Creolistics

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Creolistics is the study of both creoles and the pidgin languages from which creoles develop. Although the study of these contact languages is most often associated with linguistics, particularly language acquisition and sociolinguistics, it has expanded into related fields such as anthropology, sociology, history and literary studies, because the creation of a creole invariably involves cross-cultural contact.[1] Researchers who study creole phenomena may be known as creolists.

Creolistics has provided some revealing and controversial insights into language evolution, acquisition and use, though disagreements exist over what languages or varieties can be labelled a 'creole' or a 'pidgin', and debate continues over the nature of creolisation (how creoles are formed). Major issues include: on the one hand the amount of 'simplification' or 'simplicity' in the syntax, morphology, semantics, phonology of pidgins and on the other hand their simplified functional uses, the former being heavily correlated with the latter according to some linguists such as Hymes.[2] Other issues are the 'life cycle' of pidgins and creoles (e.g. 'Is a pidgin a necessary prerequisite for a creole to form?' 'Does creole genesis usually lead to a post-creole continuum, in which varieties differ relative to the broadest forms of the creole and the language(s) from which most vocabulary is derived?'); and the origins of grammatical structures in creoles which are absent in any preceding pidgin.[3]

The third of the above controversies is particularly contentious. For example, the language bioprogram hypothesis (LBH)[4] of Derek Bickerton claims that creole genesis supports ideas about the nature of language associated with Noam Chomsky; as creole grammars are remarkably similar across the world,[5] this reflects the existence of an innate faculty for language. Bickerton does, however, go further than most creolists in explaining creole genesis as being largely biologically-based, and the LBH has been strongly critiqued.[6] Other controversial theories, such as relexification,[7] form part of current enquiry but as yet there is no widely-accepted account of creole genesis that satisfactorily explains most of the data.

Footnotes

  1. Siegel (2005: 141).
  2. Hymes, D. Pidginization and Creolization of Languages (1968: 73).
  3. Siegel (2008: 3-7).
  4. e.g. Bickerton (1984).
  5. Sebba (1997: 70-72).
  6. e.g Siegel (2008: 8; 66-78; 91-104; 133-134).
  7. e.g. Lefebvre (1998, 2004).

See also