LINGUIST List 15.1227

Fri Apr 16 2004

Review: Sociolinguistics: Aceto & Williams (2003)

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  1. Ken Decker, Contact Englishes of the Eastern Caribbean

Message 1: Contact Englishes of the Eastern Caribbean

Date: Fri, 16 Apr 2004 21:49:48 -0400 (EDT)
From: Ken Decker <>
Subject: Contact Englishes of the Eastern Caribbean

Aceto, Michael and Jeffrey P. Williams, ed. (2003) Contact Englishes
of the Eastern Caribbean, John Benjamins, Varieties of English Around
the World G30.

Announced at

Ken Decker, SIL International


''Contact Englishes of the Eastern Caribbean'' is a collection of
papers by various authors with focus on Anglophone Eastern Caribbean
territories. More specifically, it is the editors interest in
varieties that have received little attention in published linguistic
research. It is the state goal of the editors, ''simply to stimulate
more field-based linguistic research and, more specifically, fieldwork
in neglected Anglophone areas of the Americas in order to broaden our
base of knowledge about these language varieties.'' The papers cover a
wide variety of language related topics, including: syntax, phonology,
historical linguistics, dialectology, sociolinguistics, ethnography,
and performance.

In 2002, Aceto published an article listing research that has been
published about each of the Anglophone Caribbean Creoles, including
varieties further north, such as Afro- Seminole and Bermuda. One of
the purposes of that article was to highlight the territories for
which there was little or no publication of linguistic research. This
is a concern that I have shared, so I was anticipating the arrival of
this new volume. Too often, I have heard implied, and even explicitly
stated, that since Jamaican and Guyanese have been thoroughly studied,
we know everything about variation in Caribbean Creole
Englishes. There is much more to learn through these other
varieties. I also believe that they are languages worthy of academic


To this end, several of the chapters in this book provide information
on varieties for which there has been no previous linguistic
publication, for example: Turks and Caicos, Barbuda, and
Anguilla. ''English in the Turks and Caicos Islands: A look at Grand
Turk'', by Cecilia Cutler, is a very welcome presentation of the first
linguistic research on the speech of the Turks and Caicos Islands.
This chapter gives a nice overview of historical information
describing the development of the speech, an introduction to basic
phonological features, a brief description of the TMA (tense, mood,
aspect) structure of the verb phrase, and a few clause features.

The discussion in many of the other chapters involves innovative
research topics that have received little previous attention. For
example, Jeffrey Williams's chapter concerning a white community on
Anguilla includes both innovative research and gives description of a
territory for which there has been no published linguistic research.
For several years Williams, one of the editors of this volume, has
studied the speech of white West Indian communities. (For example see
Williams 1984 and 1986.) His interest is in the speech of whites with
which slaves would have had contact during the time of creole
development. His chapter, titled ''The establishment and perpetuation
of Anglophone white enclave communities in the Eastern Caribbean: The
case of Island Harbour, Anguilla'', presents the history of a white
English-speaking community and reveals linguistic features that mark
the variety as having a unique identity. Unfortunately, the speech of
the black Anguillan community remains unexamined.

The speech varieties in focus in most of the other chapters have
received only little attention from linguists. As pointed out by Aceto
in his 2002 article, the speeches of some of the Caribbean territories
have had more publications, while possibly not linguistic
attention. For example, there have been numerous articles published on
the folklore of the Bahamas, but less on linguistic description.
Helean McPhee, in her chapter titled ''The grammatical features of TMA
auxiliaries in Bahamian Creole'', presents a thorough description of
the TMA structure of Bahamian Creole. Another chapter on the Bahamas
is by Becky Childs, Jeffrey Reaser and Walt Wolfram, titled ''Defining
ethnic varieties in the Bahamas: Phonological accommodation in black
and white enclave communities''. The research described in this
chapter uses phonological data to investigate ethnic identification
between two Bahamian communities on the island of Abaco: Sandy Point,
a black community, and Cherokee Sound, a white community. Their use of
phonological data for studying sociolinguistic accommodation is
interesting and well presented. However, I felt that more description
of the sociolinguistic evidence of accommodation would have been
helpful to confirm their interpretation of the phonological data.

Another kind of English contact environment addressed in the volume is
that found on Dominica and St. Lucia. Both Dominica and St. Lucia were
originally populated by speakers of French Creoles. The islands were
ceded to Britain in 1763 and 1814 respectively, and institutions, most
importantly education, shifted to English. Discussing the situation on
Dominica, Beverley Bryan and Rosalind Burnette's chapter is titled
''Language variation and language use among teachers in
Dominica''. Its purpose is to describe a study of teacher's knowledge
and awareness of language varieties on Dominica. However, as
background for understanding the environment in which their study was
conducted, the chapter is largely a compilation of previously
published material describing the multilingual environment of the
island. Much of the data comes from Christie (1982, 1983,
1987). Christie (1983:22) refers to the English variety of Dominica as
a creole. Similarly, Le Page (1977:109) described a ''creolized
English'' on St. Lucia. Paul B. Garrett's chapter presents
information for St. Lucia, which is similar to the Dominica situation.

In ''An ''English Creole'' that isn't: On the sociohistorical origins
and linguistic classification of the vernacular English of
St. Lucia'', Garrett questions whether or not there is a variety of
English on St. Lucia that can truly be described as a creole. The same
question can be raised for Dominica. Taken as a unit these two
chapters describe an interesting development among two
creoles. Initially, through contact in the domain of the classroom,
the Creole Frenches were relexified with English but maintained creole
syntactic structures. Garrett considers a wide variety of information
that might be relevant for defining the speech as a creole. The
definition of 'creole' seems to be a perpetual problem. The editors,
in the introduction, note a recurring need on the part of many of the
authors to define how they use the term 'creole'. To me, this was a
tiring aspect of reading this volume. Others who find this a pressing
issue will undoubtedly appreciate the complexity of the situation on
St. Lucia and Dominica, and its usefulness for this concern. \ While
I do not necessarily agree with Garrett's argument, like St. Lucian
Vernacular English, I would not consider Dominican Vernacular English
(DVE) a creole on other grounds. My observation, during a recent visit
to Dominica, is that there is not a unified or standardized DVE speech
that could be linguistically described and would be typify by any
group of speakers. There is a multitude of forms used by as many
individual speakers. It is a very unstable linguistic situation and
the 'community' is trying to move towards some other shared speech. In
creole-speaking communities, there are certain social domains in which
the creole has a recognized important cultural role. Those who speak
the various forms of DVE have no sentimental attachment to their
speech. The multitude of forms referred to as DVE do not serve any
such cultural role. The 'community' is pulled between those with
sentiments for restoration of the French Creole and the inevitable
political and economic force of English hegemony. The forms of DVE
could be described as simply the speech of unsuccessful learners of
standard English. Students who are successful in language learning do
not speak anything resembling a relexified French Creole.

The definition of creole varieties is taken up in another chapter.
Michael Aceto, one of the editors of this volume, uses a first
description of Barbudan Creole as a basis for proposing a new typology
for Caribbean creoles in ''What are Creole languages? An alternative
approach to the Anglophone Atlantic world with special emphasis on
Barbudan Creole English.'' Both the new information on Barbudan and a
creative approach to generalizations about creole languages will be
useful to other creolists.

''Barbadian lects: Beyond meso'', by Gerard van Herk, is another
chapter that addresses creolist definitions. He also looks at an
extensive list of reported Bajan creole syntactic features, and
comments on evidence of their use in his data. Certain features are
found in the speech of young Bajans when trying to sound more
Bajan. He describes this as ''constructed dialect''. However, Bajan is
hardly a ''neglected Anglophone area'', Aceto 2002 lists over twenty
publications on this speech.

Another chapter that deals with well-documented varieties is David
Sutcliffe's ''Eastern Caribbean suprasegmental systems: A comparative
view with particular reference to Barbadian, Trinidadian, and
Guyanese''. While not discussing any lesser-known creoles, the
research explores an academic area that has had minimal attention
among creolists. This research describes tonal and intonational
patterns found in Caribbean creoles and their relationship to tonal
patterns in some African languages.

A different type of research problem is taken up by Robin Sabino, Mary
Diamond and Leah Cockcroft in their chapter, ''Language variety in the
Virgin Islands: Plural marking''. Not that plural marking is
particularly troublesome, but the authors use this data to explore the
effect of audience on production. The so-called 'observers paradox' is
a particularly troublesome aspect of fieldwork. The authors also look
at diachronic change in plural marking.

The most unusual chapter in this volume is Joan M. Fayer's ''The
Carriacou Shakespeare Mas': Linguistic creativity in a Creole
community.'' This chapter looks at the influence on a traditional
cultural celebration from literary English used in the
schools. Another chapter, ''Creole English on Carriacou: A sketch and
some implications'' by Ronald Kephart, presents a more linguistically
descriptive approach. This chapter presents a brief introduction to
syntactic features of Carriacou Creole English. Unfortunately, both
of these chapters only present previously published information. See
Fayer and McMurray 1999, and Kephart 2000.


This volume covers a wide variety of linguistic concerns and
introduces data on many Caribbean varieties that have received little
linguistic interest. This collection should be welcomed by all
linguists who study is in the Anglophone Caribbean. There are chapters
that will also be of interest to grammarians, phonologists,
anthropologists, and sociologists. My only criticism of the volume
would be that some of the chapters didn't include enough data to
totally convince me of the authors thesis.

Finally, I would like to retell an event related by Kephart in this
volume: ''A Grenadian physician, after listening to me describe my
goal of discovering the grammar rules for Carriacou Speech, asked if I
had thought about the political ramifications: according to him, if I
was able to show that CCE [Carriacou Creole English] had its own
grammar, then I would have proven that those who speak it are real
human beings, and should be treated accordingly.''

This is the deepest value of what is accomplished when attention is
given to languages that have been ignored. As was the intention of the
editors, I hope that this volume will serve to stimulate more research
in languages, creole or other, that have received little or no
academic attention. We can also hope that the work of academics will
help the people whom they study.


Aceto, Michael. 2002. Going Back to the Beginning: Describing the
(Nearly) Undocumented Anglophone Creoles of the Caribbean. In
G. Gilbert (ed.) Pidgin and Creole Linguistics in the Twenty-First
Century. New York: Peter Lang.

Christie, Pauline. 1982. ''Language Maintenance and language shift in
Dominica.'' Caribbean Quarterly 28:41-50.

- ---. 1983. ''In search of the boundaries of Caribbean creoles.'' In
L. Carrington, (ed.) (in collaboration with D. Craig and
R. Todd-Dandar´┐Ż) Studies in Caribbean Language. St. Augustine,
Trinidad: Society for Caribbean Linguistics. 13-22.

- ---. 1987. ''Dominica: A Sociolinguistic Profile.'' Working Papers
in Linguistics. UWI, Mona: Department of Language, Linguistics and
Philosophy, 50-73.

Fayer, Joan and Joan McMurray. 1999. The Carriacou Mas' as ''Syncretic
Artifact''. Journal of American Folklore 112(443):58-73.

Kephart, Ronald. 2000. Broken English. The Creole Language of
Carriacou. New York:Peter Lang.

Le Page, Robert. 1977. ''De-creolization and re- creolization: A
preliminary report on the sociolinguistic survey of multilingual
communities Stage II: St. Lucia.'' York Papers in Linguistics 7:

Williams, Jeffrey. 1984. White Saban English: a socio- historical
description. The University of Texas. Austin. Unpublished Master's

- ---. 1986. The forgotten Caribbean: the sociolinguistic histories of
the white peasantries in the Anglophone and francophone
Caribbean. Post-doctoral proposal prepared for the Program in Atlantic
History, Culture, and Society. The John Hopkins University.


Ken Decker is a sociolinguistic consultant for SIL International. He
has studied Caribbean Creole languages for about 12 years. He is also
interested in language vitality and language development issues.
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