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Review of  The Syntax of Cape Verdean Creole

Reviewer: Angela Bartens
Book Title: The Syntax of Cape Verdean Creole
Book Author: Marlyse Baptista
Publisher: John Benjamins
Linguistic Field(s): Sociolinguistics
Issue Number: 14.1515

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Date: Mon, 26 May 2003 13:39:15 +0300
From: Angela Bartens
Subject: The Syntax of Cape Verdean Creole: the Sotavento varieties

Baptista, Marlyse (2002) The Syntax of Cape Verdean Creole: the
Sotavento varieties. (Linguistik Aktuell/Linguistics Today 54.) John
Benjamins Publishing Company, 289 pp, hardback ISBN 9027227756.

Angela Bartens, University of Helsinki.


The Cape Verde Islands are home to one of the most fascinating creole
languages, at least according to myself. First of all, there are
potentially as many varieties as there are inhabited islands. Second,
the Portuguese-based creoles spoken in the Cape Verde islands present a
number of constructions not usually found in creole languages such as
fossilized inflected tense and mood forms (cf. Bartens 1995). Hence its
or their particular interest to Creole Studies.


The book under review is a revised Ph.D. dissertation from Harvard
University. The book is dedicated to the people of Cape Verde,
especially to the isolated Rabeladu ('rebel') community near the village
of Espinho Branco on Santiago. The main goals of the volume are to
promote a better understanding of Cape Verdean Creole (henceforth CVC),
to present data from four different Sotavento varieties of CVC and to
apply the principles and simultaneously inform the field of generativist
linguistic theory. The respective targeted audiences are creolists, Cape
Verdeans and generativists (pp. 4-5).
In the introductory chapter, Baptista briefly presents previous
studies, the linguistic situation in the archipelago, the database,
methodology and theoretical framework employed in the study as well as
the aforementioned goals and orthographic choices. Chapter 2 is a
sociohistorical sketch of the formation of Cape Verdean creole. Baptista
appears to side with those researchers who locate the genesis of Upper
Guinean Proto-Portuguese Creole in the Cape Verde Islands (p. 19) and
considers that both children and adults from different populational
groups (both European and African) participated in the process. While
this is not surprising in itself, I found her affirmation that both
Sotavento and Barlavento varieties emerged over a period of
approximately one hundred years (p. 21) quite surprising, considering
that we know that some islands were (re-)populated only in the 18th and
19th century and that she is actually citing my componential diffusion
model in this context (cf. Bartens 2000). (Note also that in the general
conclusion, Baptista assumes [p. 264] that the Proto-Creole could have
emerged already in the 17th century which is in contradiction with the
previous statement as the archipelago was discovered in the 15th
The three descriptive chapters of the book provide in-depth analyses of
the Cape Verdean NP (chapter 3), the Cape Verdean VP and other
constituents (chapter 4) as well as various syntactic patterns (chapter
5). Thanks to Baptista's analytic rigor we get a much clearer picture of
various CVC structures such as nominal plural marking which, as she
demonstrates, is sensitive to animacy and definiteness, or the complex
area of TMA-marking. For example, Baptista is the first researcher to
postulate two different verbal markers ta1 and ta2. She is also the
first to notice that CVC has both impersonal and agentive passive
constructions. In addition, she argues that a group of verbs which
previously had been analyzed as (partly) stative are nonstative.
(However, it is unclear why the other constituents such as quantifiers,
conjunctions and prepositions are treated in the chapter on the VP.) In
chapter 5 which in practice essentially deals with word order we learn
that in spite of being an Atlantic creole, CVC has subject verb
inversion, preadverbial verbs and post-Neg subjects.
Chapter 6 on functional categories and clause structure serves as a
bridge to the theoretically oriented chapters on the verbal syntax
(chapter 7) and on the syntax of pronominals (chapter 8). The following
are among the main findings of the study: a language with minimal verb
morphology and no subject-verb agreement like CVC may still have verb
movement; in spite of being a creole language, CVC is a radical pro-drop
language where subject clitics are syntactic clitics which are heads in
The volume contains a table of contents, a list of abbreviations, maps
of the islands where fieldwork was done, a presentation of the official
orthography of CVC, a thorough bibliography (fourteen pages), an index
and, last but by no means least, a CD with twelve original interviews
from all four islands surveyed for the study.


The volume under review is an exhaustive study of the core areas of CVC
linguistic structure. In terms of CVC studies, it certainly constitutes
a milestone. However, as Baptista suggests (e.g. p. 7, note 3), much
remains to be done, especially in terms of comparative work. I believe
such comparative work should not only include more varieties of CVC but
should also focus more on the Portuguese input. For example, when
discussing the fact that the position of an adjective vis-à-vis the noun
may change its meaning (pp. 69-70), Baptista does not mention the fact
that the phenomenon and the respective meanings have been taken over
from Portuguese. In the discussion of the origins of the morpheme e (pp.
104-110) the homophony with the Portuguese copula é which suggests
multiple origins (Baptista derives the element essentially from the
Portuguese 3rd person pronoun ele) could be stressed more. Evidence for
the origin of the formal pronouns nho, nha in Portuguese senhor, senhora
(p. 46) could be adduced from Brazilian Portuguese sinhô, sinhá. The
reduplication onteonte 'day before yesterday' is probably a folk
etymology of Portuguese anteontem. In the discussion of prepositions
(pp. 135-137), Baptista again fails to notice the Portuguese parallels.
The same goes for the subject-verb inversion with gerunds (pp. 144-145)
and with the enclitic position of object clitics (p. 225; here, the
enclitic position is the unmarked position in [European] Portuguese). In
spite of its thoroughness, there are also a few other minor omissions.
For example, the definition of serial verbs (pp. 114-115) does not
mention the possible occurrence of objects and there has been some
confusion with the numbers of the subsections of chapter 3.
Nevertheless, we are talking about minor details, no real shortcomings
or errors, and I warmly recommend this outstanding publication to anyone
interested in Cape Verdean creole, creole languages in general, and/or
generativist theory. Finally, by means of including the CD, it also
makes authentic language data accessible to other researchers.


Bartens, Angela (1995): Die iberoromanisch-basierten Kreolsprachen:
Ansätze der linguistischen Beschreibung. Frankfurt/ Main: Peter Lang.
Bartens, Angela (2000): Notes on componential diffusion in the genesis
of the Kabuverdianu cluster. In: John Mc Whorter (ed.): Language Change
and Language Contact in Pidgins and Creoles. (Creole Language Library
21.)Amsterdam & Philadelphia: John Benjamins, 35-61.


ABOUT THE REVIEWER Angela Bartens is Acting chair of Iberoromance Philology at the University of Helsinki. Her research interests include language contact including pidgins and creoles, sociolinguistics and applied sociolinguistics including language policy and language planning.