxis back into the picture
(Jourdan 1991). New scenarios for pidgin and creole origin and
development are being proposed that attempt to locate important sites
for pidginization and creolization in the discursive practices (Sankoff
1984a: 116) and the communicative strategies (Thomasson and Kaufman
1988:153) of creole speakers, as well as in the efforts of pidgin and
FARACLAS / VIADA BELLIDO DE LUNA
creole speakers to maintain and creatively develop their linguistic and
cultural traditions under new and dramatically different material
3.0 The Empire Strikes Back: Transatlantic Resistance to Enclosures
and the Creolization of 'European Civilization'
In his accounts of the development of European mercantilism and the
social contract during the eighteenth century, Linebaugh (1982, 1992)
focuses considerable attention on the ship. Ships can be seen as the
prototypical panopticon, the model for the mechanisms for social
production, resistance, and control that would evolve during the period
of European mercantilism: plantations, 'workhouses,' factories,
escapes, mutinies, strikes, intrusive/authoritarian regimes, jails,
asylums, etc. Ships brought together laboring and consuming peoples
from all over the world and as such, they were one of the first spaces
on the planet where the international proletariat and the world market
were forged. By the early nineteenth century, up to twenty-five per
cent of the crews of the British Navy were of African or African-American
3.1 Irish, Cants, and Creoles: The 'Heathen Greek' of Resistance
The international and proletarian nature of ship crews had linguistic
and cultural consequences. References to nautical pidgins, spoken
primarily by sailors from Europe, the Mediterranean, and their trading
partners worldwide, date back to the Sabir of the Middle Ages. By the
eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, English lexified nautical pidgins
and cantss' were reported throughout the Atlantic and the Pacific, as
well as back home in Britain.
'Needless to say, the medium of communication [on the ships] could
not be the King's English; instead 'vehicular languages' were created-
creole, pidgin.... To Ned Ward the sailor's language was 'all Heathen
Greek to a Cobbler'. Much of the lexicon was a jargon-that is, the
specialised vocabulary of specific tasks.... But much of it was not....
The language was not only a jargon; it was part of an 'oppositional
culture' that expressed its own motive of justice (Linebaugh 1992:134).
The Cant language/culture complex encoded much of the tradition
of resistance that had survived from the English Revolution (Note: This
PIDGINS AND CREOLES OF THE COLONIAL ERA 45
and all following quotes are from Linebaugh 1992, unless specified
The eighteenth-century cant ballads celebrated the coronation of the
King of the Gypsies, praised the loves of men and the loves of women,
cursed the constable, mocked the thief catcher, boasted of the deeds
of highwaymen, extolled life unentangled by property, shared the joy
of freed prisoners and encouraged the life of the road.... [Other] songs
[from the seventeenth century] belonged to an antinomian culture
that during the English Revolution was aggressively religious and
political. But ninety years later, in the 1730s, much of this culture was
coded 'in their Dialect,' and very little of it appeared in print as
theology, except when it was being opposed, as in the oft-quoted
exchange between John Wesley and Stephen Timmins, the plebian
preacher who said, 'I am not under the Law, and 'All is mine since
Christ is mine.' (216-217)
Africans and African-Americans also played a significant role in the
formation of the Cant language/culture complex:
To the authorities this culture was opaque. Here is the magistrate
John Fielding (1776), for instance:
'When one goes to Rotherhithe and Wapping, which places are
chiefly inhabited by sailors, but that somewhat of the same language
is spoken, a man would be apt to suspect himself in another country.
Their manner of living, speaking, acting, and dressing, and behaving
are so peculiar to themselves.'
His half brother Henry, also a magistrate, wrote with great irritation:
'It is difficult, I think, to assign a satisfactory reason why sailors in
general should, of all others, think themselves entirely discharged
from the common bands of humanity, and should seem to glory in the
language and behavior of savages!'
If by the term 'savages' Henry Fielding referred to the Africans and
Afro-Americans who comprised a significant proportion of ships' crew
during the eighteenth century, or to the bi-racial or tri-racial
communities that were springing up on the edges of the Atlantic, then
it would appear that rather than breaking 'the common bands of
humanity' the sailors of the British Isles were broadening those bands,
not just of that species, for with the traffic of animals and plants they
were creating the biosphere. Fielding refers not only to the language
of 'savages' but also to their behavior. The London-centered
international nautical proletariat had learned on shipboard other
means of communication, such as the fiddle, the drum, the banjo,
FARACLAS / VIADA BELLIDO DE LUNA
and dances like jigs and clogging.... By the eighteenth century, the
Atlantic maritime culture, and particularly the African and Afro-
American elements of it, had already had an impact on proletarian
existence in London (135).
3.1.1 Olaudah Equiano and 'Maroon Colonies' in North London
Linebaugh contends that Africans and especially African-Americans in
eighteenth century Britain were instrumental not only in the
establishment and development of the movement for the abolition of
slavery, but also in the resistance struggles of British working people
against the enclosures of their land and labor, which eventually laid
the foundations for the British labor movement. For example, Olaudah
Equiano, a Nigerian-born freed slave, participated in the formation of
some of the seminal networks which were later to scaffold the
organization of the British proletariat:
Shipboard communication was decisive to the formulation of the
eighteenth century pan-Africanism-it was an African mariner who
taught Olaudah Equiano to read Paradise Lost on shipboard during
the 1760s-and the combination of European knowledge conveyed in
books with African-American experience conveyed in mass labor was
to produce a revolutionary force. Sailors were among the first to study
slavery and abolition.
Such pan-African interchanges and the communities built upon
them on ship and in port, are often regarded as 'marginal.' The contrary
may be true: they were the essence of the proletariat of merchant
capital, and they were the basis for the circulation of rebellion in widely
differing geographical and cultural settings. The New York insurrection
of St. Patrick's Day 1741 was the work of Africans, Irishmen, a Londoner,
North American Indians and Spaniards (136).
Already, at the turn of the eighteenth century, squatter camps in the
forests around London were called "maroon villages" after the liberated
West Indian colonies of fugitive slaves (189). By 1731, African-Americans
were making such disruptive use among the working people of London
of their rich experience of slave rebellion and urban insurrection in
the New World that the authorities had to make special laws to limit
their access to apprenticeships:
The coherence (learned on plantation and shipboard) of the Afro-
American population posed a police problem in London. 'These enter
PIDGINS AND CREOLES OF THE COLONIAL ERA 47
into Societies and make it their business to corrupt and dissatisfy the
mind of every black servant that comes to England.' The English laws
of servitude were unclear, so in addition to poverty and isolation, the
Afro-American servants in London suffered severer restrictions upon
their mobility than any other category of worker, with the exception
of parish children. In the 1750s they began to run away in significant
numbers; and in the 1760s they began to demand wages. Hence the
foundations were laid for the Somerset Case (1772) and the legislative
movement to abolish slavery in England and elsewhere.... By the mid
1770s, as well as itself, this community had organised Granville Sharp
and the English abolitionists. The African American population of
London was tied to African people throughout the Atlantic by kinship,
language, and shared experience on plantation and shipboard. In this,
it was a pan-African community (355-356).
3.1.2 The Spread and Marginalization of Cant and its Speakers
In eighteenth-century London, the use of sailors' Cant or 'flash' language
and the culture of resistance associated with it had extended from the
districts inhabited principally by sailors to all of the working class
quarters of the city. Cant was unintelligible to those who spoke most
dialects of English, and those in positions of power and authority
systematically degraded, marginalized, and criminalized the language
and its speakers. In court proceedings at the Old Bailey, where many
London workers were sentenced to death, special interpreters had to
be called in to translate testimony given in Cant. Despite its exclusion
from the more prestigious works on the English language, several works
about the Cant language were published in the eighteenth century, with
two main aims: 1) to help solve the considerable communication
problems experienced by those officials and agencies charged with
managing and controlling the London proletariat and its labor; and 2)
to build up a mystique around the language and those who spoke it as
belonging to a deviant, criminal, uncivilized underworld that threatened
the very foundations of 'proper society.'
3.1.3 From Cants to Creoles and Back Again
Just as Cant language and culture were feared, marginalized, and
criminalized in eighteenth-century London, so were the linguistic and
cultural traditions of the Irish, Africans, and African-Americans who
were arriving in Britain in ever greater numbers, as the enclosures of
FARACLAS / VIADA BELLIDO DE LUNA
their land and labor continued apace. While the prohibition by the
European colonial authorities on the use of African religions and African
languages in the Indies was inspiring African-Americans to create new
and ever more vibrantly African religions and languages in the form of
santerfa and creoles, similar processes were underway much closer to
the metropolitan homeland, in Ireland:
Shy, sly, and silent, by the eighteenth century secretiveness had
become a weapon in the armoury of this subjugated people [the Irish],
whom we may approach first by language.... Having robbed the
oppressed of land, the oppressor then banished their language, music,
and poetry. The result was a 'hidden Ireland' expressing itself in a
foreign language, acting outside the law. In 1688 the English attempted
to silence the Irish national instrument-the harp. Early in the
eighteenth century the bardic contests and poetic meetings were
suppressed by the Penal Code. In consequence, the Irish language
was 'banished from the castle of the chieftain to the cottage of the
vassal', whence in hard times it migrated to England and thrived in
the boozing kens of London.... The language had a power to frighten
English speakers. [A report from a serjent's party which seized two
deserters in an Irish ken in London follows]:
'But the worst was when we got out into the street, the whole district
had become alarmed, and hundreds came pouring down upon us-
men, women and children. Women, did I say!-they looked fiends, half
naked, with their hair hanging down over their bosoms; they tore up
the very pavement to hurl at us, sticks rang about our ears, stones,
and Irish-I liked the Irish worst of all, it sounded so horrid, especially
as I did not understand it. It's a bad language.' (The Ordinary's
Account 13 April 1743) (289-291).
3.1.4 The Role of Cant in the 'Honourable Societies' of Resistance
Speakers of Cant, Irish, and African-American creoles were at the
forefront of popular resistance to the enclosures of traditional lands,
rights, and perquisites of labor in Britain. The wage rates in eighteenth-
century London were consistently below the amount needed to meet
minimum survival needs. When the working people of London were
not criminalized 'by association' with their demonized linguistic and
cultural behavior, they were forced to engage in stealing, pilfering, and
other criminal acts in order to eat and keep a roof over their heads.
These people were aware of how the low wages upon which the British
system of social production depended was forcing them into a life of
PIDGINS AND CREOLES OF THE COLONIAL ERA
'pilfering' to make ends meet. They were also aware of how such
pilfering was being targeted by the British system of social control as a
crime punishable by imprisonment, and even hanging. Needless to
say, this gave them little respect for the institutions of social production
and social control and nothing but contempt for their agents and laws:
Mary Cut-and-Come-Again, the ballad singer, pulled out her breasts
when the watchmen came to apprehend her [for some 'criminal'
activity] and 'spurted the milk in the fellows' faces and said, d-m
your eyes, what do you want to take my life away?' At her trial she
kicked the prosecutrix and spat on the judge's seat. The only reason
why we know her given name is that she bargained the information
with the court, which unfettered and unhandcuffed her in exchange.
This proletariat amused itself by mocking the law (150).
But resistance was not limited to defensive reaction. The working
people of London created their own institutions for social control. In
these creative forms of resistance, the Cant language played a
This picaresque proletariat was not completely lawless, however much
it may have detested the courts and law-learning. When necessary it
developed its own kinds of written self-organization. Some of these,
like the 'articles' that John Meff refused to sign when his transport
ship was seized by pirates, were democratic and egalitarian. The
'Honourable Society' to which Jeremy Diver belonged had four
'articles': 1) admittance was to be by consent; 2) no one was 'to
presume to go upon anything by him or herself'; 3) the 'Cant Tongue'
was to be spoken; and 4) if any member were incarcerated, 'a sufficient
Allowance was to be given to him or her in prison.' (Ordinary's Account
18 March 1741) (151).
As exemplified in the Articles of the Honourable Society, the Cant
language/culture complex in eighteenth-century London placed a high
value on resistance, consensus, solidarity, secrecy, and mutual support.
Cant was seen as essential to the maintenance and enforcement of these
values. Cant must also have been valued by its speakers as a powerful
weapon of intimidation which could be used against the oppressor
(who shuddered upon hearing the language spoken) and as a marker
of group identity and pride.
50 FARACLAS / VIADA BELLIDO DE LUNA
3.2 The Creolization of 'European Civilization'
The influences of African and American cultures on European cultures
are not limited, however, to the language, music, and struggles of the
laboring classes of Europe. The multidirectionality of influences
between the colonies and the metropoles has done much to fashion a
significant proportion of what is today referred to by some as the
'civilized' or 'European' behavior of the ruling classes, through a
process of cultural creolization. Let us consider European cuisines,
for example. Here the 'lexifier' or 'superstrate' crops come from
indigenous American civilizations: tomatoes, potatoes, cocoa, coffee,
and a host of other (agri-)cultural items unknown to Europeans before
the sixteenth century. The 'substrates' are the various European
cooking and eating traditions. The result is the creative extension of
these indigenous European traditions using the new food crops to
develop innovative, yet still very European, cuisines.
In this case, as in many others during the period of colonization,
European cultural behaviors entered the creolization process as
substrates, rather than as superstrates. It could be easily argued that
without the indigenous American superstrate product coffee, the mass
drug par excellence of 'Western' culture, the functioning and character
of the Euro-American economic/social/political machine would be
radically different. It would be difficult for any European to imagine
Southern European cuisines without tomatoes or Northern European
cuisines without potatoes, or any European cuisine at all without cocoa.
The fact that all of these foods were originally developed by indigenous
Americans and brought to Europe only a few centuries ago does not
make marinara sauce any less Italian, mousse au chocolate any less
French, or roast with potatoes any less English.
Yet when we come to pidgins and creoles, where the tables are
turned, and the linguistic traditions of Africans or Melanesians are often
the substrates and the words of European languages constitute the
lexifying superstrate, there is a remarkable resistance among linguists
and others to recognize and valorize the product as a creative extension
of African or Melanesian cultures. Linguists have dreamed up a host
of implausible theories, from 'baby-talk' to the 'bioprogram' in a seeming
attempt to avoid having to come to terms with pidgin and creole
speakers as powerful agents in the creation of their languages, with a
rich and varied set of African or Melanesian cultural and linguistic
resources at their disposal, and with no overriding need for massive
European or even 'universal' input.
PIDGINS AND CREOLES OF THE COLONIAL ERA
4.0 Toward an Areal/Typological Redefinition of Substrate
In this section, it will be argued that any scenario for pidgin and creole
genesis and development that does not focus on creole speakers and
their linguistic and cultural traditions cannot begin to account for the
facts with any degree of adequacy.
The abortive attempts made over the years by creolists to come to
terms with substrate influence in the genesis and development of
pidgins and creoles have been hindered both by the previously
mentioned anti-substrate biases of their colleagues, as well as by their
own naive and mechanical notions regarding the manner in which such
influences could have exerted themselves. Those who have been willing
to consider substrate influence have often assumed that such influence
could only have been manifested through a process involving the
relexification of a particular West African or South Pacific language
with words from a metropolitan language. While it is in fact true that
most of the Atlantic and Pacific pidgins and creoles which developed
during the colonial era could most accurately be described for non-
linguists as West African or South Pacific grammatical, phonological,
and semantic systems overlain with a European derived lexicon
(vocabulary), it would be futile to pinpoint a particular West African
or South Pacific language as the ultimate source for these systems.
Such attempts are doomed to failure not only because superstrate and
universal influences need to be taken into account, but also because
the speakers of pidgins and creoles have come into the pidginization/
creolization process speaking not one, but a number of West and Central
African or South Pacific languages.
Areal studies of pidgin and creole substrate languages, which seek
to identify typological commonalities among the languages of West
Africa as a group are therefore necessary before any serious attention
can be paid to the influence of these languages on Atlantic creoles. In
the case of Pacific creoles, similar areal/typological studies of the
languages of the South Pacific are essential. Because such studies have
only begun to be realized (Faraclas 1990 and 2003, Parkvall 2000), those
who have been prepared to argue for substrate influence have been ill-
equipped to do so and, because of their impossible quest for 'the (one
and only) substrate language' for a particular pidgin or creole, have
often become easy targets for those who have been eager to discount
substrate influences altogether.
The results of a research project designed as an initial attempt to
rectify this situation are presented in Faraclas (1990). In that study,
FARACLAS / VIADA BELLIDO DE LUNA
the grammatical features exhibited by a broad sample of the languages
of Southern Nigeria were compared, with the objective of finding area/
typological commonalities that are shared by the substrates of Nigerian
Pidgin (hereafter NP). The common grammatical features identified
for the Southern Nigerian substrate sample group were then compared
with the features of NP and other Atlantic creoles. It should be noted
that the southern coast of present-day Nigeria is the region of Africa
which provided the greatest proportion of slaves who entered the
Atlantic pidginization/creolization process during the colonial period.
A similar areal/typological comparison of the languages of Melanesia
was performed in order to discern the grammatical features that are
shared by the languages of the populations who created Tok Pisin
(hereafter TP). These common characteristics were compared with
those exhibited by TP and other Pacific creoles. It is similarly worth
noting that most Pacific colonial plantation slaves (or 'contract
labourers') were taken from Melanesia.
The Southern Nigerian substrate sample included all twelve
languages of the region for which comprehensive grammars were
available at the time of the study, while the Melanesian substrate sample
included fifteen languages. Each substrate sample was quite balanced,
both geographically and genetically (in terms of language family
affiliation). The NP and TP data were gathered from the spontaneous
speech of sample groups of at least thirty speakers each, chosen on
the basis of ethnolinguistic background, sex, age, amount of formal
education, whether NP or TP was learned as a first or second language,
and the extent to which NP or TP was used by each speaker in day to
day interactions, so that the samples would represent a rough cross
section of the NP-speaking community of Port Harcourt, Rivers State,
Nigeria and the TP-speaking community of Wewak, East Sepik Province,
Papua New Guinea.
4.1 Linguistic Evidence for Substrate Influence
From the evidence collected and analysed in the above mentioned
study, it became apparent that many of the defining features and
contours of the grammatical systems of the English lexifier creoles of
the Caribbean and West Africa resemble quite closely those found in
their substrate languages. Substrates, language universals, and
superstrates must all have played some role in the processes by which
these features established themselves and developed in the pidgins
and creoles of the colonial era.
PIDGINS AND CREOLES OF THE COLONIAL ERA
The study results indicate that despite their number and genetic
diversity, the languages of Southern Nigeria share many grammatical
features among themselves. The data also show that most of these
Southern Nigerian areal/typological features are found in NP and many
other Atlantic creoles. On the other side of the planet, a similar pattern
emerges. The even more diverse languages of Melanesia exhibit many
common grammatical characteristics, and most of these Melanesian
areal/typological characteristics are found as well in Tok Pisin and other
Pacific creoles. These facts in themselves constitute a strong argument
for substrate influence in the Atlantic and Pacific Basins respectively,
but their significance extends further.
The similarities between Atlantic and Pacific pidgins and creoles
have long been one of the key arguments used by the proponents of
the universals and superstrate approaches against the advocates of
substrate influence. Creolists are still inclined to accept uncritically
the 'received wisdom' that precludes any possible areal/typological
similarities within such linguistically diverse regions as West Africa
and Melanesia. While some are prepared to pay attention to the
mounting evidence that such areal/typological similarities are in fact
quite extensive, few of these are equally prepared to allow for any
possibility of typological similarity between the languages of West Africa
and those of Melanesia.
But it is becoming increasingly difficult to ignore the fact that many
of the typological features shared by the languages of Southern Nigeria
and the English lexifier creoles of the Caribbean and West Africa are
similar or identical to those shared by the languages of Melanesia and
TP. In most cases, the areas of grammar where striking similarities
exist between Atlantic and Pacific pidgins and creoles are precisely
those areas where the West African typological substrate sample and
the Melanesian typological substrate sample show striking similarities.
Conversely, Atlantic creoles tend to show the greatest difference from
Pacific creoles in those grammatical features where the West African
typological substrate sample shows the most divergence from the
Melanesian typological substrate sample. Thus, the search for the
reasons behind the similarities between Atlantic and Pacific creoles
eventually leads us back to where the baby talkers and the
bioprogramers should have started, that is, with the Africans and
Melanesians who created and developed the colonial plantation creoles
and with the considerable resources at their disposal, in the form of
their linguistic and cultural heritage. A substrate/areal approach places
the speakers of creoles at the centre of the pidginization/creolization
FARACLAS / VIADA BELLIDO DE LUNA
process, as creative agents who made use of their considerable
linguistic and cultural resources to forge new and ever more vibrant
expressions of their rich African and Melanesian traditions.
Roger Keesing, in his landmark work on the relationship between
Solomon Islands Pijin (which is mutually intelligible with Tok Pisin)
and its substrate languages states:
I had earlier been struck, when I had learned Solomon Islands Pijin in
the 1960s through the medium of Kwaio, an indigenous language I
already spoke fluently, that this learning task mainly required learning
Pijin equivalents to Kwaio morphemes. The syntax of Solomon Islands
Pijin was essentially the same as that of Kwaio... in most constructions
there was a virtual morpheme-by-morpheme correspondence between
Kwaio and Pijin. This was not just an odd process of calquing: the Pijin
I was learning in terms of Kwaio was spoken with only minor variations
throughout the south eastern and central Solomons, although it was
everywhere adapted to local phonologies. Although most of the Pijin
lexical forms were derived from English, I found this largely irrelevant
to my learning task. The semantic categories they labelled corresponded
to Kwaio ones, not English ones.... Speakers of Oceanic languages and
English bent prevailing forms of Pidgin to their own ends, and
interpreted it in their own grammatical frameworks. (1988:1)
I suggest from the mid nineteenth century onward Pacific Islanders
have been the fluent speakers of Pacific Pidgin whose speech served
as a target language.... (1988:10)
Keesing's observations are confirmed by Jourdan (1991:198), another
researcher who learned Solomon Islands Pijin after having learned to
speak one of its substrate languages.
Pidgins and creoles did not come to Melanesia with the arrival of
the Europeans. Dozens, perhaps hundreds of Melanesian languages
were pidginized and creolised in the process of negotiating social
contracts of trade and exchange between differing linguistic and
cultural groups. But the terms of these contracts were not those that
hold between masters and slaves. Melanesian trading partners from
different ethnic groups regularly cemented bonds of partnership and
affection that were sometimes closer than family ties at home.
Colonial pidgin and creole languages and cultures, much like the
Cant languages and cultures (of the sailors, beachcombers, deserters,
PIDGINS AND CREOLES OF THE COLONIAL ERA 55
pirates, and overseers who constituted the great mass of superstrate
speakers both on ship and ashore), have grown and developed within
communities whose means of communication and communion had by
necessity to embody a spirit of resistance, consensus, solidarity,
secrecy, and mutual support, as well as to provide intimidation value
against the oppressor and a sense of pride and identity for the
oppressed. The most significant influence that superstrate speakers
ever had on colonial creole language and culture was probably not
linguistic, but political:
By the 1720s we already find considerable evidence of African
interchanges with the American and English parts of the proletariat.
A blacksmith boy from Nigeria, known to the masters and mates of
the slave ship that transported him as Jacob or Michael, labored
'weeding grass and gathering stones in a plantation.' His plantation
master sold him to the captain of a 'fine large ship loaded with
tobacco', which shortly thereafter sailed for England. His new master,
a lieutenant in the Royal Navy, persisted in calling him Gustavus Vasa
despite active opposition from the boy. The voyage was long. Towards
its end, in the twelfth week, the provisions ran out. Gustavus Vasa
was terrorized into believing that he was to be eaten. Another boy,
Richard Baker, a few years older and an American befriended the young
slave. 'Many nights we had lain in each other's bosoms when we
were in great distress.' For two years they were companions, Dick
teaching the twelve year old to respect books. Thus did the African
spokesman of abolitionism, who the world knows as Olaudah
Equiano... start his political education aboard a tobacco ship. The
international character of the London proletariat was one aspect of
the international capital that centered on London. This proletariat
depended for its survival on what Equiano called 'trifling perquisites'
Olaudah Equiano learned English, but he never accepted names like
'Gustavus Vasa' by which his masters attempted to enclose his
consciousness. Present day Melanesians are similarly refusing the
names which are utilized in the dominant discourse to criminalize their
resistance to corporate globalization. For example, in TP the word
raskol is used to refer to those Papua New Guineans who have been
branded criminals by an 'international community' which, under the
World Bank/International Monetary Fund Structural Adjustment
Programme, has lowered urban wages to the starvation levels of rural
(i.e. plantation) laborers, restricted employment opportunities (except
FARACLAS / VIADA BELLIDO DE LUNA
in the plantation sector), cut educational opportunities, threatened
traditional land tenure systems, and dramatically increased the
disparity between rich and poor in the country. The term raskol
conveys a sense of empathy and even admiration for the acts of defiance
against an unjust system that the 'criminal' activities engaged in by
the raskol gangs often represent in the popular consciousness. The
parallels between seventeenth-century Cant and twentieth-century TP
could not be more exact:
The working people of London developed a common linguistic culture
that may be called thieve'ss cant', as long as it is realized that this was
not the property of a small subculture of 'criminals'.... as George
Borrow learned when he spoke of thieves to an apple-barrow woman
whose son had been transported. 'Nay, dear!' she gently reprimanded
him, 'Don't make use of bad language; we never calls them thieves
here, but prigs and fakers.' (Linebaugh 1992:274)
A social contract is an agreement between powerful and resourceful
agents of history, rather than a pact between the all-powerful
oppressors and the powerless oppressed. Oppression is a reality that
we must recognize and oppose, but its catastrophic consequences
should not blind us to the real power that even the enslaved retained
and utilized to continue to resist and eventually transform their
situation, albeit at a terrible price. In the instance of plantation slavery,
material artefacts for academic study are sometimes hard to come by,
but the living artefacts of custom, language, religion, music, cuisine,
political movements, and other aspects of creolised culture are there
for us to examine. In fact, the creative extension of African and
Melanesian culture has continued to the present day, becoming even
more vibrant and more overtly defiant as material enclosures have
escalated. This attests to the continuing resistance of people to the
enclosure of their consciousness.
What unites Africa and the Caribbean in this instance is not only
some striking similarity between their languages, but also the degree
to which the Europeans have failed to enclose the consciousness of
their peoples. Africa and Melanesia are the only regions left in the
world where a sizeable proportion of the population still enjoys
traditional and inalienable tenure of land. And just as the deaths of
millions of African, Melanesian, and Caribbean slaves were written off
by the Europeans from the fifteenth to the nineteenth centuries, in the
twentieth and twenty-first centuries Africa, Melanesia, and parts of the
PIDGINS AND CREOLES OF THE COLONIAL ERA 57
Caribbean are being written off as conflict-, disease-, and debt-ridden
'developmental basket cases' by the World Bank and the multinationals,
entities that have become the post-colonial global masters. In the latest
round of globalization, hundreds of millions of people have been
displaced from their traditional lands. As we are currently living
through the most thoroughgoing and devastating enclosures in human
history, the existence and persistence of colonial pidgins and creoles
is a living reminder of the failure of the North's mission to evangelise,
enslave, 'civilise,' or otherwise force the peoples of the South to accept
the enclosure of their languages, their land, their labor, their loves,
their bodies, and their undefeatable souls and spirits.
58 FARACLAS / VIADA BELLIDO DE LUNA
Allen, J. and J. Allen. 1976. A Grammar of Halia. Ukarumpa: Summer
Institute of Linguistics, Papua New Guinea.
Alleyne, M.C. 1980. Comparative Afro-American. Ann Arbor: Karoma.
Bickerton, D. 1981. Roots of Language. Ann Arbor: Karoma.
Borrow, G. 1966 . Lavengro. Everyman edition 1961. New York:
Chaudenson, R. 2001. Creolization of Language and Culture. London:
Equiano, 0. 1789. The Interesting Narrative. Reprinted in F.D. Adams
and B. Sanders (eds.) 1971. Three Black Writers in Eighteenth-
Century England. Belmont, CA:Wadsworth
Faraclas, N. 1990. From Old Guinea to Papua New Guinea: A comparative
study of Nigerian Pidgin and Tok Pisin. In J. Verhaar, ed. Melanesian
Pidgin and Tok Pisin. Amsterdam: Benjamins, pp. 91-169
Faraclas, N. 2003. From Old Guinea to Papua New Guinea: A comparative
study of Nigerian Pidgin and Tok Pisin. In I. Plag, ed. Phonology
and Morphology of Creole Languages. Tuibingen: Man Niemeyer,
Federici, S. 1990. The debt crisis, Africa, and the new enclosures. In
Midnight Notes Collective, eds. Midnight Oil: Work, Energy, War
1973-1992. New York: Autonomedia, pp. 303-316.
Ferguson, C.A. 1971. Absence of copula and the notion of simplicity: a
study of normal speech, baby talk, foreigner talk, and pidgins. In
D. Hymes, ed. Pidginization and Creolization of Languages.
Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Fielding, H. 1996 . A Journal of a Voyage to Lisbon. New York:
Fielding, J. 1776. A Brief Description of the Cities of London and
Westminster. London: Printed for J. Wilkie.
Goodman, M. 1985. Review of D. Bickerton, 'Roots of Language,' Annual
Review of Anthropology 20:187-209.
Jourdan, C. 1991. Pidgins and creoles: The blurring of categories.
International Journal of American Linguistics 51, 1:109-137.
Keesing, R.M. 1988. Melanesian Pidgin and the Oceanic Substrate.
Stanford: Stanford University Press.
PIDGINS AND CREOLES OF THE COLONIAL ERA 59
Linebaugh, P. 1982. All the Atlantic mountains shook. Labor/Le travail.
Linebaugh, P. 1992. The London Hanged. New York: Cambridge
McWhorter, J. 2000. The Missing Spanish Creoles: Recovering the Birth
of Plantation Contact Languages. Berkeley: University of California
Parkvall, M. 2000. Out of Africa. London: Battlebridge.
Rickford, J.R. 1983. Standard and non-standard language attitudes in a
creole continuum.Occasional Paper 16,Society for Caribbean
Sankoff, G. 1984a. Substrate and universals in the Tok Pisin verb phrase.
In D. Schiffrin, ed. Meaning and Form, and Use in Context: Linguistic
Applications. Washington, DC: Georgetown University Press, pp.
Sankoff, G. 1984b. Touching pen, marking paper: Queensland labor
contracts in the 1880s. In D. Gewerz and E. Schieffelin, eds. History
and Ethnohistory in Papua New Guinea. Sydney: Sydney University
Press, pp. 100-127.
Sankoff, G. 1993. The Oceanic substrate in Melanesian Pidgin/Creole
revisited: a tribute to Roger Keesing. Paper presented to the First
International Conference on Oceanic Linguistics. July, 1993.
University of the South Pacific, Port Vila Campus, Vanuatu.
Thomasson, S.G. and T. Kaufman. 1988. Language Contact, Creolization,
and Genetic Linguistics. Berkeley: University of California Press.
Lest We Forget
Mervyn C. Alleyne
University of Puerto, Rio Piedras
University of the West Indies, Mona
Indigenous languages are spoken by minority peoples and severely
marginalised peoples. I have always been interested in marginalised
minorities and marginalised languages and cultures, having grown
up myself as a member of one. Mine of course was a numerical majority
treated as and behaving as a marginalised minority. Things have changed
or are changing. In Jamaica, where I have spent most of my adult life, the
numerical majority is seeking to de-marginalise its language and culture.
In my native Trinidad, I have become a numerical minority with the
language and culture situation being quite complex, with all groups
claiming to be marginalised. It's quite fascinating really!'
Indigenous peoples represent a classical straightforward case of a
numerical minority with marginalised language and culture; and the
whole point of this paper is to promote the beginnings of a de-
marginalisation process or to strengthen it by making sure that it is on
the right course, since there are signs that the process has begun,
manifested for example in the work of the Indigenous Languages Project
of the University of Guyana, the initiator of which, Professor Walter
Edwards, a very active member of the Society for Caribbean Linguistics,
is here with us at this conference.
I shall begin with first principles: Naming. I don't have time, and it
would be perhaps too great a digression, to go deeply into why I think
and have always thought that naming was an important instrument of
cultural expression and beyond that, of cultural and psychological
'This paper is a revised version of a presentation given at the Islands-in-Between
Conference held in Antigua in November 2003.
LEST WE FORGET
domination and control. We in the Caribbean have never fully enjoyed
a prerogative to name our ecology. We have reserved the prerogative
in private in-group discourse, but have had to yield it in public
discourse. This applies to personal names and in many cases to flora
(many of our fruits are named after a perceived resemblance to a
temperate climate fruit e.g., golden apple, naseberry). It also applies
to the languages we speak, to who we are, and to where we live. Our
languages were named by the colonial classifiers who were semiotic
monopolists. These languages were generally and generically
named'"creole" or "patois." That has been partly responsible for many
people in the region believing that what they speak is not really a
language. I recall that in the first major paper I wrote in 1960 (see
Hymes 1971), 1 recommended that we should cease to use "creole" or
"patois" as a proper noun to refer to these languages. I also had my
doubts whether these terms were suitable as generic names; this was
certainly the case with "patois." Consequently, I suggested the use of
the adjective of nationality (e.g., Jamaican, Haitian) to name these
languages. I have recently discovered that Richard Allsop had earlier
properly named the popular language of Guiana, calling it Guianese.
Then there is the term "indigenous" itself. It may seem to be quite
an innocuous, even positive label, as it seems to avoid some of the
more pernicious connotations of aboriginee" or even of indio. If we
look more closely at the concept -to interrogate it, in modern
intellectual jargon, we find that the term is not as innocent as it seems.
"Indigenous" means denotatively "first possessors" and "original
inhabitants." But it has, nevertheless, the same range of connotations
as "native" or aboriginee." Yet not all first possessors are referred to as
"native" or aboriginee" or "indigenous." The terms are used only in
contrast with "colonial ruler," "new elite," "modern," etc. The former
set of terms is used in relation to the Pacific, Australia, New Zealand,
Africa, and the Americas. Like the use of the terms indio, negro, criollo,
patois etc., it was a means of simplifying or ignoring the individuality
of the peoples who were encountered by European explorers, reducing
them to one convenient denominator, based on an antithesis between
the person holding the prerogative of naming and the person or thing
to be named; an antithesis of coloniser to colonised, dominant to
subdued; of occupying force to native; of evolved and modern to
backward and primitive; of French, English, Spanish, Portuguese to
creole; of language to patois.
Allow me to digress a little in order to add here that we are witnessing
now in Central and South America the reappropriation of the term indio
MERVYN C. ALLEYNE
by the people of these areas themselves, as a symbol of identity and
struggle. There is also a process, particularly in the Dominican Republic,
and to a lesser extent in Puerto Rico, by which indio, as a category of
phenotype, has been re-appropriated and elevated to the status of a
symbol of national identity, to avoid the pejorative polarity of negro,
and to a lesser extent of blanco, and to express the national ideology of
mestizaje. The reappropriation of indio in Central and South America
signals an important stage in the process of psychological liberation
and there are other cases among us where such pejorative designations
are, as it were, hurled back defiantly at those who created them. Other
examples are "black" and "nigger." It should, however, be noted that it
is not only oppressed people who employ this stratagem, since the
use of the term "yankee" by Americans in the northern part of the
United States to refer to themselves constitutes another example. And,
very interestingly, and perhaps somewhat ironically, the word "yankee"
is most probably the phonological creation of one North American
indigenous group, from "English" to yenki. I would assume that this
particular indigenous language did not have [gl] clusters. Once we are
sure that we have triumphed over and rejected the connotative
pejoration or low hierarchical ordering implied in "native," aboriginee,"
and "indigenous," we may resume using them as signifiers with neutral
There has been a great deal of uncertainty and confusion in the
naming of the so-called indigenous peoples and their languages. Part
of the confusion lies in the fact that in many cases, when the ancestors
of these peoples were asked "who are you?," they simply and quite
logically used the word in their language that meant "people." (Picture
the old Chris coming ashore in Watling Island or Hispaniola, standing
haughtily erect, and asking the welcoming party, "Who are You?" Next
imagine this welcoming party, completely bemused by the question,
looking at each other, and with a shrug of the shoulder, saying "we are
people;" and the old Chris diligently writing this name down in his
notebook. Perhaps this is a good idea for a cartoon at the next
anniversary of the arrival of Columbus.) Other factors contributing to
this confusion are the dialect differences affecting the form of names
and the whimsical recording of such names in the earliest accounts.
Currently some confusion still exists. "Island Carib" or "Black Carib"
is still sometimes used to refer to what is more properly an Arawakan
language. Arawakan is a major language family of the islands and the
mainland. The term "Island Carib" was first used by scholars (e.g.,
Taylor 1951), presumably to distinguish it from Continental Carib. In
LEST WE FORGET
the term "Black Carib," "black" refers to the phenotype of the present
speakers, persons who are mixtures of Africans and Arawaks. This
language is now spoken in Central America, as a result of the
deportation of that intractable group of mixed Africans and Caribs from
the island of St. Vincent when it became that island's turn to be
exploited. So the only extant example of the language of the islands is
now to be found in Central America, chiefly in Belize. It is now better
known as "Garifuna." However, the name "Garifuna," though the
language is more properly an Arawakan language, may itself be
cognate"with Carib, there being a rather well-established regular
phonological alternation in Arawakan between voiced and voiceless
obstruents in initial position. In the toponymy of Trinidad, there is,
according to Soodeen-Baksh, (1995) "imprecision in the use of velar
stop [g]." It is hence not strange to find the "gua-cua" variation in
toponyms such as: guare-cuare; guapo-cuapo. So Island/Black Carib or
Garifuna is now rather well established as a member of the Arawakan
family, but with heavy lexical loans from the Cariban family, which may
render their genealogical affiliation somewhat problematic. I will return
to this topic below.
The problem of naming reached its most pernicious level in the use
of one of the ethnic names of the indigenous peoples to derive the
word "cannibal." The root of the word seems to be based on one of the
variant names of the peoples, with the addition of the Spanish suffix [-
al.] This suffix is a Spanish derivative suffix which is used to derive
collective nouns. It was also very productive in the formation of
toponyms based on a Cariban/Arawakan root: Atagual, Carapal, Caratal.
In the case of "cannibal," there may have been some echoing of "animal."
In Old Latin, animal animals is also probably from a root animus +
This pejorative connotative use reached the highest of levels of
literary expression, eventually becoming a much explored trope in
Caribbean and international literary, psychological, and anti-colonial
discourse. This occurred when Shakespeare in The Tempest used the
name Caliban to create an antithesis of Prospero and to represent or
epitomise the so-called "primitive" in human beings. Shakespeare's
Caliban is closer to the original variant forms of the name (further
evidence, if such were needed, that Shakespeare was a brilliant
researcher), while "cannibal" seems to be a phonological and gross
It is interesting to observe that Aime CUsaire, in his play Une Tempete
(1969), has recast the whole confrontation between Prospero and
MERVYN C. ALLEYNE 65
Caliban in which Caliban questions Prospero's prerogative to name
him, and rejects the name Caliban. Incidentally, C6saire's Prospero
offers Caliban a new name- Hannibal (cynically, very close
phonetically to "cannibal"). This choice apparently mocks the tendency
of Africans in the Americas to attempt to rescue their humanity by
invoking African heroes of the past of whom Hannibal is one. Cesaire's
Caliban also rejects the name Hannibal in favour of his re-appropriation
of the prerogative of naming himself. Caliban decides to call himself X,
anticipating the use of the same response by Malcolm in another place
and another time. Both Cesaire's Caliban and Malcolm show up the
dilemma in which "New World" subject peoples find themselves in
believing that they do not possess a language in which to publicly and
officially name themselves and their ecology.
The term "Buck" has evolved as a term widely used in Guyana; it is
a generic and I believe pejorative term ignoring, as usual, the ethnic
individualities of the peoples. As happened in the case of "nigger" and
"coolie," people who use the term will often claim that they mean no
offense. This may very well be the case of people who inherit these
terms in their denotative meanings, and only later come to be socialized
into the connotative meanings. "Nigger" was once merely a southern
phonological variant of "negro," one which even the most liberal
professing southern whites had obligatorily to use to refer to those
who, in the long arduous search for a suitable term which would express
their re-appropriation of self, now choose to name themselves African-
Americans. "Buck," probably from Dutch"boukyes, (the term also used
to refer to the male deer) was probably first used by the Dutch
colonisers of Guiana, and probably is another example of the
debasement of these peoples by likening them to animals, as was also
suggested above to be the case with "cannibal." It is true, and it is a
universal of human societies, that individuals are regularly referred to
by names of animals we have, for example, a lot of-"jackasses," and
these exist not only in the political discourse of Trinidad, words like
"chicken" and "turkey" being frequently used in English. If the North
American Western movies have any historical accuracy, the indigenous
peoples of North America often gave themselves animal names: Chief
Crazy Horse. Othello was referred to as a "buck" with questionable
metaphorical connotation. It is altogether another matter when an
entire people or peoples are thus designated, with no endearing
intention. Similarly, we might observe here that the people of mixed
race in the "New World" were referred with a derivative of the Spanish
word for mule, mulo with a pejorative suffix [-ato], giving mulato, it
LEST WE FORGET
seems that this was based on the malicious belief, in an era which
glorified purity, that they, as so-called racial hybrids, could not bear
Perhaps the most outstanding case of semiotic aberration is the use
of "Indian." A gross error made by Columbus has continued to generate
a continuing series of absurdities. First of all, the peoples were called
generically"indio, forever enclosing them in a frame of reference
controlled by the sign-making conquistadors and their successors. The
indios were assigned the colour "red" in response to an obsessive need
manifested in the signmakers to designate people, including
themselves, in terms of a socialised perception of colour. Then when
it was realized that they were not Indian, i.e. not of the Indian sub-
continent, they were called West Indians. In the meantime, explorers
generally referred to Australian indigenous peoples as "Indians." Later
they were called "Abos." That is, a term misapplied in the Americas
misapplied again in the Pacific in an apparent parody of imperialist
discourse. Subsequently, when "real" Indians arrived in the Caribbean,
they became "East Indians." So now we have East Indians, as a sub-
category of West Indians, i.e. East Indian West Indians. And I have been
told that West Indians themselves are now a sub-category of the newly
named Caribbeans. I suppose that if someone now came to settle in
the Caribbean from East India, say Calcutta, (i.e. Eastern India), he/she
would become an East Indian East Indian West Indian; and if he came
from Bombay, he would be a West Indian East Indian West Indian; and
so on, there would be a North Indian East Indian West Indian.
In the area of language, as well as in other domains of our existence,
Caribbean peoples have to become signmakers and not continue to
act as semiotic pawns on a chessboard under the control of the North
Atlantic grandmasters. The list of signs needing reform is long: by way
of example, I will mention a few semantic groupings, each with some
common pejorative connotations needing reform. The first consists
of: "indigenous," "native," "prehistoric," "discovery of the Americas;"
"jungle," "cannibal," "tribe," and "naked" belong to another. The
connotation in the latter context is "indecent," "wild," "savage." These
features may be more characteristic of some modern cities than jungles
where killing takes place basically in the quest of food and for the
protection of territory. In the particular case of "savage," it meant
originally "of the forest." This was before it acquired, especially in
English, the denotation of "wild" and "cruel." The original meaning of
"not grown by humans" remains in French; in the case of "tribe," it now
refers chiefly to indigenous groups in the Americas and Africa: The
MERVYN C. ALLEYNE
Arawaks or the Tutsi are "tribes," but the Irish Catholics and Anglicans,
Serbs and Croatians are "ethnic groups;" "tribe" was originally based
on"tres, (three) and seemed to refer to the three constituent groups of
the Roman people. Its original meaning is still contained in words like
"tribute," "tribune," and "tribunal." And of course "naked" now connotes
indecency and immodesty, although for people who live in tropical
climates, it often makes sense to wear as little clothing as possible.
The words "black," "mulato," and "indio," comprise another; and of
course there are the terms "patois," and "creole."
Those of us who live in the islands have not been directly confronted
with the problem of indigenous languages and peoples since, as a result
of one of the most shameful episodes in modern history, these peoples
are no longer with us and there is no one to claim reparations! But it
has been and continues to be an intractable problem in North, South,
and Central America, including the continental Caribbean. Although I
cannot fully interrogate these matters here, basically the question is:
How, and under what terms, are the indigenous peoples to participate
in national, political, social, economic and cultural systems? Latin
American indigenismo has struggled to find the correct just concept,
definition, and policy. It has moved from a policy of genocide to a
totally integrationist policy, the most extreme criticism of which is that
it itself is an instrument of destruction, the physical being is not the
target this time it is instead the ethnic identity of these peoples. The
purported goal of this policy is integration into a homogenous national
culture leaving many indigenous groups with their subordinate status
and no other alternative but mestizaje. Yet the policy has also moved,
I am happy to note, to one of acceptance and even validation of ethnic
pluralism. In all this, beyond any activity in concept and policy
formulation and implementation, there is a natural process taking place
which is influenced both by natural ecological forces, chiefly the
ineluctable movement towards modernisation in North Atlantic terms,
and by different ideological positions taken by indigenous peoples
themselves. In all of this, indigenous languages play a significant role.
They epitomise both the distinctiveness of these cultures and the so-
called "backwardness" of the so-called indio. The surrender of these
languages, i.e. language shift, is seen as the most important instrument
in the "evolution" of the indio.
It is interesting to observe that there are distinct parallels in the
history of interpretations of creole populations and their languages
and the history of policies and attitudes towards them. In both cases,
in the creole case and the indigenous case, the languages were seen as
68 LEST WE FORGET
impeding the progress of their speakers; and, as mentioned above, the
surrender of these languages was seen as the sine qua non of progress.
It is also interesting to observe that whereas creole languages are/were
seen as extraordinarily simple, defective, and unsuited for the higher
levels of intellectual and scientific activity, the indigenous languages
were seen as extraordinarily complex or at least complicated, and
similarly unsuitable. An important theme in Caribbean linguistics would
be comparative studies of these two situations, including factors which
led to creolization in one case and to non-creolization in another. One
of the linguists to explore such themes has been Ian Robertson. Earlier
anthropology, even though it proclaimed the essential equality of
language systems, could not altogether escape from approaching these
indigenous languages from the categories established for Indo-
European languages, which had acquired the property of universals,
and from presenting these structures, both linguistic and underlying
cognitive and cultural structures, as "quaint." Current cognitive
linguistics would be interested in these languages as exhibiting new
dimensions within the parameters of variation of human language, these
parameters having as their default selection always the particular Indo-
After these excursions into Caribbean psychological history, I wish
to turn now to the question of the study of these languages. Some
work has been done on Cariban, Arawakan, and Mayan languages, and
even on some unassigned individual languages, the full extent of which
falls outside the scope of this presentation. It would seem that one
necessary and useful task would be to conduct an up-to-date
ethnolinguistc and sociolinguistic survey of the indigenous languages
of the Caribbean which would mean essentially Belize, Guyana and
Suriname, and secondarily, I suppose, all the territories washed by the
Caribbean Sea in the broadest definition, including Guyane, Venezuela,
Colombia, and Central America.
Indigenous languages exist in a number of different ecologies, each
having a particular effect on these languages. I offer the following
i. As a general rule, contact equals death (with no creolization)
ii. Isolation is another context, characterized by a few lexical loans
from Spanish or Portuguese. These are geographically
iii. Some languages have their own geographical space but are in
relatively close contact with modernising groups near the coast.
MERVYN C. ALLEYNE 69
In these cases there is considerable lexical borrowing from
Guyanese, Sranan, Belizean, English, Dutch, and Spanish.
iv. Then there is the case of individual persons and families who
migrate to urban centres, adding complexity to the generational
factor in language shift.
v. And there is the unique case of Garifuna, surviving contact in a
relatively modernising context and with inevitably heavy lexical
A survey of indigenous languages would seem to be vital for national
planning programmes. As a matter of fact, all conceivable linguistic
studies could be subsumed under the broad rubric of ethno- and socio-
linguistic surveys. There are, for example, structural studies, either
descriptive following a standardised format or else those offered within
current theoretical frameworks, which can illuminate the particular
ways in which these languages add to our understanding of the range
of possibilities of human language structure. Such studies can ensure
the permanent presence of these languages in the records of human
culture and cognition. Standardised descriptions are vital in order to
document these languages before they die (the Caribbean has been a
graveyard for languages and peoples), and to form the basis of literacy
and other social development programmes and second language
learning programmes, at least for teacher preparation, if not for
contrastive analyses of LI and L2. The standardised format is probably
the best way to gather information quickly, not to mention its
effectiveness in terms of usability. Such descriptions could be
commissioned and designed to contain guidelines on data collection,
including elicitation techniques which would ensure not only adherence
to proper ethical standards but also the integrity and validity of data.
I cannot resist pointing out that there are some phonological and
syntactical structures in these indigenous languages which may be of
interest to creolists. For example, there is a [d] [r]  alternation:
kadina karina ~ kalina; kaliponam (recorded by Breton 1665 for Island
Carib) Garifuna; an earlier [sh] has become [s] in Lokono (Arawakan);
both of these features being well established in Saramaccan, and to a
lesser extent in other creole languages. In terms of syntax, there is
probably no primary category of adjectives. Morphemes which we may
be tempted to call adjectives, based on loose semantic matching with
European languages, take verbal affixes when occurring in predicates.
Sentences which are regularly glossed as English statives take the
completive affix. In Akawaio and Arekuna of the Upper Mazaruni area
LEST WE FORGET
of Guyana, sentences such as "he is sick" contain Pro + Pred +
completive marker pee or bee; this marker also occurs in sentences
such as "I am hungry" which also contain Pro + Pred +"pee/bee,
obviously meaning literally "I have completed a process or an action."
In Lokono, risi "rich" (incidentally, an obvious loan word) can produce
risitu "she is rich," and"funa "red," becomes"funatu to mean "it is red."
A similar distribution of the completive marker is also typical of
Mandarin Chinese, and, in my own view, of Saramaccan, and to a lesser
extent of other creole languages, where the absence of overt marking
for perfective distracts us from a proper understanding of syntax. In
both Arawakan and creole languages, the lexical feature +human is a
constraint on some syntactical operations: passivity in creole language
and number in Arawakan. If anyone wishes to resuscitate the earlier
claim that indigenous languages played a role in creole genesis (see
Taylor 1977), he/she may be able to move beyond fanciful speculation
to the examination of real solid evidence.
But it is perhaps the area of genetic relationships which is most
challenging. Genetic relationship studies have been falling into rather
rough times since their hey-day in the 1960s. We are witnessing a kind
of polarization between attempts, sometimes rather fanciful, to gather
the languages of the world into ever-increasing super families, and at
the other pole very negative attitudes to comparative linguistics. In
the case of Cariban and Arawakan languages, there is a need to sort
out genetic relationships from areal relationships and from purely
typological relationships. The case of Trinidad exemplifies the
challenge. Baksh-Soodeen (1995) seems to be claiming that up to five
or six different "languages" were spoken at the arrival of Columbus,
but linguists do not agree among themselves on the precise genealogies.
Taylor (1977) considers Yao (an extinct language of Trinidad) to have
been Arawakan though "mixed with Carib words." Other linguists list
Yao in the Cariban family.
So we have a traditional grouping into Arawakan/Cariban and Mayan
languages. No genetic relationship has been established between the
two families though it is tempting to explore the possibility. If there is
a relationship, it is most likely quite remote. In all of these studies
reviewed here, I believe that we need not adhere slavishly to one single
methodology and one type of evidence. An eclectic approach is
necessary, using first of all, techniques to isolate borrowings. This
can consider, for example, phonological evidence that points to
chronological layering of forms. A phonological change is restricted
to a particular time period. Where a form appears to be an exception
MERVYN C. ALLEYNE 71
to an otherwise regular phonological rule, it may be that the form
entered the particular language at a later date, after the phonological
change in question had already taken place.
Since these borrowings will reveal systematic phonological
correspondences with other languages (i.e. with the lending languages),
and thus lead to false genetic assignment, the borrowings must first be
identified and withdrawn from the pool of evidence. Systematic
phonological correspondences in lexical items confirmed as native can
serve as the major evidence, but I would not rule out morpho-syntactic
evidence where a sharing of a grammatical category combines with a
similarity in form. Unfortunately, these languages do show cases of
the borrowing of syntactical forms. For example, the Carib loan words
in Arawakan of the islands are not simply lexical morphemes (these
are found not only the well-known male vocabulary, but also in that of
females), but contain also functional grammatical morphemes:
complementizers and prepositions, including words like "because,"
"until," "if," "that," and "but." The Garifuna word order of N + Det (at
least demonstrative determiners:"hiaru tigura "woman that") may also
be a loan from Carib. In fact, one may perhaps have to postulate
language mixing, i.e. a stage beyond which mere borrowing seems to
have taken place. I mentioned earlier the use of Arawakan suffixes on
Carib loan stems.
Historical comparative studies are not simply esoteric indulgence.
Combined with archaeological studies and oral histories, comparative
linguistics provide the best available means of revealing the history of
these peoples, relative chronologies of the migratory movements,
contacts, deaths, and the history of social and cultural contacts,
allowing us to bury finally and forever that ugly word and concept
"pre-historic." The whole question of borrowings both from and into
these languages may be mentioned here as an important area of ongoing
research, including of course the question of toponyms.
Linguists interested in language and gender are needed to explore
that mythologised and still uncertain area of Caribbean history where it
is recorded that Caribs defeated the Arawaks, killed off the Arawak men
and kept the women (it is not only now that Caribbean men are an
endangered species). However that may have been, it is well known
that there is a stock of lexical items used by males and another used by
females. In Island Carib (Arawakan), females also differ from males in
assigning gender to some nouns; e.g. hati "mouth" is feminine for men,
but masculine for women. But the complexity of these matters goes
even further. In Lokono (Arawakan), one gender form refers exclusively
72 LEST WE FORGET
to Arawak males; the other to everyone and everything else, i.e.
including women and even human males who are not Lokono or
In all our work, I would stress one overriding need: we need an
applied focus, with a partnership between linguist and community, not
a divorce and separation. This may seem idealistic or unrealistic; but
it should mean a serious purposeful campaign to train persons to study
their own languages. This has been a contentious issue in the early
period of creole linguistics. It has largely been corrected, with many
Caribbean linguists being, or at least claiming to be, native speakers of
creole languages. This topic surfaced again recently in the debate on
Haitian (DeGraff, 1999). There may be some doubt about the scientific
validity of the claim that only native speakers are able to penetrate
some of the deeper semantic and syntactical subtleties of their
language. But I would think that in the case of the indigenous languages,
relatively distant as they are from the Indo-European language
structures to which we have become accustomed, native speakers will
be essential not only as "informants,' but also as "scientists."
As Chomsky (1968, 1979, 1986) suggests in explaining the significance
of native speaker intuition, teaching native speakers linguistics is one
of the best ways to investigate languages, as it allows speakers to work
as experts on their own languages. He noted that Native Americans
working on their own languages have discovered all kinds of things
that anthropological linguists failed to notice. These are often subtle
facts and nuances about language which are difficult to detect and
understand without complete mastery of the language being studied.
As we know from bitter experience, the question of the integrity and
validity of creole data always surfaces, even with the work of Caribbean-
born linguists claiming to be native speakers of creole languages.
In exploring this partnership between linguist and community, I wish
to cite a remark by taken from a manuscript (see Honda and O'Neil
1993) which Michel DeGraff was kind enough to send me:
the scientific investigation of a given language is responsible to the
larger human community which its results could affect. What matters
is eventual success, and that will be measured by the extent to which
work on the language is integrated in a meaningful way into the life of
the community of people who speak it.
And there is more:
MERVYN C. ALLEYNE
it makes extremely good sense to engage school-age children in the
study of their own language it is perhaps one of the very best ways
of enabling them to become familiar with certain basic principles of
scientific inquiry. It has the advantage over other sciences in that the
school-age child comes prepared with an extremely large body of data
(in the form of intuitions about the sentences of his/her language.
Since primary data are so readily available, they provide an excellent
opportunity for teachers to engage their students in the process of
making observations about language, which are similar in nature to
the kinds of observations that any scientist makes in relation to the
phenomena he/she studies.. .Skills which are developed and exercises
in making and reporting linguistic observations are of a kind which
can be of great use to students in many phases of their lives, both
academic and non-academic...The questions that arise in linguistic
theory represent a reasonable way to induce in students the wish to
know answers to some of their innate scientific questions, and thus
to introduce them to scientific research...to allow them to overcome
their fear of the scientific style.
It is not too late to apply this strategy to creole communities. We
should prepare ourselves to apply it to the indigenous communities.
In this partnership between linguist and community, I am pleased to
see that there are already movements in this direction being undertaken
by Ian Robertson and Hubert Devonish. They have just led a team of
researchers to Guyana to work on Arawakan. There are probably no
better persons to carry out this mission, as they are scholars of whom
we expected no less.
It would be our moral responsibility to ensure that the indigenous
languages do not suffer the same fate as creole languages. Even though
in post-colonial discourse we may make the psychological triumph and
free ourselves from any type of connotative prejudice associated with
the antithetical relationship of "indigenous" and "native" to "modern,"
"civilized," it will still be very useful to carry out investigations into
what may be the appropriate names, taking into account what the
speakers themselves, by the exercise of their own free prerogative wish
to call themselves and their languages.
Are we going to develop/display colonial relations with indigenous
peoples and their languages? Do we wish to reinforce the "we" "they"
dichotomy? We have attacked and made considerable inroads into
one of the grand narratives of imperialism that is centered on the notion
of hierarchy in civilisations and cultures (whether language, race,
phenotype, religion, music) and that proposes the value of a single
74 LEST WE FORGET
language in nation building and the disappearance of indigenous and
"backward" languages, either by natural selection or by conscious
policy. Some creole languages have survived the plantation and the
cultural and economic hegemony of industrial and mercantilist
capitalism, which proclaimed the inexorability of decreolization.
Whether they can survive contemporary globalisation is another
matter. More vigorous efforts may be needed. And indigenous languages
may be in greater jeopardy; their fate may even be in some way pegged
to the fate of creole languages. This is not, I am afraid, a very happy
prospect for them.
MERVYN C. ALLEYNE 75
Baksh-Soodeen, R. 1995. A Historical Perspective on the Lexicon of
Trinidadian English. Ph.D. Dissertation. University of West Indies,
Breton, R. 1665. Dictionnaire Caraibe-Frangais. Auxerre.
Cesaire, A. 1969. Une Temprte. Paris: Seuil.
Chomsky, N. 1968. Language and Mind. San Diego: Harcourt Brace
Chomsky, N. 1979. Language and Responsibility. Brighton, Sussex: Harvester
Chomsky, N. 1986. Knowledge of Language. New York: Praeger.
DeGraff, M. 1999. The Database of Recent Writings on Haitian Creole:
Scientific and Sociological Implications. Paper presented at the
Society for Pidgin and Creole Languages LSA Meeting, January
1999. Los Angeles, CA.
Honda, M. and W. O'Neil. 1993. Triggering science-forming capacity
through linguistic inquiry. Kenneth Hale and Samuel Jay Keyser,
eds., The View from Building 20: Essays in Linguistics in Honor of
Sylvain Brombeiger. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 229-255.
Hymes, D. (ed.) 1971. Pidginization and Creolization of Languages.
Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Taylor, D. 1951. The Black Carib of British Honduras. New York: Wenner-
Gren Foundation for Anthropological Research.
Taylor, D. 1977. Languages of the West Indies. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins
The Borrowing and Innovation
of Food Terms in the
East Carolina University
he science of linguistics considers arbitrariness a design fea-
ture of human language. Perhaps aside from cases of onomato
poeia, the relationship between sound (or gesture) and mean-
ing is arbitrary. That is, there is no natural, universal or inherent se-
mantic connection between a word (i.e. a sequence of sounds or ges-
tures) and its referents. Specific words signify a particular meaning
only because a community of speakers agrees (albeit unconsciously)
that a given sequence of sounds means what it means. The same se-
quence of sounds can have an utterly different meaning among dia-
lects of the same language (e.g., in North Carolina toboggan means
"winter hat" while up north, in locations where snow is common, it
means "a type of wooden sled;" the ultimate etymology is from the
Amerindian language Micmac; in the Americas, the word was first bor-
rowed into European languages by speakers"of Canadian French) and
across mutually-unintelligible languages (e.g. the Irish word am "time"
I would like to thank Dean W. Keats Sparrow, Associate Dean Scott Snyder, and
the College of Arts and Sciences at East Carolina University for granting me a College
Research Award. This generous award granted me complete course release for one
semester and allowed the time required to finish the work at hand. Lise Winer
provided invaluable comments on a draft of this paper. Her paper, "Creole in the
Kitchen," presented at the 1998 meeting for the Society for Caribbean Linguistics in
St. Lucia, was one point of inspiration for the present paper. Any errors, omissions,
or shortcomings are, of course, mine alone.
is homophonous with the conjugated first person singular to be verb in
English: I am writing). Furthermore, word meaning as well as the pho-
netic shape of a given word may change over time, which is further evi-
dence of the arbitrary relationship between form and meaning.
From a cognitive perspective, labels for concepts, material objects,
cultural artifacts, persons, etc., are irrelevant. Many linguists would argue
that concepts exist in a framework for language and thought independent
of the language-specific words that are eventually applied to them
(Chomsky 1987: 31-32). However, if we shift our perspective from a cogni-
tive or language universals approach to a context in which meaning is
socially-constructed by the use of languages) spoken within a specific
culture, the words or names humans choose for any culturally-constructed
component in their lives (e.g. food, spiritual systems, music, etc.) reveal
windows into the origins and history of that same culture.
This paper presents an investigation of food terms and culture in
the Anglophone West Indies. Examining the etyma of any language al-
ways reveals explicit and latent elements of the culture in question.
This assumption lies at the heart of any research investigating the lin-
guistic and cultural history of a specific speech community and is simi-
larly the foundation for modern Creole Studies (e.g., see Mufwene, Baker
& Bruyn, Huber & Parkvall). That is, the study of language (and inves-
tigating etyma are just one facet of this approach) sheds light on the
history of a given people. (The reverse is also true: Studying the his-
tory of a people can shed light on the language used by a specific cul-
tural group.) This uncontroversial point is important for studying the
peoples and cultures of the Caribbean since most of the everyday ver-
naculars (i.e. as opposed to the languages spoken and written in for-
mal educational, governmental, and religious contexts) are most often
oral languages that are rarely written, even though many West Indian
cultures have begun to devise writing systems in order to write their
native languages (e.g. Haitian Creole French and Papiamentu, spoken
in Aruba, Bonaire, and Curacao).
Food is a revealing cultural element for linguistic analysis since it is
so fundamental (i.e. everyone must eat) and yet, from a synchronic
perspective, names for food are often taken for granted as always ex-
isting in the same phonetic form in the same place by members of the
specific culture in question. That is, speakers anywhere are often sur-
prised that other cultures have a similar word for a specific food item
in question and are equally surprised to find that other speakers have
a different word for the same ingredient or dish. Sometimes the same
word can mean two different food items, which again highlights the
THE BORROWING AND INNOVATION OF FOOD TERMS
arbitrary relationship between sound and meaning (e.g. fig in the Car-
ibbean often means "banana," which is not the case in North America).
To come at this point from another angle, food terms leave traces of
their cultural history whether speakers are aware of this fact or not
and can answer the following questions (among others): From which
language and culture does a specific term originate? Which peoples
are responsible for its emergence? Which speakers have altered, ei-
ther in name or usage, the food item in question? Thus, this paper has
two general purposes: 1) to provide a general cultural and linguistic
analysis of Anglophone Caribbean culture through its cuisine; and 2)
to demonstrate that the linguistic construction of food terms among
Creole speakers in the Caribbean follows all the common rules of mor-
phology and word-building processes exhibited by all human languages
everywhere. This last point is important because for many speakers of
Caribbean English varieties, especially those who do not write their
language or whose vernacular forms differ significantly from the vari-
ety used in writing or in formal social contexts, there is still a lingering
idea that these spoken languages are "bad" English, somehow deviant,
or even "grammar-less." From a linguistic perspective, these vernacu-
lar languages only differ from a corresponding so-called standard vari-
ety, which is nearly always based not on how a population actually
speaks its language, but instead on the written form or the "book" dia-
lect of the language in question. Suffice to say here that no human
language shared by a community of speakers can be considered
grammarless. All human languages and their corresponding dialects
without exception have grammars or language rules of the mind, even
if those same grammars differ significantly from the specifics of the
grammar of the standard or written variety.
2.0 Food Terms and What They Reveal about Language, Culture,
The data in this paper come from three sources. The first is my experi-
ences as a field worker in the West Indies. In 1994 and 1995, I lived for
five months on the Anglophone Creole-speaking Panamanian island of
Bastimentos in the Caribbean Sea. I have also performed field work for
several weeks each on the Anglophone Eastern Caribbean islands of
Barbuda, to the north of Antigua, St. Eustatius, an island in the Dutch
Antilles just to the south of St. Martin, and Dominica, a former
Francophone island between Guadeloupe and Martinique that was
transferred to British dominion in the nineteenth century. Many of the
lexical items discussed here have been seen and eaten by the author,
even if not particularly enjoyed (e.g. dishes made with iguana or turtle
meat). More expansive than my own experiences are the scholarly dic-
tionaries compiled by Cassidy and Le Page (1967) and Allsopp (1996).
The former work is centered on the English-derived Creole of Jamaica
while the latter is more generally concerned with the largest part of the
Anglophone West Indies. I have gathered a database of more than 600
lexical entries connected to food items in the Anglophone Caribbean,
and in this paper I draw from all of the above sources and experiences.
The subset of data presented in this article has been selected as repre-
sentative of the cultural and linguistic patterns discussed below. In
general, the following data are presented within the spelling conven-
tions of written Standard American English when possible. In other
instances, a more phonetic representation better captures how the
word is actually spoken in the Caribbean, these forms are presented
with the understanding that a distinct variety of an English-derived
language is spoken on each of the Anglophone islands.
The history of the Caribbean can be roughly divided up into four
general stages: 1) Pre-Colombian, when the only documented humans
in the Americas were what are today called Native Americans or
Amerindians (i.e. pre-sixteenth century); 2) the period of European
colonization (i.e. post-sixteenth century), which precedes but is largely
concurrent with 3) the introduction of forced African immigrants (i.e.
slaves) to the Americas; and 4) the effects of post-emancipation immi-
gration to and within the Caribbean (mid-nineteenth century and af-
ter). This latter category largely comprises immigrants from the East
Indies but with some continued African immigration, as slaves pro-
cured by other European nations were captured at sea in the post-
emancipation period by the British, freed, and landed in the West Indies.
Intra-Caribbean migration, which occurred as Afro-Caribbeans from
all islands began to move about the Caribbean and the Americas in
general in search of work, also occurred during this period. This un-
derstudied labor-related pattern continues to this day. The following
analysis of food terms corroborates the basic historical stages pre-
sented above. In fact, one of the useful observations about a lexical
analysis of any language is that even if one did not have access to any
historical works to confirm the above general historical stages, an analy-
sis of the food lexicon would yield similar insights based on the fact
that food items in the Caribbean show the dominant effects of
Amerindian, African, European, and East Indian (e.g. Bhojpuri and
Hindi) languages and cultures.
THE BORROWING AND INNOVATION OF FOOD TERMS 81
2.1 Representative Food-related Data
The following data are not intended to be exhaustive but only illustra-
tive of the languages and cultures that have contributed to the emer-
gence of Anglophone West Indian cuisine. When the distribution of a
food term is common in a narrower subset of Caribbean islands or
nations, that information is noted. Otherwise, readers should assume
the distribution of a specific term is common in the general Anglophone
Caribbean, though there is a range of names for the same food items
eaten across the region.
2.1.1 Food Items of Amerindian origin
Many of the Amerindian words below are more common on the main-
land edges of the Caribbean in Central and South America (e.g. in Belize
and Guyana), where living Amerindian groups exist to this day, than
they are within the islands of the Caribbean archipelago. Most of the
islands of the West Indies have no discrete descendents of Amerindians.
The earliest European colonists and settlers, often through a combina-
tion of disease and violence, decimated the original inhabitants of these
islands by the end of the sixteenth century or soon after. Today
Dominica is one of the few islands with an existing Carib Indian popu-
lation, even if this community speaks Creole French and/or Creole En-
glish (both are spoken on the island) rather than its ancestral language.
Several of the words (e.g. guinep, papaya) below were borrowed into
Anglophone Caribbean varieties through the intermediate stage of
Spanish, since these colonizers were among the first Europeans in the
Americas and they borrowed hundreds of terms from the original in-
habitants (e.g. hurricane is originally a Taino word).
Several Amerindian languages provide most of the etyma presented
below. As explained in Lyovin (1997), the Maipuirean stock of languages
is often called Arawakan, and it includes the following Amerindian lan-
guages: Black Carib, spoken by approximately 100,000 persons in Guate-
mala, Belize, Honduras, and Nicaragua; Arawak or Lokono, which has
only about 2,500 speakers distributed across Guyana, Suriname, French
Guiana, and Venezuela; and Wapishana, of which there are approximately
6,000 speakers in Guyana and Brazil. Taino is an extinct language be-
longing to this group, once widely spoken in the West Indies. Carib or
Island Carib also belongs to this group. The Tupi-Guarani family stretches
from Venezuela and Colombia along the Caribbean rim to areas deeper
in South America such as Brazil, Bolivia, Argentina and Paraguay. Akawaio
is part of the Kariban language family and is spoken by approximately
5,000 persons spread across Guyana, Brazil, and Venezuela. These are
the languages from which most of the lexical items below come.
a. agouti "a rodent resembling a guinea pig" < Guarani acuti
b. akuyuru "a large palm tree with large edible orange-colored fruit"
< Arawak akhoyoro. This term is common in Guyana.
c. arrow root "a plant whose roots are used to produce a starch" <
Guarani arari "a kind of dried starch;" aruru "name of the tree." It
seems that arrow root was formed by folk etymology as English speak-
ers assigned the sequence of sounds aruru to two words they were
already familiar with, i.e. arrow + root (see discussion below). This
item is known far beyond the Caribbean.
d. asipoko "an edible, small, round yellow fruit" < Arawak asepoko.
This form is common in Guyana.
e. awara "a red or reddish-yellow fruit" < Arawak. This term is com-
mon in Guyana.
f. canep, guinep "a pulpy fruit that grows in clusters like grapes;"
see"akee below < American Spanish guenepa/quenepa < Arawak.
Canep is a common form in the Bahamas and Turks and Caicos is-
lands; guinep is found throughout the Caribbean, though it often
refers to different types of fruit in different locations.
g. maipuri, tapir "a heavy, hooved, fruit-eating animal hunted for its
meat" < Akawaio maibuurii, Tupi-Guarani tapii. Both terms are heard
h. manicole-palm "young shoots of a palm tree that are cooked as
cabbage" < Arawak manaka. This form is common in Guyana. In
Trinidad, this item is called manac palm; the edible part is called
i. manioc, cassava "a hard root vegetable" < Guarani mandio. Manioc
is common in the Eastern Caribbean; cassava is heard throughout
j. morocot "freshwater fish with salmon-like flesh" < Arawak morokoto.
This term is common in Guyana.
k. paiwari "a mild alcoholic drink made of cassava/manioc and sweet
potatoes" < Akawaio pawaruu. This form is common in Guyana.
1. papaya, papaw "a yellow fruit with a thick sweet flesh" < Taino
I am indebted to Lise Winer for providing these Trinidadian forms.
THE BORROWING AND INNOVATION OF FOOD TERMS 83
m. parakari "a mild alcoholic drink made with cassava bread and
banana leaves" < Wapishana. This term is common in Guyana.
n. plantain "a fruit with a green skin, cooked as a vegetable, larger
than a banana" < Carib"ballatanna.
o. queriman "a large grey edible fish" < Arawak kereme. This form is
common in Guyana.
p. tannia "an edible pinkish tuber" < Tupi-Guarani taya.
q. titiri "tiny fish caught in numbers and dried for use as food" <
Carib. This term is common in the former French colonial areas of
Dominica, Grenada, and St. Vincent.
2.1.2 Food Items of African Origin
Many of the food items listed below seem uncontroversially derived
from a handful of African languages represented among the largest eth-
nic groups of slaves brought to the Americas. However, some of the
items have multiple sources (e.g. calalu) while others might actually
be forms that were first encountered or introduced into the Americas
from other locations and then subsequently brought to Africa, where
the lexical items in question can be found in a number of African lan-
guages (e.g. coco). When the possibility of multiple sources or conver-
gence of similar forms from different languages presents itself, it will
be noted under the lexical entry in question.
The languages represented by the etyma below derive from three
general geographical sections which correspond to areas of western
Africa visited by Europeans trading with African political leaders for
slaves: the Upper Guinea Coast (from present-day Senegal to Liberia),
which is represented by languages such as Fula and Mandingo; the
Lower Guinea Coast (from modern Ivory Coast to Nigeria), which in-
cludes the languages Twi and Yoruba; and the Kongo-speaking area of
the southern west coast of Africa from the Congo to Angola. Much of
the following information comes from Westermann & Bryan, Lyovin,
and Katzner (1952).
Several African languages seem to have dominated either culturally
and/or numerically as Af icans were transferred to the Americas. Twi
is a Kwa language that is part of the Niger-Congo language family. To-
day it has more than four million speakers in modern Ghana or the
historical colonial area of the Gold Coast. Yoruba and Igbo are part of
the same family. Yoruba is spoken by more than 16 million persons in
Nigeria, Togo, and Benin. Igbo is spoken by approximately 15 million
in Nigeria. Efik is also considered part of the same group today, but
84 MICHAEL ACETO
Westermann & Bryan consider it a language isolate. Efik contains about
40,000 native speakers between Nigeria and Cameroon. (If second lan-
guage speakers are considered, then the number of Efik speakers rises
to nearly four million.) The Bantu language group includes Kongo or
Kikongo and Kimbundu. Kikongo has about four million speakers spread
across Zaire, Angola, and Congo. Kimbundu has approximately two
million speakers in Angola.
Several other African languages, though less important in overall
terms of influence in the Anglophone Americas, also reveal themselves
through the presence of etyma in Caribbean languages. Mandingo, also
known as Malinke among other variants, is part of the Mande branch
of the Niger-Congo family of languages. It is spoken by more than three
million persons in Senegal, Gambia, Guinea-Bissau, Guinea, Mali, and
the Ivory Coast. Ga is part of the Kwa group. It is spoken by at least a
million people on the Lower Guinea Coast in Ghana, Togo, and Benin.
Fula or Fulani speakers are considered part of the Atlantic group of
Atlantic-Congo languages. These speakers are spread from Senegal on
the Upper Guinea Coast to Nigeria on the Lower Guinea coast. There
are thought to be more than 15 million speakers. Wolof is also a part of
the Atlantic branch and is spoken by more than four million people in
Mauritania, Senegal, and Gambia. Kru is spoken by about 40,000 per-
sons on the Ivory Coast; it is also part of the Niger-Congo family. Krio
is an English-derived Creole of Sierra Leone. Hancock considers it one
of the component languages that influenced the emergence of English-
derived Creoles in the Americas. Other scholars consider Krio to be
the result of a deportation of Jamaican Maroons to Sierra Leone early
in the nineteenth century (e.g., see Huber and Parkvall).2
a. afu yam "a common variety of hard yellow yam;" cf. Twi"afi "cul-
tivated ground; see entry for yam below.
b. agidi "a dish prepared from grated yellow yam that is mixed with
flour and fried" or "a pudding made from cornmeal and boiled in
a"banana leaf" < Yoruba dgidii "a prepared meal of corn;" Krio agidi
"food made of boiled ground corn."
c. akee "a tree that bears a large pear-shaped fruit" < Kru akee, Twi
arlyye a kind of wild cashew tree and its fruits."
d. akra "a flat cake made from blackeye peas or saltfish fried in oil"
2 For an example of scholarship that draws a link between Krio and the language
of Jamaican Maroons deported to Africa see Huber and Parkvall (1999).
THE BORROWING AND INNOVATION OF FOOD TERMS
< Yoruba, Igbo, Efik akara. In the Bahamas and Grenada, the related
form is akara or akaro.
e. asham "a sweet made with finely ground parched corn mixed with
sugar" < Twi o-sidm "parched and ground corn." This form is com-
mon in Antigua, Barbuda, Grenada, and Jamaica. The same dish is
called"sham-sham in St. Vincent,"sansam in Trinidad, corn-sham in
Belize and Grenada, with the variants hasham or kaksham in Jamaica
and ashum in Antigua.
f. benne "the tiny oval seeds of the sesame plant, used for creating
sweets" < Mandingo bene "sesame."
g. calalu "a name given to several green plants whose edible leaves
are used often in soups" < GE kalalu "broth, soup;" Mandingo colilu
"an edible herb resembling spinach." The word also appears in the
Amerindian languages Tupi and Guarani as well, which makes its
history less clear. This suggests a possible route of transmission
from the Americas to Africa.
h. coco "a root and its edible tubers" < Twi k6ok6, but cf. Polynesian
languages Hawaiian kokole and Rarotongan taro-koa-koa. Cassidy and
Le Page (112) suggest the word has its origins in the Pacific. The
word was then introduced into the Americas and then subsequently
into some African languages. This term is common in Belize and
Jamaica; throughout the Caribbean, this produce is also called
dasheen. That name derives from the French (chou) de Chine (see
discussion of this item and how its name was created below).
i. cou-cou "a mixture of cornmeal, okra, and butter; boiled and served
as a ball;" cf. Twi 7puKu "a species of yam." See also fungi below.
j. dokunu "a pudding made of some starch food such as plantain,
cassava flour, etc. It is often sweetened, wrapped in a banana leaf,
and boiled" < Twi odokono "boiled maize bread." Antigua reveals
the variant dokuna. This same item is called paime in Trinidad and
k. fungi "the same as or similar to cou-cou (see above)" < Kimbundu
funzhi "cassava mush," Kongo fundi "flour, porridge."
1. gub gub (peas) "similar to the black-eye pea but with a white spot
instead" < Kongo nguba "kidney, peanut." This term is common in
Trinidad; cf. goobers "peanuts" in Southern American English and the
name-brand for chocolate covered peanuts in general American En-
3 Thanks again to Lise Winer.
86 MICHAEL ACETO
m. mafube "a thick-skinned four-sided banana" < Kikongo
mfuba "a kind of brown banana." This form is common in St. Vincent
and Tobago. Makambou means the same fruit on some former French-
controlled islands (e.g. Dominica, St. Lucia); cf. Kikongo mankondo
"a generic term for plantains."
n. okra "a pod-like vegetable that secretes a thick liquid valued for
thickening soups and stews" < Twi rqkruma. In the American South,
okra is also often breaded and fried.
o. pinda "peanuts" < Kongo mpinda "ground-nut." This term is com-
mon in Belize, Jamaica, and the United States Virgin Islands.
p. wiri wiri pepper "a small pepper" < Yoruba werewere "small." This
term is common in Guyana.
q. (n)yam "to eat, especially with enthusiasm; a species of yam; food
or a meal" < Twi Enam "flesh, meat of any animal;" anyinam "species
of yam;" Wolof nam and Fula nyama "to eat." Many West African
languages reveal the word nyam as meaning "food" or as the verb
2.1.3 Food Items of English Origin
As might be expected, the category of English-derived influence has
the largest number of food items. Any variety of English, whether it is
considered a Creole or a dialect of the lexifier language (and that de-
bate will not be entered into here), has a substantial if not the largest
component of its lexicon stemming from the history of earlier variet-
ies of regional dialects of British English spoken in the Americas from
the sixteenth to the nineteenth century. Many speakers of English-de-
rived Creoles in the Caribbean, American English, or, for that matter,
any variety of English, often call their language simply "English" (among
other names) because the largest part of each language's respective
lexicon is derived from earlier colonial varieties of British English (the
dispersal of English around the world began in the sixteenth century
from Great Britain).4 This characterization does not mean, however,
that there are not other language influences upon the lexicon of any
variety of English. The data above and below clearly show that several
language groups have influenced varieties of Caribbean English in the
semantic area of food terms. Moreover, every human language every-
where without exception borrows words from other languages and
4 Cassidy and Le Page (1967) and Allsopp (1996) corroborate this point.
THE BORROWING AND INNOVATION OF FOOD TERMS
cultures it comes in contact with. For example, American English re-
veals the following borrowings: okra < the African language Twi, squash
< the Amerindian language Narragansett, prairie < colonial French, and
corral < colonial Spanish, just to name a few.
Varieties of Caribbean English have also generated novel food terms
as well. These can be broken down into three general patterns: Those
English-derived lexemes that are combined in innovative ways unre-
lated to earlier contributing forms of English heard by African slaves
in the mouths of English-speaking colonists and settlers; those forms
which are essentially retentions of regional dialect forms of British
English; and those that are based on latent African language influence
in the form of calques, i.e. word-for-word translations from African lan-
guages spoken by some slaves into new English words or phrases. The
forms listed below are from one of those three categories, and thus we
will not consider Anglophone Caribbean forms that may have been
borrowed more recently such as spaghetti (< Italian) and hamburger (<
German), as they straightforwardly demonstrate the influence of gen-
eral American English in the last fifty years or more. There is no a priori
reason not to consider forms similar to the aforementioned terms ex-
cept that their origins seem more transparent. Other common forms
such as blackberry, broth, and pudding are also not considered here,
except when they shed some light on the history of Anglophone Carib-
bean languages, since they seem common to many varieties of English,
even if the meaning is different in many varieties (e.g. pudding in the
Caribbean follows the general usage of British English "any sweet" more
closely than American varieties in which it means "a specific type of
sweet"). Furthermore, food terms borrowed from colonial Spanish and
French are also found in the Anglophone Caribbean (e.g. gizada "a small
open tart with a filling of coconut" < Spanish guisado "prepared, cooked
or stewed" is common in Jamaica and gospo "sour orange" < French
grosse peau "rough skin" (which is a reference to the fact that the skin
of this fruit can be used for scrubbing) is common in Dominica, Grenada,
a. alligator pear "avocado;" the form exists throughout the
Anglophone Americas based on its similarity to the shape of the
pear and its green, often bumpy, skin resembling an alligator. Some-
times the term avocado pear is heard in the Caribbean as well. This
form seems a Caribbean innovation since that is the area of the world
in which this species of flora naturally grows.
b. all-in-one "a meal in which meat, vegetables, and rice are cooked
in one pot." This term appears to be an innovation and is common
in Guyana. See one-pot below.
c. bamboo chicken "iguana." This innovative form is common in Belize
in particular and may be related to the similarity of the taste of this
reptile's flesh with poultry. It is known as guana in other parts of the
d. belly soup "a soup made with the entrails of sheep, goat or beef."
A common term in Barbados, this form appears to be a descriptive
e. bun bun "burnt food, especially rice, at the bottom of the pot;
highly sought after by some" < burn-burn. This term represents one
example of reduplication (the doubling of a word or syllable to cre-
ate a new word), which is common in many languages but espe-
cially productive in English-derived languages of the Caribbean (see
next lexical entry and discussion below).
f. bura bura "an edible berry with many sharp spines." This term is
common in Guyana. Allsopp (1996) believes it is derived from bore-
bore (with an intrusive -a at the end of each word), which is a refer-
ence to the fruit's sharp spines.
g. bush cow "tapir." Another innovation revealing that the tapir is
hunted for its flesh. This term is common in Guyana. See maipuri,
h. caca belly "different kinds of edible fish whose abdomen contains
large amounts of excrement."
i. chinee (Chinese) yam "a type of yam with a varying number of
tubers." The form is thought to be a description of where it is be-
lieved to have originated. Cf. chinee (Chinese) cabbage, chinee ba-
nana, chinee calalu, chinee plum, etc. Lise Winer informs me (per-
sonal communication) that in Trinidad the adjective Chinee is com-
monly applied to flora that are short and yellowish (i.e. due to an
unfortunate phenotypic stereotype). Thus, the term may have no
specific historical or geographical association with the people and
j. chip-chip sugar cake "a coconut sugar cake." Chip-chip is a redupli-
cative form that is a reference to the chippings of the coconut. The
term is common in former colonial territories such as Grenada and
Trinidad where creolized varieties of French were once more com-
monly spoken. In Trinidad, it is often known as only chip-chip.
k. coconut boil-in "a dish in which meat, calalu, tubers, and coconut
milk are boiled to create a soup." This innovative term is common in
St. Vincent." Food terms with prepositional particles such as up,
THE BORROWING AND INNOVATION OF FOOD TERMS
down, in are common in the Anglophone Caribbean (see next lexical
entry); see oil-down below.
1. cook up "similar to all-in-one (see above) including peas or beans
and often cooked in coconut milk."
m. dwarf banana "a banana that grows on a short tree." The term is
common in the Bahamas and Trinidad. The adjective dwarf is often
applied to anything growing on a short tree.
n. elephant apple "a large apple." The term is common in Guyana
and is most likely a reference to its size.
o. fish tea "hot fish broth." This form is common in Belize, Jamaica,
St. Vincent, Trinidad, Tobago, and Turks and Caicos islands. In the
Caribbean, tea very often means the first meal of the day and/or any
hot drink, e.g. chocolate-tea, coffee-tea, etc. Fish tea is clear; how-
ever, fish soup has chunks of fish and other ingredients in it.
p. garden egg "eggplant." The word egg seems a reference to the ob-
long shape of the eggplant. This term is common in the Cayman
Islands, Grenada, Jamaica, and Turks and Caicos islands.
q. lab "porridge" < Yorkshire English lob or loblolly "a thick stew or
hash." This form is common in Belize. Loblolly is common in Jamaica.
It represents the influence of regional dialects of British English on
the emergence of Caribbean Englishes.
r. mountain chicken "a large, edible brown frog." This innovative form is
a reference to the location where the amphibian is found and the qual-
ity of its flesh. See bamboo chicken above. The term is common in
Dominica and Montserrat. Compound nouns with mountain as the first
noun are common in Jamaica, e.g. mountain calalu, mountain cinnamon,
mountain crab, et al.; cf. mountain lion in American English.
s. oil-down "vegetables and meat boiled in coconut oil." This form is
common in Grenada, Trinidad, and Tobago. It is also known as coco-
nut-boil-in in St. Vincent (see above).
t. one-pot "same as all-in-one above." This term is common in Grenada,
St. Kitts, and Trinidad. It may be a calque on a West African expres-
sion: Wolof benacin "a meal made by cooking everything together."
Krio, the English-derived Creole of Sierra Leone, also has a dish called
u. peas and rice "rice cooked with pigeon peas." Other types of peas
or beans besides pigeon peas may be found as the ingredient in this
v. sea cat "a small, edible octopus;" also known as sea-puss (cf. puss
< octopus). Sea-puss is probably the earlier form and by analogy puss
alternated with cat.
90 MICHAEL ACETO
w. souse "a cold, pickled dish of pork, onions, cucumbers, and red
peppers" < souse "a pickling brine" in other varieties of English.
x. tang "a surgeon or lancet fish" < regional dialects of British En-
glish tang "any point."
2.1.4 Food Items of Indic Origin
Many of the food terms derived from Indic languages have also been
borrowed by speakers of other English varieties in approximately the
last 150 years or so. English has been spoken in India in some form
since the sixteenth century, and Indian English has begun to be stud-
ied as its own variety in some detail (e.g., see Mehrotra 1998). Natu-
rally, Indian English (as spoken in India) would have been the first va-
riety to incorporate Indic-derived food terms within its lexicon. As Indic-
and Indian English-speaking immigrants mainly from British colonies
in the East Indies began to immigrate to the Americas, the food terms
below would have begun to be distributed across the Caribbean. Un-
less otherwise specified, the distribution of the food terms below should
be assumed to be characteristic of Guyana and Trinidad, countries to
which large numbers of indentured servants from colonial possessions
in the East Indies were sent in the second half of the nineteenth cen-
tury. The Indic languages that seem to have the most influence on the
emergence of English-derived languages in the Caribbean are Hindi and
Bhojpuri. Both languages share a large portion of lexical items.
a. aloo "potato" < Hindi"aaluu.
b. chalta "a gourd-like fruit that grows on an evergreen tree"
< Bhojpuri/Hindi chaltaa; also known as elephant apple (see above)
in other parts of the West Indies (see above).
c. cush-cush, kus-kus "a sweet made of grated/crushed cassava or
coconut" < Bhojpuri kuch-kucha or < Hindi kuuchnaa "to crush or
pound." This form is common in Antigua and Guyana. In the United
States Virgin Islands, cush-cush means "residual pieces of sugar
cane after the liquid has been extracted." Note the possible influ-
ence of English"crush reduplicatedd) as an additional or conver-
gent source of this item. In Trinidad, cush-cush refers to the ed-
ible tuber of a plant.5
d. daal "a paste or powder made of yellow peas for roti (see below)
"Thanks again are due to Lise Winer for pointing this out.
THE BORROWING AND INNOVATION OF FOOD TERMS 91
or soup" < Bhojpuri/Hindi daal "pulse." This food term is common
in Jamaica as well as in Trinidad and Guyana.
e. halwa(h) "a sweet made of flour, ghee, and eggs, often spiced with
curry powder" < Hindi halvaa, haluaa; cf. similar product made with
tahini is found in many Jewish and Middle Eastern cultures as well
as in delicatessens and bakeries in many parts of the world.
f. jamoon "a dark-skinned plum" < Hindi jaamun "black plum;" this
term is common in Guyana; in Barbados, it is calledjamur. In Belize,
it is called black-berry or damson; in Antigua, ebony-berry or Java-
plum; and in Jamaica, Java-plum. In Trinidad, this term refers to the
dark purple fruits of several trees.'
g. jhingie, ghingee "a type of green squash" < Bhojpuri/Hindi jhinggii.
This form is common in Guyana. In Trinidad, this refers to the luffa,
which is edible when very young, but usually grown for the dried fiber.7
h. mithai "a sweet made of flour and water, coated with sugar and
fried" < Bhojpuri/Hindi mithaaii.
i. parat(h)a-roti "a pastry-like roti (see below)" < Hindi paraatha "a
fried pancake-like roti."
j. pelau, pilau "a one-pot meal of rice, meat, vegetables, and some-
times coconut milk" < Urdu < probably Persian, the language of Iran.
This is a common term throughout the Caribbean and many parts
of the world.
k. phulouri(e)-/palo(w)ri(-balls) "small balls of fried peas, flour, and
seasonings" < Bhojpuri palauri, Hindi phulauri "gram flour."
1. pinda "a cooked lump of rice powder, honey and milk" < Hindi
pindaa "lump of cooked rice;" cf. pinda above for an African lan-
m. puri, daal puri "a type of roti with daal filling, often fried" < daal +
puri < Bhojpuri/Hindi puurii "fried dough."
n. roti "unleavened bread wrapped around a curry filling" < Hindi
rotii "bread." This form is common throughout the Caribbean.
o. saijan "a pod which grows on a tree of the same name that is used
as a vegetable in curries" < Bhojpuri sahijan "drumstick."
3.0 Discussion and Conclusions
Two principles of language study are worth mentioning here: 1) all
languages everywhere are in a state of change; and 2) all languages are
1 Thanks again to Lise Winer.
7 Thanks again to Lise Winer.