LINGUIST List 15.1690

Tue Jun 1 2004

Review: Socioling/Anthro Ling: Holm (2004)

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  1. Angela Bartens, Languages in Contact: The Partial Restructuring of Vernaculars

Message 1: Languages in Contact: The Partial Restructuring of Vernaculars

Date: Tue, 1 Jun 2004 11:08:09 -0400 (EDT)
From: Angela Bartens <>
Subject: Languages in Contact: The Partial Restructuring of Vernaculars

Holm, John (2004) Languages in Contact: The Partial Restructuring of
Vernaculars, Cambridge University Press.

Announced at

Angela Bartens, University of Helsinki


The author of this book, John Holm, is one of the established names in
present-day Creolistics. His 1988-89 handbook of Pidgin and Creole
languages remains unsurpassed as the most complete survey of the
languages in question. His more concise 2000 handbook is widely used
as a textbook.

For a number of years now, the research of John Holm has focused on
semi-creoles or partially restructured language varieties. The book
under review is the first book-length discussion of the topic.


In the Preface (p.p. xi-xviii), Holm explains that he has replaced the
term semi-creole by restructured varieties because the former term
seemed to have too many negative connotations. He also comments on
the debate on whether creoles can be defined by intralinguistic
criteria only initiated by McWhorter (1998) by stating that
creolization is a sociolinguistic process since its defining
characteristics include social as well as linguistic phenomena
(p. xiv). By extension, this also applies to semi-creoles or
restructured varieties.

In Chapter 1 (The study of partially restructured vernaculars, pp.
1-23), Holm gives an overview of the existing research literature
dealing with the five varieties he is describing: African American
English (AAE, also called African American Vernacular English or Black
English), Afrikaans, Nonstandard Caribbean Spanish (NSCS), Brazilian
Vernacular Portuguese (BVP) and the Vernacular Lects of Reunionnais
French (VLRF). The term semi-creole dates back to Schuchardt, also
called the father of Creole Studies, while partial restructuring was
used by Hesseling and Vasconcellos, other philologists of the turn of
the late 19th and early 20th century (pp.6-8) meaning that the
phenomenon had been noticed early on. Although already Reinecke (1937)
mentions four of the varieties in question as not fully creolized or
semi-creole languages, there has been very little comparative research
and the varieties in question have been approached from the
perspective of decreolization as descendants of former creoles at
best. The idea that they may not have been fully creolized in the
first place has been resuscitated by scholars working on the
individual languages quite recently as a result of ''the effort to
correlate the synchronic structure of these languages to the
sociolinguistic history of their speakers'' (p. 3). However, it seems
somewhat exaggerated to state that ''The genesis and development of
such partially restructured languages have become one of the most
important leading edges of contact linguistics as a whole.'' (p. 3) At
the end of the chapter (pp. 21-23), Holm also traces the making of the
present volume to two seminars on partial restructuring organized by
him at the City University of New York during the 1990es. In addition
to Holm~Rs own research, the initial papers written in the seminar
have resulted in a number of doctoral dissertations.

In Chapter 2, Holm discusses the ''Social factors in partial
restructuring'' (pp. 24-71). The social factors, e.g. demographic
ratios, are linked to the degree of restructuring of a
variety. Unexpected results are produced by the importation of other
restructured languages, maroonage, and superstrate withdrawal
(p. 28). According to Holm, sixty years may have been necessary both
for the non-native-speaking population to reach a numerical majority
and for these varieties to reach their present degree of restructuring
(p. 28). The general introduction is followed by sub-chapters on the
restructured varieties being examined. Drawing from recent work by
specialist on AAE, Holm makes the interesting point that the variety
is increasingly diverging from Standard American English (p. 40-41)
rather than converging as scholars believed until well into the
1980es. On the other hand, pieces of so-called well-established
knowledge, e.g., that BVP was influenced in a significant manner by
the speech of the settlers and slaves who during the second half of
the 16th century fled to Brazil (p. 51) and that the existence of
Papiamentu justifies the assumption that there once was a creole in
(parts of) Brazil (p. 52) or that Whites in Iberian America were more
friendly masters (p. 62) and that ''sufficient evidence [exists] that
a Spanish-based pidgin based on Afro-Portuguese did in fact exist in
the Caribbean'' (ibid.) are reiterated without pointing out that all
of these issues have been thoroughly debated in the research
literature and can probably not be considered as settled. The chapter
ends with a summary of common sociolinguistic factors, also presented
in a table (table 8, p. 71) where the estimated proportion of whites
is listed in various societies in the late 18th century which may seem
odd considering that these societies, e.g. Brazil, Santo Domingo,
Cura�ao, Jamaica, were originally settled at quite different
times. Among the societies being considered in this volume, Reunion is
left out altogether.

Chapter 3 deals with the verb phrase (pp. 72-91), traditionally of
great interest to creolists as the divergence between prototypical
creoles (if such exist) and their superstrate languages are most
striking in this area. The issues raised for each restructured variety
are verbal morphology, auxiliaries/preverbal markers, negation, and
non-verbal predicates. Comparing BVP and NSCS, Holm concludes that
''Because of the sociolinguistic parallels in the history of NSCS and
BVP, it is reasonable to deduce by analogy that it was
contact-influenced morphological simplification rather than only
internally motivated phonological rules that led to the reduced
inflectional distinctions of not only BVP but also NSCS.'' (p. 84).
Unfortunately, we feel that the evidence presented by Holm is not
sufficient and that the thesis that restructuring in the BVP VP is
morphological while it is phonological in NSCS still holds. A slight
contradiction can be found in the discussion of BVP and NSCS where the
basic verb form of Atlantic and/or Spanish- and Portuguese-based
creoles is first said to derive from the imperative (and only possibly
the 3rd person singular; p. 81), then from the 3rd person singular
(p. 84). The observation that Spanish was ''of course'' in contact
with Arabic in Andalusia for many centuries (p. 83) would have
required further developing. In the summary on the reduction of the
verbal paradigms in the varieties in question, the argumentation that
''Indication that this morphological simplification was due to
language contact as well as a general tendency in the European
language towards the loss of inflection can be seen in the fact that
sometimes inflected forms in the source language were selected as base
forms in the newer variety~E'' (pp. 90-91) seems circular at best.

Chapter 4 deals with the noun phrase (pp. 92-115), i.e., the marking
of number, gender and possession as well as the pronominal
paradigm. In the case of the NP, there is evidence from one relatively
marginal variety of NSCS, the highly restructured variety of the
Colombian Choc� (by the way, in order to include the Pacific Coast
of Colombia which is, in fact, justified by the linguistic facts, the
definition of NSCS as including the speech of ''Coastal Venezuelans
and Colombians'', p. 17, should perhaps have made explicit that both
coasts of Colombia are included), that restructuring is also
morphological (p. 106). However, it is quite a different issue if this
feature can be generalized to all of NSCS and to its VP as well
(cf. supra). Stating that the loss of plural ?s in the NSCS NP is more
frequent when the noun is masculine because the article lo still
contrasts with singular el (p. 106) would seem to call for
quantitative data. In the discussion of BVP, Holm departs from the
fact that many Atlantic creoles form their nominal plural by pre- or
postposing the personal pronoun they to the noun. The earlier
attestation of a hybrid form like osele leads him to assume that
plurality was formerly marked with the personal pronoun ele(s) in the
BVP NP and that this marker was replaced by the plural definite
article masc. os (fem. as) as a result of decreolization (p. 102).
Unfortunately, Holm does not cite any other evidence. By consequence,
osele could be a nonce formation. As in the case of the BVP VP, the
restructuring of the BVP NP is clearly morphological.

In chapter 5, Holm discusses the structure of clauses (pp. 116-134),
i.e., word order and dependent clauses. All varieties have many
features of their European source languages but there has also been
substantial simplification, e.g. in BVP and Afrikaans relative clauses
which are introduced by invariant que and wat, respectively, as well
as sub-/adstrate influence, e.g. the AAE complementizer say or the
reinforcement of the Dutch word order SOV in Afrikaans by Khoi and
Indo-Portuguese (in this last case, Holm appears to attribute more
weight to the Dutch input, cf. pp. 120-121, 133).

In the concluding chapter (pp. 135-146), the author ties the strings
and different strands of the volume together. First of all, he
concludes that as far as sociolinguistic factors are concerned, the
demographic balance between native and non-native speakers during the
first century of settlement as well as the fact that the emerging
variety is adopted as a community language are crucial
(pp. 135-136). In the discussion of the linguistic factors, Holm
compiles a table of the attestations vs. non-attestations of the
features examined in the book. By adding the numbers of attested
features, he is able to quantify the different degrees of
restructuring. AAE, VLRF and BVP turn out to be quite strongly
restructured, scoring15, 14 and 13 out of 18 features, respectively,
while Afrikaans and NSCS are less strongly restructured (both 9 out of
18 features). This taxonomic approach is not new in creolistics,
cf. Parkvall (2000), Baker & Huber (2001). Then Holm goes on to
discuss the linguistic processes in partial restructuring the readers
should be familiar with from his previous research on partially
restructured varieties: language drift, primary leveling, imperfect
language shift, language borrowing and secondary leveling (p. 143). In
this context, we wonder if anyone has questioned his use of primary
leveling in the sense of ''preserving lexical or structural features
that are archaic, regional, or rare in the target language, sometimes
extending them to new contexts'' (p. 143) but this may not be of
interest here (cf., however, the definition of leveling as ''the loss
of marked and/or minority variants'' in Trudgill [1986:126]). The
final conclusions include the observation that ''restructuring can
indeed take place to differing degrees. This issue is now settled.''
(p. 144) and the reader somehow misses a reference although at least I
remember having questioned the usefulness of the term semi-creole
precisely for conveying the impression of a 50-50 division (Bartens
1999). Discussing the literature on other contact varieties, Holm
cites Siegel (1997) who identified frequency, regularity, salience and
transparency as the main forces at work during leveling in a contact
situation and continues: ''This suggests a solution for the long
search for principles that guide the selection of substrate features
into pidgins, creoles, and partially restructured varieties during
their genesis, and their adoption of further features during their
development'' (p. 145) but then admits that Boretzky (1986) reached
quite similar conclusions (p. 146). Finally, Holm urges the scientific
community to apply the insights gained from the study of one kind of
restructuring to the study of other kinds of restructuring,
e.g. Romanian, Old French, and Middle English (p. 146), an idea that
seems to come up every now and then as far as the languages cited are

The volume also contains a table of contents (pp. vii-viii), lists of
the maps (p. ix) and tables (p. x), a comprehensive bibliography (pp.
147-165) and an index (pp.166-175).


As mentioned above, this is the first book-length comparison of what
used to be called semi-creoles and thus constitutes a pioneer
study. Its strenght lies precisely in its comparative nature, bringing
together and uniformizing information otherwise dispersed in various

Some critique has been formulated already in the synopsis part. The
main drawbacks are the following: The book is too concise. Many times,
a single example is given per structure and per restructured
variety. For example, in the discussion of VLRF nominal gender, it
would have seemed relevant to the reviewer to know not only that
Malagasy has definite articles but whether they are differentiated
according to gender or not (p. 109). Somewhat in the same line, Holm
draws his data on the most radical features of any variety of BVP from
a single scholar. What is worse, Holm relies on the work of his
students whenever this is possible rather than citing established
literature. Obviously he should be congratulated for having inspired
and supervised so much research on partially restructured varieties
but this does not justify the following kind of cases: The nominal
plural formation of the type cafe, cafese, well known from any
textbook on Latin American Spanish discussing Dominican Spanish is
presented as a discovery made by Green (1997; p. 106). In the
discussion of VLRF reflexives, it is incomprehensible that the
reference for tena ''body, self'' is another forthcoming dissertation
and not, e.g., a grammar or a dictionary of Malagasy. The passage
''However, Chapuis (forthcoming) asserts that~E(Cellier 1985a)'' seems
odd to say the least.

There are some minor inaccuracies as well. Fongbe is mentioned as a
variety of Ewe, a view no longer held by Africanists. There are two
quotes from Hackert and Holm the first four lines of which are
identical. In the first case, the reference is given as Hackert and
Holm (1997[no page indicated]; p. 13), in the second case, it is
Hackert and Holm forthcoming. Schwegler and Morton 2002 (p. 64) was
published in 2003 according to the bibliography. However, there are
only very few typos and the layout of the book is impeccable.

In spite of the drawbacks pointed out above, we highly recommend this
volume to anyone interested in partially restructured varieties,
creole languages or language contact.


Baker, Philip & Magnus Huber (2001) Atlantic, Pacific, and world-wide
features in English-lexicon contact languages. English World-Wide
22:2, 157-208.

Bartens, Angela (1999): Existe-t-il un syst�me verbal
semi-cr�ole?. Neuphilologische Mitteilungen XCIX :4 (1998),

Boretzky, Norbert (1986) Verbkategorien im Fantse und im Jamaican
Creole. Ms.

Cellier, Pierre (1985) Comparaison syntaxique de cr�ole
r�unionnais et du fran�ais (Reflexions
pre-pedagogiques). Universite de la Reunion.

Chapuis, Daniel (forthcoming) Aspects of Restructuring in Vernacular
Lects of Reunion French. Ph.D. dissertation, City University of New

Green, Katherine (1997) Non-standard Dominican Spanish: evidence of
partial restructuring. Ph.D. dissertation, City University of New

Holm, John (1988-89) Pidgins and Creoles. Volume I: Theory and
Structure, Volume II: Reference Survey. Cambridge: Cambridge
University Press.

Holm, John (2000) An introduction to pidgins and creoles. Cambridge:
Cambridge University Press.

McWhorter, John (1998) Identifying the creole prototype: vindicating a
typological class. Language 74:4, 788-818.

Parkvall, Mikael (2000) Reassessing the role of demographics in
language restructuring. In I. Neumann-Holzschuh and E.W. Schneider
(eds.): Degrees of Restructuring in Creole Languages
(pp. 185-213). Amsterdam & Philadelphia: John Benjamins.

Reinecke, John (1937) Marginal Languages: a sociological survey of the
creole languages and trade jargons. Ph.D. dissertation, Yale

Siegel, Jeff (1937) Mixing, leveling, and pidgin/creole
development. In A. Spears and D. Winford (eds.): Pidgins and Creoles:
structure and status (pp. 111-149). Amsterdam & Philadelphia: John

Trudgill, Peter (1986) Dialects in Contact. Oxford: Blackwell.


Dr.phil. 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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