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Review of  Ibero-Asian Creoles

Reviewer: Marilola Perez
Book Title: Ibero-Asian Creoles
Book Author: Hugo Canelas Cardoso Alan N. Baxter Mário Pinharanda Nunes
Publisher: John Benjamins
Linguistic Field(s): General Linguistics
Language Family(ies): Iberian based
Asian Creoles
Issue Number: 26.2619

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Review's Editors: Helen Aristar-Dry and Sara Couture


The papers in this volume were part of a conference entitled: “Ibero-Asian Creoles: Comparative perspectives” held at the University of Macau on the 28th and 29th of October, 2012. The conference was the first scholarly meeting dedicated to the Portuguese- and Spanish-lexified Creoles of Asia.

In the 15th century, the Portuguese expansion started out as a series of trading posts along the African coast, and extended through India reaching the Southeast Asian territory. Despite the trading network’s magnitude, the editors of this volume point out that “contact languages of Asia and the Pacific remain less prominent than their Atlantic and American counterparts in scholarly publications in the field of Creole Studies. Given the typological diversity of their Asian and Southeast Asian source languages, the virtual omission of these languages in contact language scholarship undermines the descriptive adequacy of the contact language typology. Moreover, comparative work is still virtually scarce with exceptions including Hancock (1975), Holm (1989) and Clements (2000, 2002,2009).

The papers in ‘Ibero-Asian Creoles in a comparative perspective’ contribute data from previously unpublished extensive fieldwork conducted by some of the leading experts in each of the represented languages.

Similarities across Ibero-Asian contact varieties inspired early hypotheses proposing a common Portuguese pidgin (Clements, 2000; Schuchardt, 1883; Whinnom, 1956). Many of the papers in this volume refer to a common pidgin and examine the amount of influence that it may have had on the creole varieties. For example, Baxter and Bastos (p. 47) compare genitive constructions across various Ibero-Asian creoles, and explain similarities as evidence of the spread of a genitive construction from an India-based pidgin to Malacca. In his contribution, Fernandez suggests separate developments for the Spanish-lexified creoles (2007, 2009, 2010) and proposes a Spanish model for a negation construction in Chabacano. He holds that the evidence favors “those of us who do not hold with the idea of a single origin for all the Spanish creoles of the Philippines” (231).
The papers in this volume also address typological and sociolinguistic challenges to studies of their diachrony, such as typological similarities among their adstrates, and continuous contact between contact languages and their source languages (hence called in the volume ‘adstrates’ instead of ‘substrate’).

The volume can be roughly split in three main groups: the first contains the bulk of comparative papers that focus on the relationship between duration of Portuguese presence and the structural weight of adstrate and lexifier. Detailed discussions of adstrate effects are found in the second group of papers. The last group of papers traces structural indicators of the lexifier.

Papers in this volume are:

1. Introduction (1- 14), Hugo C. Cardoso, Alan N. Baxter and Mário Pinharanda Nunes
2. Notes on the phonology and lexicon of some Indo- Portuguese creoles (15- 46), J. Clancy Clements
3. A closer look at the post-nominal genitive in Asian Creole Portuguese (47- 80), Alan N. Baxter and Augusta Bastos
4. Luso-Asian comparatives in comparison (81- 124), Hugo C. Cardoso
5. Measuring substrate influence: Word order features in Ibero-Asian Creoles (125- 148), Ian Smith
6. Indefinite terms in Ibero-Asian Creoles (149-180), Eeva Sippola
7. Maskin, maski, masque… in the Spanish and Portuguese creoles of Asia: Same particle, same provenance? (181-204), Nancy Vázquez Veiga and Mauro Fernández
8. Nenang, nino, nem nao, ni no: Similarities and differences (205- 238), Mauro Fernández
9. Bilug in Zamboagueño Chavacano: the genericization of a substrate numeral classifier (239- 262), Carl Rubino
10. Portuguese pidgin and Chinese Pidgin English in the Canton trade (263- 288), Stephen Matthews and Michelle Li
11. Traces of a superstrate verb inflection in Makista and other Asian-Portuguese creoles (289- 326), Mário Pinharanda Nunes
12. Mindanao Chabacano and other ‘mixed creoles’: Sourcing the morphemic components (327- 364), Anthony P. Grant

Clements begins papers in this volume showing that the degree to which lexifier and adstrate languages are recruited in the contact language vary among different linguistic systems. Adopting an evolutionary approach to language change (Croft, 2000), the author suggests that historical and structural differences between Northern and Southern Indian Creoles can be explained as interplay of adstrate effects with the length of Portuguese presence. He compares the structure of five Indian Portuguese Creoles (IPC) and focuses on three “key differences” between these creoles: consonant and vowel inventory, core lexicon, and syllabic structure. He finds that overall, Northern Indian Creoles preserve more Portuguese segments than Southern Indian, and proposes that the relatively short role of Portuguese presences in the south can explain the absence of Portuguese consonants and vowels in Southern IP. On the other hand, Clements finds that Southern Creoles preserve more Portuguese syllabic structure than Northern Creoles and puts forward a typological explanation based on Dravidian syllabic structure convergence with Portuguese. He explains the different contact mechanisms, i.e. preserving Portuguese features versus preserving adstrate features, as, respectively, examples of borrowing versus language shift.

In the next paper, Baxter and Bastos seek to understand the origin of contact varieties and explain differences among them. The post nominal genitive ‘sa’ is among the set of Ibero-Asian creoles features associated with a common Asian pidgin (Clements 2000, Ferraz 1987). The authors argue that the Portuguese form is recruited based on the frequency of a Portuguese genitive pronoun in early non-standard Portuguese varieties. In consonance with Clements, they explain differences as Dravidian and Indo-Aryan reinterpretations of the Portuguese post-nominal constructions. The authors then shift their attention to the comparison of the post-nominal genitive in Korlai, Mangalore, Sri Lanka, Malacca Batavia and Macau; they find that functions associated to its lexifier form can be traced from Indian Creoles to Malacca Creole, the easternmost Ibero-Asian creole. They also argue that semantic trace of the original Portuguese pronoun in creole Malacca explains the variation between ‘sa’ and a functionally similar form.

In the next paper, Cardoso investigates the role of lexifier and adstrate languages in comparative constructions across Diu, Daman, Korlai, Cannanore, Batticaloa, Malacca, Batavia/Tugu and Macau. After describing the construction in standard Portuguese, which has more available data compared to the likely non-standard varieties, Cardoso follows up with descriptions of the construction in each creole and their adstrate. The author organizes all the creoles according to their ‘reliance on lexifier’ (p. 110), a point-based computation used to quantify each creole’s similarity to the lexifier (vs. adstrate). Cardoso finds that contact languages with longer Portuguese presence (Diu, Daman) show the greatest similarity with Portuguese constructions. Cardoso lists several exceptions to this general trend and discusses some possibilities including the recruitment of forms from an earlier Ibero-Asian pidgin.

Smith’s work also examines the relationship between length of Portuguese presence and its relationship with the relative weight of source languages in: Sri Lanka, Malacca Creole, Batavia, Daman and Diu, Korlai, Sri Lanka, Chabacano, and Makista. Smith’s selection of word order features comes from the online version of the Atlas of Pidgin and Creole Structures (APiCS) (Michaelis, Maurer, Haspelmath, and Huber, 2013). The author employs a point-based comparison metric (“Substrate Influence Score”) to measure the similarities between each contact variety and its source languages. Under this metric, similarity with lexifier is assigned a +1, similarity to adstrate is -1, a partial similarity such as Korlai’s dominant adstrate based SOV order (a shift from the lexifier’s SVO), can be +/- .5. Even though, as the author acknowledges, the metric may carry some amount of arbitrariness, his results are consistent with other articles in this volume. Regarding the lexifier, he also finds a correlation between lexifier influence and degree of Portuguese/Spanish presence in the major categories of Ibero Asian Creoles. Meanwhile, languages with more than one adstrate (e.g. Malacca, Batavia) show a tendency towards the earliest adstrate. Smith discusses his results based on the Lefevbre and Lumsden (1992) claim of lexifier determined word order in creole formation. The author attributes exceptions to this generalization (e.g.VSO in Chabacano) to post-creolization process.

Sippola compares the forms of indefinite pronoun paradigms across a broad range of ACP: Portuguese-lexified Diu, Korlai, Sri Lanka, Malacca, Macau and three varieties of Chabacano and proposes different mechanisms to explain variation between languages The comparison features are chosen based on formal typological categories (Haspelmath, 1997) which include ‘special indefinite’, ‘interrogative based indefinite’ and ‘generic noun-based indefinites’. After presenting examples of each category in each language, she finds that degree of variation of indefinite terms between languages varies among kinds of indefiniteness. Differences reflect their different adstrates, or language-internal changes; on the other hand, pronominal terms are derived from their superstrate languages (Spanish, Portuguese). Other processes such as lexifier-adstrate convergence can further motivate the use of Ibero indefinites. Sippola notes various caveats, which include the risk of making faulty historical associations between creoles based on similarities that may instead be explained by a shared genetic pool of the adstrates. Also, she discusses the synchronic availability of alternative forms in many of these creoles to emphasize the “generalizing bias of typological studies” and the limitations of data that do not account for lectal variation, *including* register variation. The last point is particularly important in the study of Ibero-Asian varieties that have remained in contact with their source languages.

In their work, Fernandez and Vázquez consider the role of Spanish in the development of the widespread concessive particle, ‘maski’. Like many other widespread features, the particle has been traced back to a Portuguese pidgin (Whinnom, 1956). Fernandez and Vázquez argue for a different origin and present examples taken from 17th and 18th century Spanish grammars and dictionaries that show the concessive use of a different source form ‘mas que’. Then they show Zamboanga and Cavite Chabacano uses of ‘maski’ in different texts and grammars where Chabacano ‘maski’ has “a new scalar or intensifying function, in addition to that of a focal or indefinite quantifier” of ‘maski’ in other Ibero Asian creoles (Sri Lanka, Malacca, Macau and Tugu). The authors describe non-concessive functions and argue that they are acquired from Philippine languages (p. 191). As evidence of the local development of ‘maski’, the authors present the use of the particle in Spanish with the Philippines functions in a text from a Spanish Jesuit missionary, presumably from 18th or 19th century Chabacano (p. 196). According to the authors, this text supports an account in which the Spanish-derived form incorporated functions from the surrounding Philippine languages. Examples of the different functions of ‘maski’ are taken from various texts appearing in blogs written in Chabacano from Zamboanga.

In his second paper in this volume, Fernández compares the functions and forms of a negation mark across contact languages to develop an account of some possible paths of development. Fernández investigates the negation marker across the Ibero-Asian creoles and different Portuguese varieties. He finds that the functions of the particle in Kristang diverge from those found in Portuguese and the other creoles. The author explains associated functions as series of pragmatic presuppositions that lead to the relexification of a Malay particle with the Portuguese form.

In his paper, Rubino investigates functions of ‘bilug’, a noun classifier in the Zamboanga variety of Chabacano. Noun classifiers are a common feature of Southeast Asian languages, but highly rare in contact language varieties. Given the absence of the numeric classifier in other Chabacano varieties, Rubino points to the influence of southern Filipino adstrates including Visayan languages, specifically Hiligayon. In a corpus-based study, Rubino shows that, compared to numeral classifiers in the source languages, the Zamboanga Chabacano classifier has diverged and widened its semantic scope from marking things that can be counted to a more general individuation marker (p. 246). He contrasts the uses of ‘bilug’ with an equivalent Spanish-derived term ‘pidaso’ (Sp. pedazo), which is semantically and syntactically constrained to pretty much the same contexts of use in Spanish. On the other hand, in recent data from Chabacano-English code-switching examples, the author notes that the English word ‘unit’ can be used in place of the noun classifier. He argues that the general semantic concept of the classifier is part of the conceptual organization of Zamboanga Chabacano speakers , and not just superficial form borrowing (p. 256). A question worth asking is: why was the Spanish form never used as a classifier? In general, the paper raises questions concerning the extent of semantic transfer between different language forms.

After briefly describing the role of Portuguese in the China Trade, Matthew and Li investigate which elements of Chinese Pidgin English (CPE) could have been inherited from Macao Pidgin Portuguese (MPP). Specifically, they are interested in exploring whether there is evidence to suggest that CPE is a re-lexified form of MPP and set out to compare lexical and grammatical systems of CPE and MPP. The authors examine various 18th and 19th century pidgin pedagogical phrase books written for traders. At the lexical level, they find a progression from the use of some Portuguese words in CPE to their substitution with English forms. They also show equivalents in English and Portuguese and suggest that Portuguese and English lexical items coexisted at some point (p. 271). The authors describe the use of existential constructions and a complementizer and show that neither can be analyzed as Cantonese or English use. They use 16th century Portuguese texts as evidence to suggest that despite their English-derived phonological forms, each term must have a Portuguese source. They also show same functions in other Portuguese creoles and non-standard varieties provide further proof of a Portuguese source. They explain the terms’ development through a “softer” version of according to which newer forms of an early auxiliary language (English) replaced an older auxiliary language (Portuguese), but kept its influence in some aspects of the grammar (p. 282).

In the next paper Pinharanda Nunes investigates the origin of verbal inflectional morphology (3sg,1sg, Past Perfective/Imperfective) in Makista. He identifies basilectal use by the additional presence of aspectual markers and/or differences in aspectual/tense information from the superstrate. The author shows that the distribution of the verbal inflectional morphology is not uniform across all verb forms. Pinharanda notes that, in regard to verbal inflectional morphology, Makista is more functionally similar to Northern Indian Creoles (Daman, Diu and Korlai), than to the closer Malacca Creole. Since Pinharanda does not find superstrate derived forms in earlier data, he argues that inflectional morphology must have been a relatively recent decreolization development. His historical data does not match Northern Indian Creoles data, which shows inflectional morphology during creolization (Luís, 2008). The later acquisition of inflectional morphology in Makista also explains the acrolectal range of items and functions observed in Makista in relation to NIC (p. 294). The last section of the paper gives a sociohistorical context of decreolization in Makista.

In his paper, Grant continues the topic of post-creolization structural effects of lexifier languages with a discussion of ‘Mixed Creoles’, which are defined as “one for which at least 10% of the Swadesh list derives from languages other than the chief lexifier” (p. 328). Grant contrasts Mixed Creole and ‘Mixed Languages’ (Matras and Bakker, 2003), and points out that, unlike mixed creoles, “mixed languages use (somewhat regularized, less allomorph-heavy and scaled-down) versions of sets of their contributory languages’ inflectional (and often derivational) morphology (p. 346). On the other hand, Mixed Creoles also show a more heterogenous distribution of morphology between each of their source languages. Grant finds a weak correlation between the set of borrowed basic lexicon and the proportion of borrowed structural features. He suggests that results may be understood if two borrowing pathways are considered: Portuguese lexicon may have been borrowed from an early Portuguese pidgin (e.g. Angolar lexicon from Sao Tomé pidgin), or directly from substrate and adstrate languages uniform lexicon (Mindanao Chabacano (p. 355)). The category of ‘Mixed Creoles’ offers a new typological framework to understand contact languages, such as Ibero-Asian contact languages, which have had later periods of re-structuration over an already crystallized contact language. Grant’s paper also points out a caveat against any structural predictions based on the typological category of the lexifier .


Each paper in this volume is supported by extensive and careful data, accompanied by contextual and historical information, such as an emphasis on lectal and register variation (e.g. Sippola, Cardoso). The selection of papers successfully represent some of the main issues in Ibero-Asian creole studies, such as identifying source languages among typological similar adstrates, establishing a diachrony of source languages in a setting where the creole remains in contact with its source languages, and relatedly, accounting for synchronic variation between adstrate and lexifier forms.

The volume is also successful in showing the interrelatedness and structural similarities among the examined creoles. As an added strength, feature spread descriptions are consistently supported by extensive historical evidence. Given the comparative goal of many of these papers, the data could overwhelm the reader and proof hard to follow. However, the presentation of data, and the summary of results are achieved with great clarity. The volume’s charts and tables provide an invaluable reference source for future research.

Despite its invaluable contribution to present a comprehensive view of some of the main issues concerning Ibero-Asian creoles, sometimes the discussion of the data in the individual papers seem too committed to a ‘founder’s principle’ analysis. That is, the analyses of structural effects of contact in each individual contribution uniformly explain the presence of features in terms of their source languages, and most papers do not consider the possibility that these are independent innovations or parallel developments.

The focus on lexifier/adstrate derived structures might be especially troublesome for features that have been traditionally associated with grammaticalization tendencies possibly arising from common processes of creole/contact variety development. A discussion regarding this aspect is explicitly discussed by Grant with an example from serial verbs. On the other hand, the source language influence is just assumed as the default explanation in other papers, even when the feature is admittedly cross-linguistically common such as double negation constructions (Fernandez pg. 219).
Nonetheless, the volume’s focus on adstrate and lexifier effects is not necessarily a terrible weakness; these explanations might be valuable to know correspondences between source and contact languages, especially in this understudied language area. In the end, the volume does what it sets out to do: help characterize the language area of Ibero-Asian contact languages, including some of the main issues that will surely inspire future research.


Baxter, A. N. (1988). A grammar of Kristang: (Malacca Creole Portuguese. Dept. of Linguistics, Research School of Pacific Studies, Australian National University.

Clements, J. C. (1996). The Genesis of a Language: The Formation and Development of Korlai Portuguese. John Benjamins Publishing.

Clements, J. C., and Koontz‐Garboden, A. (2002). Two Indo-Portuguese Creoles in contrast. Journal of Pidgin and Creole Languages, 17(2), 191–236. doi:10.1075/jpcl.17.2.03cle.

Croft, W. (2000). Explaining language change: An evolutionary approach. Pearson Education.

Dalgado, S. R. (1913). Influência do vocabulário português em línguas asiáticas:(abrangendo cêrca de cinqúenta idiomas). Impr. da Universidade.

Hancock, I. F. (1975). Malacca Creole Portuguese: Asian, African or European? Anthropological Linguistics, 17(5), 211–236. doi:10.2307/30027570

Haspelmath, M. (1997). Indefinite pronouns. Clarendon Press Oxford. Retrieved from

Holm, J. A. (1989). Pidgins and Creoles: Volume 2, Reference Survey. Cambridge University Press.

Luís, A. R. (2008). Tense marking and inflectional morphology in Indo-Portuguese creoles. Roots of Creole Structures: Weighing the contribution of substrates and superstrates, 83–121.

Matras, Y., and Bakker, P. (2003). The study of mixed Languages. In The mixed language debate: theoretical and empirical advances (p. 1). Walter de Gruyter.

McWhorter, J. H. (1998). Identifying the Creole Prototype: Vindicating a Typological Class. Language, 74(4), 788–818.

Michaelis, S. M., Maurer, P., Haspelmath, M., and Huber. (2013). Atlas of Pidgin and Creole Language Structures Online. Leipzig: Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology. Retrieved November 2, 2013, from

Pinharanda Nunes, M. (2011). Estudo da Expressao Morfo-Sintactica das Categorias de Tempo, Modo e Aspecto em Maquista. University of Macau, Macau.

Rubino, C. (2008). Zamboangue\ no Chavacano and the potentive mode. Roots of Creole structures: weighing the contribution of substrates and superstrates, 279.

Schuchardt, H. (1883). Kreolische Studien IV: über das Malaiospanische der Philippinen : Schuchardt, Hugo : Free Download and Streaming : Internet Archive. In Sitzungsberichte der kaiserlichen Akademie der Wissenschaften zu Wien (Vol. 105). Retrieved from

Sippola, E. (2011). Una gramática descriptiva del Chabacano de Ternate. Universidad de Helsinski, Helsinski.

Whinnom, K. (1956). Spanish contact vernaculars in the Philippine Islands. Hong Kong University Press.
Marilola Perez is a Ph.D. candidate in linguistics at the University of California at Berkeley. Her academic interests are in the areas of sociolinguistics, historical linguistics, anthropological linguistics, and (post)colonialism. Her dissertation examines Philippine Creole Spanish 'Chabacano', a Spanish-lexified contact language spoken on the Philippines.