LINGUIST List 7.1564

Tue Nov 5 1996

Qs: Generativity, Creoloid source(s),Terms for "Circumcision"

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  1. "N. Chipere", Generativity
  2. Charlie Rowe, query: creoloid source(s)?
  3. Jeff Marck, Query: "Circumcision" in African languages?

Message 1: Generativity

Date: Mon, 04 Nov 1996 17:09:37 GMT
From: "N. Chipere" <>
Subject: Generativity

On 4 November I wrote

>I am looking for references to past or on-going research on evidence
>for syntactic generativity, or lack of it, among native speakers of any
>language, though I have a particular interest in English. I am also
>interested in correlations between education and linguistic capacity.

Two respondents suggested that this query needs to be clarified,
particularly the term "syntactic generativity", so I will and try
and spell out in more detail the kind of information what I'm
looking for.

There is a long standing notion that speakers of a native
language have a uniform linguistic competence, statable as a
generative rule system, which allows them to them to understand,
at least at a syntactic level, novel sentences in their
language. My query is motivated by a number of studies which
suggest that the ability to understand certain types of novel but
grammatical sentence appears to be related to one's level of
education, or perhaps to some other underlying factor associated
with one's linguistic experience. For instance, Blumenthal (1966)
* found that his native English speaker subjects would
misintepret centre embedded sentences as co-ordinate
structures. Stolz (1968) reports that some of his subjects could
only decode centre embedded constructions in the presence of
semantic constraints and feedback. Blaubergs and Braine (1974)
also indicate the need for extensive training in order to get
people to decode these constructions appropriately. Gleitman and
 (1978) compared the ability of clerical workers and phd students
understand novel noun phrases like 'house bird
glass'. Apparently, despite training and offers of financial
reward, the less educated speakers persisted in interpreting the
noun phrase as 'glass bird house' despite the syntax which
indicates that it is the glass which is being modified. The more
educated speakers, however, were able to arrive at the
appropriate interpretation. Finally, Dabrowska (submitted)
studied four groups of native English speakers and found
correletions between educational background and the ability to
process gap, tough movement and complex NP constructions. The
authors of these papers report that they controlled for memory
capacity, and, in any case, Gleitman and Gleitman's noun phrases
are hardly taxing in that respect. Each concludes that
appropriate linguistic experience, either in the form of training
in an experimental context or through formal education, is a
signficant factor controlling performance in the constructions
studied. The suggestion is that native speakers may not have the
same syntactic skills in their language.

This research spans 30 years and it seems to me that there must
be more written on the subject. I would appreciate any
references, especially anything crosslinguistic.


Ngoni Chipere
Darwin College
University of Cambridge

* My dates may be off by a year or two.
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Message 2: query: creoloid source(s)?

Date: Mon, 04 Nov 1996 13:10:49 EST
From: Charlie Rowe <>
Subject: query: creoloid source(s)?

In the debate over the creole status of Afrikaans, it has been
asserted that Afrikaans is a "creoloid," and that the
transmission preceding/feeding its generation was "bent, but not

To which scholar(s) are these two notions attributable?

Charlie Rowe
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Message 3: Query: "Circumcision" in African languages?

Date: Tue, 05 Nov 1996 10:34:06 +1100
From: Jeff Marck <>
Subject: Query: "Circumcision" in African languages?

Linguist-l and Arcling subscribers,

I am a linguist and anthropologist who works with demographers
and epidemiologists. For reasons explained below I am presently
preparing a paper entitled "Male circumcision in subequitorial
African culture history".

This is a request for terminologies relating to male and female
circumcision from Niger-Congo/Niger-Kordofanian, Nilo-Saharan,
and African Afro-Asiatic and for citation details of titles which
have already dealt with this topic for those languages.

There are some support staff working on this so we have attached
a filter to my email and responses to the questionaire below sent
with the string <"Circumcision" in African languages> will go
into a particular mailbox. The typists will organise the
resulting titles, data and credits.

The questionaire:
- ------------------------------------------
Subject: "Circumcision" in African languages


Please use orthographies that will survive email transmissions.

A. Citation details of suggested titles of interest:

B. Questionaire for individual language:

1. Language Group:
 Afro-Asiatic __
 Nilo-Saharan __
 Sudanic __
 Other __
 Bantoid __
 Narrow Bantu __
 Eastern __
 Western __
 Other __
 Ubangian __
 Adamawa __
 Other __

2. Language Name: ___________________________
3. Countries in which language is spoken: ___________________
4. Are males of this group commonly circumcised?
 __ Yes
 __ No
 __ Variable (expand if factors are known)
 __ Don't know
5. Are females of this group commonly circumcised?
 (Female genital mutilation in any of its forms?)
 __ Yes
 __ No
 __ Variable (expand if factors are known)
 __ Don't know
4. Terminologies

 a. Male circumcision:

 1. Nouns and verbs having to do with:

 2. Comments and insights:

 b. Female circumcision:

 1. Nouns and verbs having to do with:

 2. Comments and insights:

Submitted by: Name________________________
 Institution ________________
 Citation information if from published data:
 Other persons you may wish to credit:

I will be traveling in November and December and other staff will
work on terminologies that are sent to my email address during
that time. I will acknowledge receipts of questionaires
individually when I return in January.

The resulting paper will be submitted to an appropriate journal
early next year. People submitting completed questionaires will
be emailed citation details when they become available and sent
reprints upon request at that time.

Thank you,

Jeff Marck
- --------------------------------------------
End questionaire.

Background to question:

The background of this query is different in the case of the two
sexes. In the instance of the males it has to do with
correlations between male circumcision and reduced rates of HIV
infection. In the instance of the females it has to do with long
term efforts to understand and promote the subsidence of the
practices concerned.

On the male/HIV side we have just initiated a culture history
study of speakers of narrow Bantu as rates of HIV infection are
variable within that group.

The lack of significant male same-sex sexual activity that the
Africans have long claimed for themselves appears to be born out
by the lack of male same-sex HIV epidemiology around Africa.

The African epidemic is driven by heterosexual transmission and
rates are apparently highest in those places with high rates of
chancroid, a particularly ogreish genital ulcer
disease. Afflicted males and females have large open ulcers with
raw, irritated capillaries at the surface. When such people
engage in mundane heterosexual sex acts, their circulatory
systems come into contact and HIV transmission is more or less
instantaneous. Other genital ulcer diseases may be of
significance but that has not been my area of work.

Elevated rates of chancroid are, in turn, highly associated with
lack of male circumcision. Uncircumcised males with the same risk
behaviours as circumcised males get chancroid at something like
four times the rate. Thus the HIV epidemic is sustained or
inhibited quite differently according to male circumcision

The groups with very high rates of HIV infection, taking "narrow
Bantu" as a whole, are those who do not practice male
circumcision and these are only certain "Eastern Bantu" speakers
who have or may have a (pre)history of contacts with Sudanic
speakers. The equitorial boundary between the male-circumcising
groups with low rates of HIV infection is specifically the
northern boundary of "narrow Bantu" from about western Uganda
straight across to Cameroon. To the south of that line are
"narrow Bantu" speakers who practice male circumcision and have
low rates of infection. To the north of that line are "Bantoid",
other Niger-Congo groups, and Sudanic speaking groups who
generally do no practice male circumcision and generally have
high rates of infection.

The affected Eastern Bantu speakers are inland groups from the
lakes south to southern Africa. The the coastal Eastern Bantu
from Kenya into the south have low rates again. Coastal Eastern
Bantu practice(d) male circumcision while the more heavily
infected inland groups do/did not. None of the attempts at
subgrouping inland Eastern Bantu map isomorphically with the
areas of non-circumcision and high HIV infection.

Thus we believe speakers of Proto Narrow Bantu probably practiced
male circumcision and that the main HIV belt from the lakes south
may be due to some areal cultural effect of Eastern Bantu
speakers and their contacts with Sudanic speakers.

If you're still with me, the epidemiologists are curious about
this as it may be a more or less closely related group of
cultures that have the high rates of infection from the lakes
south. Successful interventions from one area may therefore
generalise more successfully than previously imagined.

Jeff Marck
Australian National University

Jeff Marck Health Transition Review (HTR)
Publications Officer Health Transition Centre (HTC) National Centre for Epidemiology
61-6-249-5618 and Population Health (NCEPH)
61-6-249-5614 (fax) Australian National University(ANU)
 Canberra ACT 0200 Australia
HTC Publications:
 Health Transition Review (journal)
 Dedicated to understanding the cultural, social and
 behavioural determinants of health
 Health Transition Series (books)
Personal homepage:
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