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Title: Language Acquisition in Creolization and, Thus, Language Change ...
Author(s): Michel DeGraff
Journal Title: Language and Linguistics Compass
Volume: 3
Issue: 4
Page Range: 888 - 971
Publication Date: Jun-2009
Abstract: This essay prescribes some broad 'Cartesian-Uniformitarian' boundary conditions for linguistic hypotheses about Creole formation. These conditions make constructive connections between Creole studies, historical linguistics and language-acquisition research. Here 'Cartesian' has a mentalist sense, as in Chomsky (1966): I consider the formation of so-called 'Creole' languages to be ultimately reducible to the creation, in certain sociohistorical contexts, of certain idiolects (i.e., individual internal, or 'I-', languages) in the minds of the 'first "Creole" speakers'. To avoid circularity, my use of the term 'Creole' in the phrase 'first "Creole" speakers' combines some of its original ethno-historical senses: I use the word 'Creole', in this particular context, to refer to the non-indigenous people of African or European descent that were born and raised in the colonial New World, in opposition to those that were born and raised in the Old Worlds of Africa and Europe. The term 'Uniformitarian' evokes Neogrammarian approaches to language change, as advocated, for example, by Osthoff and Brugmann (1878) and Paul (1890). It summarizes my fundamental working assumption that no sui generis or exceptional linguistic processes need to be postulated in order to explain the creation of these languages that have come to be labeled 'Creole': these languages were created by the same psycholinguistic mechanisms that are responsible for the creation of (I-)languages, and for linguistic diachronic patterns, everywhere else. Therefore, 'Creole' languages cannot be distinguished a priori from non-'Creole' languages on any linguistic-theoretical criteria . and 'Creole' languages can be genetically classified by the Comparative Method, on a par with non-'Creole' languages...

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Creoles and the Comparative Method   by Chiara Gianollo , 7-Jul-11
Michel DeGraff’s engaging paper addresses so many issues of capital relevance to diachronic linguistics that it is quite a responsibility to pick one to start with. So, I will rather break the ice with a question out of ignorance, which was prompted to me by DeGraff’s discussion of the applicability of the Comparative Method to Creoles: What is the extent of the evidence gathered by Creole studies with respect to the existence of sound changes amenable to the format and the constraints predicted by the Noegrammarian hypothesis (with the refinements coming from our modern understanding of sound-change diffusion)? Phrased differently: Can we formulate exact phonological correspondences (sound laws) linking Creoles to their lexifier language? Let me shortly summarize the background to my question. In defending his position against Creole exceptionalism, Michel DeGraff addresses the discussion concerning the genealogical status of Creole languages (§ 2.3.4 - 2.3.7). He forcefully argues that Caribbean Creoles should be considered genetically related to their European ‘superstrate’ languages, and he advocates this claim by stating that ‘all the available evidence –the inheritance, with modification, from French of the greater part of the H[aitian]C[reole] lexicon, including all of HC’s basic vocabulary and grammatical morphemes, HC’s phonological, lexical and morphosyntactic correspondences with French, and so on– puts HC, a ‘prototypical Creole’ if there ever was one, squarely in the scope of the Comparative Method …’ (p. 922). Now, despite the fact that I am substantially sympathetic with DeGraff’s anti-exceptionalism approach, what puzzles me, as a historical linguist working on Indo-European languages, is that the linguistic evidence which is mentioned in the essay –and the linguistic facts about Creoles which typically percolate in the broader textbook literature about language change– come overwhelmingly from morpho-syntax. This is remarkable, since the classical application of the Comparative Method concerns phonological data coming from lexical evidence (comprising functional morphemes). No language relationship has definitively been proved just on the basis of structural evidence. It would seem to me, therefore, that the strongest support to DeGraff’s anti-exceptionalist position could come from the study of phonological regularities in the transmission of the lexicon. After all, as DeGraff himself mentions (e.g. p. 921), we know that if we were to compare only the morpho-syntactic characteristics of Latin and French we would have a much harder time in proving genealogical relationship that if we were to apply the Comparative Method to the lexicon (whether this is due to the intrinsic nature of the data, or to our relative ignorance with respect to the relevant format of syntactic comparanda, is another question). I know of OT-work on sound change in Creolization, but I hope there will be some reader supplying more information.
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