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Review of  Language Creation and Language Change

Reviewer: Miriam Meyerhoff
Book Title: Language Creation and Language Change
Book Author: Sorry, No Book Author Data Available!
Publisher: MIT Press
Linguistic Field(s): Historical Linguistics
Issue Number: 10.1347

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DeGraff, Michel (ed.) (1999) Language Creation and Language Change:
Creolization, diachrony, and development. The MIT Press: Cambridge,
MA/London. pp.543 (+x; index).

Reviewed by Miriam Meyerhoff, University of Hawaii.

'Language Creation and Language Change' is a collection of fifteen papers
by 21 authors. The first and last are substantial overviews
provided by the editor DeGraff. Each of the other 13 chapters examines some
aspect of language acquisition relating the findings to theories of
creolization. The theory most authors engage with directly is some form of
Bickerton's Language Bioprogram Hypothesis (LBH). All contributors subscribe
to the existence of some form of Universal Grammar and are interested in
exploring the extent to which this appears to constrain the probable outcome
of first and second language acquisition (L1A and L2A, of creoles and
non-creoles) and the development of creoles (this includes cross-linguistic
comparison of the structure of creoles and their relationship to the
lexifier). Discussion of transfer of features from substrate languages plays
a minor role in the collection. In the review that follows, I
simultaneously outline each chapter, and provide comment.
Chapter 1 ('A prolegomenon', DeGraff) outlines a basic hypothesis of the
collection, namely that creolization, language change and language
acquisition reduce at the level of the individual to the same processes
(38). Assuming this is so, it is not productive to separate an
investigation into the role parameter settings might play in any one of these
processes from the others. Thus the rather heterogeneous case
studies that DeGraff has gathered together, in fact all relate to the
process of creolization, which DeGraff defines as "the
process by which [a] pidgin ... 'acquires' a relatively stable grammar with
parameter values that are quite distinct from those of the ancestor
language" (5-6). The chapter concludes with an
invitation to incorporate social factors into further studies, extending the
interdisciplinary connections this volume seeks to make.
In the final chapter ('An epilogue'), DeGraff reviews the individual
contributions and articulates more specifically what the key research
questions emerging from the collection have been. These include: What role
does imitation play in these related processes? Can everyone undertake the
same strategies for dealing with variable input? Is all variable input dealt
with equally? Is there any special relationship between processes of L2A and
L1A when the output of the former constitutes input to the latter? What
defines 'salience' of input-frequency, social factors, linguistic
markedness? He reprises the overlaps between preceding contributions, places
where results from one chapter feed assumptions or results of another, and
points of conflict (a good deal of space is given to attempting to bridge
the complementary positions on the role of children vs adults in the
formation of creoles). This is somewhat repetitious for the reader who has
just completed the volume, but will make it invaluable for those who need to
read more selectively from the contributions. He concludes with his own
goal, namely that future research might result in "a theoretical
framework... in which morphological triggers (or absence thereof) are
related... to a clustering of syntactic properties in pidgins and creoles
and also in language change and in language acquisition" (523). DeGraff's
chapters provide impressive coverage of historical and current research in
creolization and language change; his discussion is not restricted to one
paradigm (functionalists, formalists and social dialectologists are
represented), nor is it restricted to North American research and theory.
His own contributions are sufficiently substantial that one could imagine other
creolists being tempted to market them as a slim monograph of their own.
Chapters 2-5 deal most closely with the LBH. Bickerton ('How to
acquire a
language without positive evidence', ch.2) outlines his now well-known
position that the input to creoles constitutes an extreme and extraordinary
case of the degraded input all children are exposed to. Since the pidgin
input lacks the syntactic structure (specifically the grammatical morphemes)
of a natural language, children are thrown back on their own resources. As a
result, UG/bioprogrammatic features of natural language surface as the
default; these can be taken to be the fixed, unmarked structural properties
of human language that a child (in extremis) can rely on. Lexical
categories from, e.g., English are then bleached of their meaning and
co-opted to fill the necessary grammatical functions. As evidence for the
role of UG he points to the
apparent lack of variability in the English creole in Hawai'i, despite
the substantial variability between, e.g., Japanese, Portuguese and Hawaiian
speakers' pidgin.
This scenario highlights two important requisites for application of the
LBH: speed with which the creole emerges from a pidgin (one generation
exactly) and the degree of continued contact with substrate languages
(none). Sankoff (1994), for instance, has shown that even children who are
monolingual speakers of Tok Pisin (i.e. do not know a substrate language),
may actively be grammaticizing features found in substrate languages.
Bickerton has exempted the Melanesian creoles from the predictions of the
LBH on the grounds that the LBH is only triggered when the input is
especially morphosyntactically degraded, and the lengthy period of
stabilisation for Tok Pisin, Bislama and Solomons Pijin has allowed a good
deal of structure to be taken over from the substrates. One might like to
know precisely when the sort of data Sankoff discusses does become notable,
i.e. what degree of morphosyntactic complexity constitutes enough to prevent
the child from having to rely on the LBH, and what degree of consistency
across and within speakers is required for the input to be interpreted by
the child as good enough. (These questions are addressed in other chapters,
e.g. Sprouse and Vance, Lightfoot, Roberts.) One criticism that has often
been levelled at the LBH is the fact that, notwithstanding Bickerton's claim
that the English creole spoken in Hawai'i "resembles... other creoles formed
under similar circumstances" (54), virtually every other creole brought out
to test the LBH against has been placed beyond the pale, usually because the
input at the crucial time is not deemed sufficiently degraded.
Assuming the LBH generates unmarked structure, Adone & Vainikka
('Acquisition of wh- questions in Mauritian Creole', ch.3) ask, is it the
case then that children acquiring the ability to form questions in a creole
go straight to the adult norm? The results were mixed. Mauritian Creole
allows both long distance and partial wh- movement from embedded clauses;
children seem to favour partial wh-movement in the tests, and don't get the
long distance movement until they are older (5-8yrs). A&V suggest that
partial wh- movement might be the UG default (it also occurs in
English-speaking children's responses). It is also possible, given the
length of time since MC creolized (18thC), there has been some language
change from the LBH.
Mufwene ('On the LBH: Hints from Tazie', ch.4) considers the extent to
which features emerging in his daughter Tazie's speech between 20-30 mths
parallel the LBH. Obviously, the nature of the input is rather different,
however Mufwene finds overlaps (Tazie, for instance, initially lacks an
overt complementiser, and negates predicate adjectives and verbs as if there
were distinct classes). He suggests that L1A and creolization are similar
insofar as the core elements of each are less marked (here 'markedness'
sometimes seems to be a measure of frequency; sometimes a measure of
mutual compatibility between systems). The absence of some typical creole
features in Tazie's speech however prompts Mufwene to suggest that adults
play a non-trivial role in the formation of creole grammars.
Lumsden ('Language acquisition and creolization'. ch.5), too,
argues that
adults play a major in creolization through relexification of their L1, and
draws on parallels between creoles and L2A errors/interlanguage forms.
Lumsden suggests that pidgins lack a pronounceable form of the functional
categories found in the speakers' L1(s) (cf. Bickerton who sees these
categories as being wholly absent), and Lumsden proposes that relexification
is motivated by the need to assign phonological form to these categories. As
to the question of why the functional categories of the lexifier do not get
carried over in some form to the creole, he proposes a principle that only
elements with some denotational semantics are available for relexification.
He argues that the lexical items speakers reanalyse to satisfy the need to
express the functional categories of their L1 are selected primarily on the
basis of semantic criteria, perhaps also phonological, but that syntactic
factors are "irrelevant" (152). (De`prez' discussion of negation in French
and French creoles (ch.12) provides a good example of how restricted the
transfer of aspects of a word's semantics may be.) However, the discussion
of the Fongbe
substrate for Haitian Creole prepositions left me rather unclear of what
Lumsden considers semantics, what syntax and what might be best considered
preferences for information structure. In fact, it is not clear how little a
role Lumsden believes that syntax plays in the process of
relexification. The account of the transfer of Fongbe NP structure to
Haitian Creole relies on speakers having both a fairly sophisticated
knowledge of not just
Fongbe, but also French syntax. This is somewhat reminiscent of
Myers-Scotton's (1997) recent proposals that speakers actually have some
competence (if not proficiency) with the syntax of the
Chapters 6 and 7 are important contributions to the literature on
creolization. Newport ('Reduced input in the acquisition of signed
languages') and Kegl, Senghas & Coppola ('Creation through contact: Sign
language emergence and... change in Nicaragua') review diachronic studies of
the acquisition of signed languages by an individual (Newport) and by groups
(KS&C). In both cases, the input is characterised by irregularity,
idiosyncrasy and features that are not typical of natural languages. Newport
shows that although Simon bases his sign system on what he is exposed to
through his parents (i.e. his restructuring of the irregular input is not as
extreme as the LBH might predict), he does not simply match the patterns
found in his (non-native) parents' signing. Instead he produces a "cleaner,
more rule-governed system" (168), forcing the tendencies in the input "to be
internally consistent" (173). Newport asks the interesting question of why
Simon so carefully regularises the variation he was exposed, whereas in the
normal course of events children produce variable output when their
caregivers provide variable input, e.g. Roberts [1997]). She suggests
several reasons for this: the degree of
internal variation for each parent; the variation between his parents; the
absence of systematic conditioning factors associated with the variants.
KS&C's chapter is a weighty contribution reviewing a number of studies
conducted in Nicaragua with signers of various lects, and evaluating the
results from these studies as evidence for creolization vs
L1A. They show that a major influence on the kinds of features acquired (.e.g.
person and spatial agreement marking, object classifiers, anaphora) is the
age at which the signer came into contact with Nicaraguan signing (contact
c.7 years is required for full acquisition of the system). An interesting
aspect of both this study and Newport's is that the input varieties cannot
be analysed as substrate languages. So the analysis of their results is
a relatively clean test of the LBH. The emergence of a
same-switch reference system governing the distribution of overt and null
anaphora in Nicaraguan Sign must, for instance, be independent of the
same/switch reference systems constraining the distribution of null anaphora
in varieties of Spanish (discussed in Cameron 1992) due to the social
segregation of the signing and Spanish-speaking communities studied. In
the highly variable input to acquisition in these cases makes them
qualitatively different from L1A.
Henry and Tangney ('Functional categories and parameter setting in L2A
Irish', ch 8) looks at what children in Irish immersion programmes in
Belfast do with the non-native, but fluent, input of their teachers. Here
the input is 'restricted' largely in terms of the amount of time that
the learners are exposed to Irish. H&T find several characteristics of the
learners' Irish that differs from L1 (maturational) errors. The children do
not go through a period of using SVO word order On the other hand the
children do show signs of simplifying the copula system, eliminating the
form ('is') which occurs in a more restricted set of tense-mood domains.
Even though c.10% of
their teachers' copula sentences occur with this copula, this does not
seem to meet the threshold required for the learners to pay attention to it.
H&T suggest that the learners have created a more 'simple' grammar, where
simple means a grammar in which there is "a unique specification of [V- or
N-features] for each functional head" (239). In the
accelerated learning context of immersion classes, they propose that such UG
considerations override the inclination to match the input of the teachers.
It is also possible, of course, that 10% of copula sentences is simply not
frequent enough to prompt pattern-matching.
Sprouse and Vance ('An explanation for the decline of null
pronouns') is a
fine example of the study of language variation. S&V carefully define the
'envelope of variation' for the alternation between phonetically null and
overt pronouns in Romance and Germanic languages (some previous accounts
for French are rejected on the grounds that they generalised from
non-equivalent data). They conclude (following Kroch 1989) that variation
between syntactic forms reflects not a mixed grammar but competition between
two (or more) underlying grammars. The discussion of the alternation between
overt and null pronouns in Old Icelandic contributes an important insight to
this model, because this case shows that two anaphora may come into
competition due not to differences in their licensing but to differences in
their referential properties (and hence the binding conditions they are
subject to).
Ian Roberts' chapter ('Verb movement and markedness', ch.10), like H&T,
attempts to specify markedness in terms of principles of UG. Here, Roberts
proposes that 'weak' values for a parameter are less marked than 'strong'
ones, and he embeds his analysis within Clark's (1992) learnability theory
and subsequent developments of this. Roberts states clearly his position
that creoles have no "privileged relation to UG" (303), like any other
language, the extent to which they depart (or not) from unmarked parameter
settings is a direct function of the nature of the triggers the learner is
exposed to. One consequence of Roberts' analysis of verb movement in Haitian
Creole (and English and French) is that he tentatively concludes UG may set
movement parameters differently for lexical verbs and auxiliaries. This
would, in H&T's terms, create a less 'simple' grammar, and this raises the
possibility of further research and dialogue between contributors' various
Adrienne Bruyn, Pieter Muysken & Maaike Verrips ('Double-object
constructions in the creole
languages', ch.11) is a splendid example of the quantitative study of
language variation. The documentation for their conclusions is especially
rich (and for this reason perhaps somewhat less clear-cut than in others, but
for all that more compelling). This chapter seems most closely related to
those of H&T and Roberts. BM&V ask why double object constructions (DOC) not
only occur in almost all creoles, but why they are also the preferred means
of expressing the arguments of ditransitive verbs. They review L1A data
showing that DOC emerges very early and in some cases before prepositional
dative constructions (PDC); they suggest the DOC is less marked than the PDC
because it requires setting only one parameter while the PDC requires the
setting of two. The actual definition of 'unmarked' that is proposed is
not actually based on parameters, it specifies an unmarked setting as the
one children
will choose "regardless of the input they receive" (363). One of the other
merits of BM&V's contribution is that they consider data that falls outside
of a P&P model of syntax. They note pragmatic (dare one say, functional?)
associated with the distribution of indirect and direct objects and
unstressed pronouns in DOCs/PDCs and show how these effects are remarkably
consistent in the historical records of Sranan and Negerhollands. They
argue that such factors play(ed) a significant role in
the development of synchronic syntactic patterns.
Viviane De`prez ('The roots of negative concord', ch12) looks at
French and
French-lexified creoles (especially Haitian). The chapter investigates
whether negative concord is the most unmarked expression of negation (the
notion of gradience is De`prez'). In the end, it is unclear what her
conclusions are re. markedness. Her proposal is that negative concord
is a consequence of semantic (not syntactic) properties of the negative
words in a language. She suggests negative words are
indefinites and they may lack intrinsic quantificational force (the case in
Haitian) or they may behave more like a numeral ('zero', the case in
French). (DeGraff in ch.15 raises some difficulties with this analysis.)
De`prez argues that both types of N word may license concord but that the
nature of the concord will be qualitatively different in the two systems.
The bulk of the paper is given over to demonstrating that in Haitian,
negative concord involves unselective binding of N words by an operator,
while this is not the case in French.
Like Baptista's (1997) work on Capeverdean
negation, De`prez shows that even though an element may carry over
phonological form and order in the clause from the lexifier, this may mask
some major underlying differences between element in both languages. These
sorts of studies of the outcomes of language contact and creolization
inject a welcome degree of sophistication to analysis of creole structure.
They provide a challenge to those who continue to propound strong theories
of substrate transfer or relexification. Although exponents of this
approach increasingly talk in terms of 'adult SLA', it is clear that this
is just relexification dusted off and given a new dress for the
millenium. Notwithstanding the problems with any particular analysis (Rizzi
and DeGraff both have reservations about De`prez' analysis), I welcome work
that understands languages (and therefore language contact) involves
something more that surface word order facts and phonological form.
The collection concludes with review papers by David Lightfoot
('Creoles and cues', ch.13) and Luigi Rizzi ('Broadening
the empirical basis of UG models', ch.
14) and DeGraff's synthesis paper (discussed above). Rizzi's chapter is
committed to stressing fundamental similarities between the structural
features that emerge in creoles and in other kinds of L1A, arguing (contra
Bickerton and KS&C) not to privilege creoles on account of the circumstances
in which they evolve (cf. Roberts) and the speed with which change occurs in
Lightfoot engages primarily with the papers discussing verb
movement in the
preceding collection, and outlines his own learnability theory (more sensitive
to quantitative aspects of the input than, e.g., Roberts'), and
he evaluates historical data on basic word order from English and synchronic
data from Berbice Dutch. Like BM&B, Lightfoot's contribution tries to
determine with some precision how two grammars in contact (here, Dutch and
Ijo) might synthesise and emerge with novel forms. On the question of verb
movement, he suggests Roberts has overgeneralised the extent to which verb
movement is proscribed in creoles, and notes (citing Sankoff on Tok Pisin)
that some English-based creoles do
allow the main verb to move to the head of the clause for emphasis. This
may be true, but we should also be realistic about including it as a
possible 'cue' for the child learning Tok Pisin. I cannot speak for Tok
Pisin specifically but in conversational Bislama verb fronting is extremely
rare. In my corpus, I have subjects, objects and adverbs being fronted for
emphasis but no (that's as in De`prez' 'zero') verbs.
In conclusion, the volume is a substantial contribution to the study of
language contact and language change. It places creolization (I believe,
rightly) in the larger context of these fields, and generally de-emphasises
any supposed uniqueness of the structure of creoles. It assumes familiarity
with the principles and parameters model of syntax (some ability to
code-switch between P&P and
minimalist terminology) and is probably best suited to reasonably advanced
graduate readers or subject specialists. For those readers, it provides a
stimulating perspective on L1A, L2A and historical evidence of language
change, building
bridges between different subfields of linguistics in a way that is
ultimately most rewarding.
( A note on production: There are a few substantive typographical
errors in
the text (e.g. p438, l.2 . 'lack' should be 'have'; p382, l.6 should surely
read "pas must NOT be a head"; and p532, fn.28 should read "sociolinguistic
variability in LANGUAGES is transmitted across generation"). DeGraff et al.
were somewhat also let down by the editorial staff at MIT Press who let
through a number of other less significant typos.)

Baptista, Marlyse 1997. On the syntax of negation in Capeverdean. Paper
presented at meeting of the SPCL, Chicago.
Cameron, Richard 1992. Pronominal and null subject variation in Spanish:
Constraints, dialects and functional compensation. PhD dissertation,
University of Pennsylvania.
Clark, Robin 1992. The selection of syntactic knowledge. Language
Acquisition. 2. 83-149.
Kroch, Anthony S. 1989. Reflexes of grammar in patterns of language change.
Language Variation and Change. 1, 3. 199-244.
Myers-Scotton, Carol 1997. 'Matrix language recognition' and 'morpheme
sorting as possible structural strategies in pidgin/creole formation. In
Arthur K Spears & Donald Winford (eds) The Structure and Status of Pidgins
and Creoles. Amsterdam/Phila: Benjamins. 151-174.
Roberts, Julie 1997. Hitting a moving target: Acquisition of sound change
in progress by Philadelphia children. Language Variation and Change. 9, 2.
Sankoff, Gillian 1994. An historical and evolutionary approach to variation
in the Tok Pisin verb phrase. In CLS 30, vol. 2 (Parasession on variation
in linguistic theory). 293-320.

About the reviewer: Miriam Meyerhoff is Assistant Professor in Linguistics
at the University of Hawai'i at Manoa. She works on language contact,
language variation, and language and gender, in Bislama and English.

Miriam Meyerhoff
Asst. Prof., Department of Linguistics
1890 East-West Rd
University of Hawai'i at Manoa
Honolulu, HI 96822

ph: (808) 956-3236
fax: (808) 956-9166


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