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Review of  Urban Bahamian Creole

Reviewer: Cristina Martínez-Sanz
Book Title: Urban Bahamian Creole
Book Author: Stephanie Hackert
Publisher: John Benjamins
Linguistic Field(s): Sociolinguistics
Subject Language(s): Creole English, Bahamas
Issue Number: 16.1892

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Date: Thu, 16 Jun 2005 15:45:33 +0200
From: Cristina Martínez-Sanz
Subject: Urban Bahamian Creole: System and Variation

AUTHOR: Hackert, Stephanie
TITLE: Urban Bahamian Creole
SUBTITLE: System and variation
SERIES: Varieties of English Around the World G32
PUBLISHER: John Benjamins
YEAR: 2004

Cristina Martínez-Sanz, Department of Modern Languages, University of


The book under review constitutes a synchronic study of the black Bahamian
vernacular spoken in Nassau. Specifically, it focuses on the description
of the system of past inflection in urban Bahamian Creole English (urban
BahCE). Past marking is one of the most researched areas in the linguistic
study of Creole languages and related varieties such as African-American
Vernacular English (AAVE). However, the discussion on the specific
meanings, uses and forms of the linguistic items relevant for past marking
in these languages is still going strong. As far as Creoles are concerned,
the use of preverbal particles, as well as the use of the unmarked verb,
have been traditionally identified as prominent features of the Creoles'
Tense-Mood-Aspect (TMA) systems. The author offers a description of the
use and distribution of these two mechanisms in urban BahCE, but her
quantitative analysis of the corpus of data she elaborated focuses on what
has been described as a "typically mesolectal mechanism" (Patrick 1999:
223), namely the alternation between past-marked and uninflected verbs in
past-temporal reference.

The book is organized as follows: Chapter 1 is an introduction, in which
the author justifies her choice of an urban variety of a Creole language
for her study and outlines the general organization of the rest of the
book. Chapter 2 is methodological. In it, Hackert first summarizes
previous research on the linguistic varieties of the Bahamas, as well as
the main accounts of TMA systems in Creoles that have been put forward in
the relevant literature. In the second part of this chapter, she describes
her data sample and the research techniques that were used both to collect
the data and to analyze them afterwards. Chapter 3 focuses on the
sociohistorical circumstances that gave rise to the formation of BahCE
during the colonial period, and studies the social constitution of
nowadays Nassau, as well as the sociolinguistics of urban BahCE and
Standard English (StE) in the Bahamas. Chapters 4 and 5 are devoted to the
linguistic analysis of past marking in urban BahCE. Chapter 4 constitutes
a general description of the forms, meanings and uses of the linguistic
items involved in past reference in urban BahCE: Aspect and Tense
categories, as well as copula structures are studied. Chapter 5 is
dedicated to the quantitative analysis of variable past inflection, which
is analyzed according to verb category, grammatical constraints such as
lexical and grammatical aspect and disambiguating contextual elements, and
also according to the correlations between linguistic behaviours and
social variables. Chapter 6 is the conclusion.


Chapter 1.Introduction
In this first chapter, Hackert explains how traditionally Creole
linguistic studies have focused on the analysis of basilectal varieties of
these languages, i.e., "that variety of any creole which is furthest
removed from its historical lexifier and/or contemporary standard".
(Hackert 2004:1). According to the author, this focus on the basilectal
varieties of Creoles has had as a consequence that the knowledge of these
varieties is in some respects still only partial. Consequently, "typical"
Creoles such as the ones spoken in Jamaica, Guyana or Haiti have been
frequently studied, while varieties like the ones spoken in Barbados, the
Bahamas or the Cayman Islands have received much less attention, on the
basis of their assumed similarity to mainstream varieties of English. In
the last part of the chapter, the author gives us an outline of the
content of the book, and explains how the use of the quantitative methods
of sociolinguistics in her study allows her to offer a detailed analysis
of the different factors that have an effect on variation in past
inflection, which range from grammatical constraints to discourse-
pragmatic an social factors.

Chapter 2. Methodology
This chapter is divided in three main parts. In the first one, Hackert
reviews the previous studies on language in the Bahamas, noting that the
research of the Bahamian varieties began very recently, with Reinecke et
al's (1975) and Shilling's (1978) works. After those seminal
contributions, research on BahCE has concentrated on two main areas: on
the one hand, its status as a Creole or as a "decreolized" variety
(Alleyne 1980), which still today is controversial, and its relationship
to other Caribbean English lexicon Creoles (CECs) and AAVE, on the other.
The latter issue has been studied in connection with the long-held
controversy on the (non)-Creole origins of AAVE, with Holm's (1983) theory
on the similarities between Gullah and BahCE, which claimed that both
languages shared as a common ancestor the Creole spoken in the Eighteenth
Century in the American South setting the starting point for this

The second part of the chapter summarizes some of the accounts that have
been put forward in the literature of the Tense, Mood and Aspect
categories in Creoles. Specifically, Hackert reports Bickerton's (1981)
model of the TMA systems of Creoles. This system consists first, of an
inventory of three categories ("Anterior" tense, "Irrealis" mood, and "non-
punctual" aspect), and second, of a parameter that determines the meaning
of the different verb structures in the language, namely, the stative/non-
stative distinction: "The Tense particle expresses [+Anterior], (very
roughly, past-before past for action verbs and past for stative verbs);
the modality particle expresses [+Irrealis] (which includes futures and
conditionals), while the aspect particle expresses [+Nonpunctual]
(progressive-durative plus habitual-iterative). The stem form in isolation
expresses the unmarked term in these three oppositions, i.e., present
statives and past non-statives." (Bickerton 1981:58, cited in Hackert

Hackert acknowledges the crucial impact of Bickerton's theory to Creole
studies, but at the same time she points out some of its shortcomings:
first, a theory like the one Bickerton puts forward implies an abrupt
nativization hypothesis for Creole formation, an issue which continues to
be controversial in Creole linguistics nowadays. On the other hand, not
all the Creoles that have been studied have the tripartite TMA system that
Bickerton proposes, as Gibson (1984) noted for Guyanese Creole and Winford
(2000) noted for Sranan. These issues lead Hackert to follow instead the
typological approach proposed by Dahl (1985) to account for
crosslinguistic similarities among TMA systems. Within Dahl's "prototype
approach", the basic units for the analyisis are not the semantic features
that Bickerton assumed to be universally underlying TMA categories, but
the actual TMA categories themselves: " More concretely speaking, this
means that I think of a language-specific TMA category like, say, the
English Perfect, as the realization of a cross-linguistic category -or
better, category type- PERFECT, rather than as the realization of a set of
features, say /+X, -Y,+Z/." (Dahl 1985: 33, cited in Hackert 2004:16).
Hackert takes Dahl's theory as a point of departure, as well as the
questionnaire on TMA categories elaborated by him, in order to extract
information on the possible uses, meanings and realizations of such
categories in urban BahCE. This questionnaire consists of a series of
sentences and short texts to be translated from English into the language
that is investigated. In addition to this questionnaire, the rest of the
material that Hackert analyzes is constituted by a large corpus of
conversational data, based on sociolinguistic interviews to 25 speakers
designed to elicit vernacular language, which are analyzed with
quantitative methods, specifically with the Varbrul package for MS-DOS,
which determines the strength and direction of the various factors,
linguistic or of other nature, affecting the application of a given rule.
Finally, a "professionals simple" consisting of a set of interviews with
linguistically sensitive professionals in the community, such as teachers
or journalists, was used to investigate the sociolinguistics of BahCE.

Chapter 3. Sociohistory and Sociolinguistics
In this chapter, Hackert investigates in detail the sociohistorial
circumstances that gave rise to the language contact situation that
subsequently derived in the formation of BahCE. In the first part of the
chapter the early colonial period is studied, and the community settings
and the modes of interaction among this communities, characterized by a
closer contact between blacks and whites than in other Caribbean islands
and by the impossibility of the formation of a typical plantation economy
in the Bahamas because of the poorness of the Bahamian soil are described.
The author hypothesizes that it is unlikely that that a full-fledged
Creole was being used in the Bahamian islands before the 1780s. In that
decade, the slaves of the North American Loyalists arrived in the islands,
and brought with them their form of speech, which is assumed to be an
early variety of Gullah that extended in the southern Bahamian islands.
After the abolition of the slave trade in 1807, no more African slaves
were taken to the Bahamas by British traders; however, Africans continued
to arrive to New Providence during all the nineteenth century, a fact that
must have contributed to the restructuring of English in that particular
island, while the situation in more remote islands must have been
different. In the twentieth century, two main factors contributed to the
social shaping of the Bahamas, especially after World War II: first, the
enormous growth of population, and second the migration of the majority of
the habitants of the islands to the city; as a result, nowadays two thirds
of the Bahamian population lives in Nassau.

The chapter finishes with a sociolinguistic analysis of BahCE, in which
the author examines the role of the vernacular in politics, the media and
education, and summarizes the attitudes of the Bahamians with respect to
BahCE and StE. It is explained how the boundaries between the standard and
the vernacular are not clear, due in part to the intermediate varieties
which exist between the more conservative or basilectal Creole and the
local standard Bahamian English. Finally, the author notes that although
the "post-colonial consciousness" developed after independence has had as
a consequence a change in the traditionally negative attitudes towards the
vernacular and an inclusion of BahCE in the public domain, still today
these negative attitudes are found among Bahamians.

Chapter 4. Past Temporal Reference: Categories, Meanings and Uses
In this chapter Hackert describes the urban BahCE system of past temporal
reference taking as a point of departure her conversational data as well
as Dahl's (1985) TMA questionnaire . She summarizes the properties of
Aspect and Tense in this language, and identifies the categories or
category types involved in past marking, investigating not only their
formal realizations, but also their meanings and uses. The author draws
special attention to specific particles, such as preverbal 'done'
and 'did', since these two particles have been traditionally at the core
of the controversies regarding the verbal systems of Creole languages.

The first part of the Chapter describes Aspect in urban BahCE, identifying
basically three aspectual categories: the Perfective, the Imperfective,
and the Completive. As far as the Perfective is concerned, it is
identified as a "neutral" aspectual category with respect to tense
marking; however, its default reading is past for non-stative verbs and
present for statives as long as temporal indicators do not trigger a past
reading for statives as well. It is usually instantiated by the unmarked
verb, as seen in the following examples:
(1) He took off all the hair off his head and -it -it look ridiculous
(Jeanne 3:13)
(2) Jesus love me (Sharon 14:1)

Regarding Imperfective Aspect, the most common Imperfectives are Habitual
and Progressive. In urban BahCE, just as in StE, the Progressive is
expressed by V-'ing', the only difference being the nature of the
auxiliary preceding the verb; the auxiliary is usually omitted in the
present but occurs in the past in invariable form. Habituals are expressed
by periphrastic forms of 'do', a phenomenon which is explained
diachronically: there is evidence (Winford 1998) that CECs ultimately
derive from southwestern English dialects, in which the use of
periphrastic 'do' as a Habitual marker was extremely common in earlier
periods. Moreover, the fact that the unamarked verb has a Perfective
reading by default in this language contributes to the occurrence of
periphrastic forms of 'do' as Habitual markers. As far as Completive
Aspect is concerned, it is instantiated by the preverbal marker 'done', as
in all other CECs. This particle has been particularly controversial in
the Creole TMA system debate, since in Bickerton's (1981) theory there was
no room for a Completive marker, given that the Aspect slot was occupied
in that system by the punctual/non-puctual system. However, Hackert's data
show how 'done' is integrated into the BachCE TMA system and it occurs
with stative and non-stative predicates and in combination with other
markers, as the following examples show:
(3) I did done start working (Carol 6/4/97, 3:25)
(4) I was done in the service (Carol 6/4/97, 3:33)
(5) I gotta learn how to drive, 'cause with my age people should -people-w-
shoulda done learn how to drive long time.

The second part of the chapter describes Tense in urban BahCE, and
concentrates on the uses and meanings that preverbal 'did' has in this
variety. In Bickerton's system, this particle is understood as
a "anterior" tense marker, meaning "very roughly, past-before-past for
action verbs and past for stative verbs" (Bikerton 1981:58, cited in
Hackert 2003: 86). However, the fact that not all of the data on different
CECs follow this pattern has led different scholars to propose, on the one
hand, that preverbal 'did' acts as a "Relative Past Marker" (Winford
1993), locating a given situation as past in relation to a relevant
reference time (RT), or , on the other, in a discourse oriented analysis,
that this particle functions as a "Background Marker", (Winford 2000),
that places events in a subsidiary position with respect to the main
events described in the speech act. This last proposal seems to account
for most of Hackert's data.

The following section of the chapter deals with the meanings and
realizations of the Perfect category in urban BahCE. The author describes
the different perfect meanings that can be expressed, which are
instantiated by the unmarked verb, 'done', and constructions with 'been'
or 'was'.

Finally, the last part of the chapter is focused on copula structures in
urban BahCE. Although the past copula in this language can be instantiated
by a number of forms, 'been' and 'was' are the more frequent ones.
Hackert's data show how, as noted by Shilling (1978), at least for the
more basilectal speakers the selection of one of these two copulas is
based on the nature of the complement that follow the copula, with
locative complements clearly favoring the use of 'been'.

Chapter 5. Past Marking by Verb Inflection
In this chapter the variable inflection of lexical verbs indicating past
temporal reference is investigated. In Hackert's data, the alternation
between unmarked and inflected verbs covers a large amount of the
speakers' production, with unmarked verbs accounting for 68% of all verbs
occurring in her sample. The author's aim is to determine what underlying
patterns, in the form of grammatical constraints or social factors are
responsible for this variation.

The author starts defining the "envelope of variation", and then she turns
to analyze past marking in urban BahCE. First, she investigates if
membership in a particular verb category has an effect in the inflectional
behaviour of verbs. Hackert establishes lexical and morphological verb
categories for urban BahCE building on the categorizations by Bickerton
(1975), Winford (1992) and Patrick (1991) for other CECs, and she studies
the behaviour of individual verbs and verb categories both overall and in
the speech of individual sample members. In a nutshell, among the verbs
that the author classifies as "exceptional verbs"
('go', 'have', 'make', 'do', 'say' and 'get'), 'have' is the most
frequently marked for past inflection, followed by 'go' and 'do'. As far
as what Hackert labels 'major verb categories', she finds similar rates of
past inflection for the different groups of irregular verbs, and the
Varbrul quantitative analyses show that grammatical as well as
phonological and extralinguistic factors play a role in the past marking
behaviour of these groups of verbs.

Second, Hackert studies the role of grammatical factors such as aspect and
temporal disambiguation on past inflection in BahCE, and compares her
results with the patterns that other authors have found for other CECs and
AAVE. Regarding Aspect, Bickerton (1975) stated that "non-punctual" verb
forms strongly trigger past inflection; however, Hackert finds that the
two aspectual dimensions subsumed under the label "non-punctual", namely
stativity and habituality, appear to trigger opposed effects in past
inflection: while stativity favours past inflection, habituality, in
accordance with the results that Patrick (1999) obtained for Jamaican
Creole, seems to strongly disfavour it. However, further analysis leads
Hackert to conclude that the propensity of statives to be past-inflected
is only apparent and due to the presence in the sample of high-frequency
items, such 'have', 'think' and 'want', a result that was found in the
quantitative analyses by verb category mentioned above as well; as soon as
these items are removed from the analysis, the propensity of statives to
be unmarked does not appear so clearly. On the other hand, perfective verb
situations seem to strongly favour past-marking by inflection. Therefore,
Hackert's results are in accordance with the ones find for Trinitarian
Creole (TC) by Winford (1992), who stated that that grammatical aspect is
the basic parameter underlying past-marking patterns in that language. As
the author notes, the effects of grammatical aspect can be observed in
temporal disambiguation by temporal conjunctions and temporal adverbials
as well: while past inflection does not seem to be affected by the
presence or absence of temporal conjunctions, temporal adverbials of
certain kinds do affect past marking. Specifically, whereas durative
adverbials favor past inflection, adverbials of frequency, which usually
co-occur with habitual aspect, disfavor it.

In the third part of the chapter, the author analyzes variation in past
marking by style, which is defined as "variation within the speech of an
individual speaker which is determined by discourse type" (Hackert
2004:202). What the author labels the "chat mode", as opposed to the
different kinds of narrative speech that she studies, is considered the
default style, and the one in which higher rates of inflection were
found, both for most of the speakers and overall. As far as narrative
speech is concerned, Hackert distinguishes three different kinds,
the "narrative of personal experience", the folktale, and the "generic
narrative". While narratives of personal experience and folktales showed
similar rates of past inflection, generic narratives showed the lowest
rates among the three kinds of narratives. The author attributes this
result to the fact that habituality is the defining characteristic of this
type of narrative.

Finally, Hackert studies social variation in the use of past inflection,
in order to see how speakers' characteristics such as age, gender,
education and social class relate to linguistic behaviour. She finds that
none of these variables by themselves completely accounts for the
variation in past inflection. Due to the specific social constitution and
social history of the Bahamas, the variable of age is closely related to
the variable of education, and gender distinctions are relevant to speech
patters only if we relate them with social class. This leads the author to
analyze these variables in individual speakers, trying to correlate
linguistic behaviour with social class, and she finds that this
correlation is only indirect.

Chapter 6. Conclusion
In this final chapter Hackert summarizes some of the main findings that
her study of urban BahCE gave rise to. First, the grammatical properties
that distance urban BahCE from StE are highlighted, among them the use of
the unmarked verb as an instantiation of the Perfective aspect, the
particle 'done' as a Completive marker, and the use of preverbal 'did' to
express Relative Past. In addition, it is noted how these features are
part of the "common core" of grammatical properties that Winford (1996)
attributed to the TMA systems of basically all English-lexified Creoles of
the Caribbean. The patterns of verb inflection found in BahCE also
parallel the ones found in the study of other CECs: the results for the
occurrence of {-ed} according to verb category, on the one hand, and
grammatical aspect, on the other, are similar to the ones established in
Winford (1992) for TC and AAVE. Habituality was found to be relevant for
past inflection as well, not only as a grammatical constraint by itself,
but also as the characterizing feature of the discourse type of "generic
narrative". The correlation between social factors and linguistic
variation was also investigated. Two biological variables, namely sex and
age, and two social variables, social class and education, were tested.
The sex variable was found not to be of crucial importance in the use of
past inflection, at least if we do not relate it to social class, while
the age variable, owing to historical circumstances, is highly related
with the education variable. Finally, as long as the social distribution
and attitudes towards BahCE and StE are concerned, the author found that
the perception of these two varieties and the roles attributed to them are
homogeneous among the Bahamian speech community. Specifically, even though
the growth of a "post-colonial consciousness" has had as a consequence the
conception of BahCE as part of the national identity and the entrance of
the Creole in the domains of politics, the media, and education, which
were traditionally reserved for StE, some negative attitudes towards BahCE
are still found in the community.

All of the above summarized findings, and especially the typological
analysis of the categories involved in the TMA system of urban BahCE
carried out in Chapter 4, as well as the analysis of the data in Chapter
5, lead Hackert to conclude: first, that the black Bahamian vernacular is
best and most usefully defined as a Creole, a question that has been of
some controversy in the discussion of the status of this vernacular in the
relevant literature. Second, the author concludes that Creole strategies
for expressing time reference and temporal relations are not reduced to
the ones assumed in the "typical" Creole TMA system; specifically, not
only preverbal markers and unmarked verbs are used for past inflection,
but also the mechanism of verb inflection seems to be of great relevance,
as well as governed by different kinds of grammatical constraints,
discourse requirements and social factors. Therefore, according to
Hackert, in investigating the similarities among the TMA systems of
different Creoles we should not only attend to the similarities found
among them, but also to the differences in forms, meanings and uses.
Therefore, Hackert concludes, even though TMA systems are one of the most
researched areas in Creole linguistics, a considerable amount of room is
still left for the research and the characterization of these systems.


The book constitutes an exhaustive study of past marking in urban BahCE.
One of the main contributions of the volume is the thorough investigation
of an urban variety of a Creole language; as noted by the author herself,
urban or non-basilectal varieties of Creoles have traditionally received
little linguistic attention, especially those urban varieties of Creoles
such as the one spoken in the Bahamas, which have been assumed to be
closer in the Creole continuum to Standard English. In investigating past
inflection in urban BahCE, Hackert deals also with some of the fundamental
issues that have been discussed in Creole studies, such as the question of
the origins of particular Creoles and/or related varieties, theories about
Creole formation, or the features of different sorts that qualify a
specific variety as a Creole. In addition, she offers an accurate
description of the TMA system of urban BahCE. The fact that this is one of
the most researched areas of Creole grammars allows her to draw the
parallels between her findings for urban BahCE and other CECs that have
been investigated in other works. On the other hand, the accurate
investigation of the urban BahCE TMA system shows evidence for the need of
the revision of the traditional "typical TMA system", which has been
assumed in a number of studies of different Creoles since the seminal
works of Bickerton (1974, 1975, 1981). To sum up, the book constitutes an
excellent tool not only for the scholars or students interested in the
grammar of urban BahCE, but also for the study of some of the fundamental
issues that are still being discussed in Creole linguistics.


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Cristina Martínez-Sanz is a PhD student at the Department of Modern
Languages, University of Ottawa. Her research interests are Syntax, First
and Second Language Acquisition, Diachronic Linguistics and Creole