LINGUIST List 14.1515

Mon May 26 2003

Review: Syntax: Baptista (2002)

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  1. Angela Bartens, The Syntax of Cape Verdean Creole: The Sotavento varieties

Message 1: The Syntax of Cape Verdean Creole: The Sotavento varieties

Date: Mon, 26 May 2003 12:23:11 +0000
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.

Announced at

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 century.)
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 AGR.
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-�-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 � 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 sinh�, sinh�. 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:
Ans�tze 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.


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.
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