This book "asserts that the origin and spread of languages must be examined primarily through the time-tested techniques of linguistic analysis, rather than those of evolutionary biology" and "defends traditional practices in historical linguistics while remaining open to new techniques, including computational methods" and "will appeal to readers interested in world history and world geography."
Date: Wed, 01 Oct 2003 14:44:04 +0800 From: Kerry Varcoe Subject: Pidgins and Creoles: An Introduction
Singh, Ishtla (2000) Pidgins and Creoles: An Introduction, Oxford University Press.
Kerry Varcoe, Literacy-based Rural Development and Endangered Language Conservation, Indonesia Branch, SIL International.
[For another review of this book, see http://linguistlist.org/issues/12/12-1679.html --Eds.]
Singh intends her book to be used as an intermediate level university textbook to introduce the processes and factors which influence the development of pidgins and creoles. The author seeks to fill a perceived gap between existing introductory and advanced treatments.
Consisting of four chapters, the book is prefaced with two maps which indicate the location of a few creoles and pidgin languages. One map is entirely devoted to creoles and pidgins of the author's homeland. The other map locates pidgins and creoles which have mostly developed out of contact with European languages.
The first chapter begins by defining the terms jargon, pidgin and, most importantly for Singh, creole. Singh neatly deconstructs various metaphors used to model creolistic theory. She critiques both the way such metaphors or paradigms screen out or hide other interesting facts and she also exposes how the metaphors were used as a means to further marginalize and denigrate pidgins and especially creoles.
The chapter continues with a discussion of how creolistics has impacted the related fields of sociolinguistics, historical linguistics and language acquisition and learning studies. Singh concludes chapter one by calling for more data-based studies on creolization, pidginization and second language acquisition.
In the second chapter Singh introduces the debate over how creole languages develop. She discusses a variety of creole genesis theories; the Foreigner Talk Theory, the Imperfect L2 Learning Hypothesis, the Nautical Jargon Theory, the Monogenesis Theory and finally the Language Bioprogram Hypothesis (LBH). The author concludes that the first two theories, the Foreigner Talk Theory and the Imperfect L2 Learning Hypothesis, over-emphasize the role of the "superstratal" language. She deconstructs and rejects the next two theories, the Nautical Jargon Theory and the Monogenesis Theory, citing lack of evidence as their main problem. Singh then devotes the rest of the chapter to the LBH in order to explain the commonalities between creole languages. She points out that some of the reasoning in LBH is circular, and that the available data can be inconclusively interpreted in different ways. She concludes the chapter by qualifying creole genesis theory development as provisional and in dire need of a good deal more data.
The third chapter describes the creole continuum theory as an attempt to explain what happens when the former supertstrate language of a local creole continues to be used in the locality as the official and most prestigious language. In regards to prestige, as baso-and mesolectal creole is spoken in increasingly more prestigious settings, more lexico-grammatical forms of the acrolect are employed. Singh terms as language suicide or death that state of affairs when the speakers of a less prestigious language will switch entirely and permanently to a more prestigious one.
Singh informs us that, while the creole continuum model has value, its unidimensionality ignores other continua at play, such as the "sweet talk/broad talk" and "careful/casual" continua. She points out that illustrative benefits can accrue from using other descriptive metaphors such as images of webs, marble cakes or masses of soap bubbles. The creole continuum is refreshingly made transparent as she models alternate theories and tries to factor in more social-psychological motivators for speech variation, implicitly inviting the intermediate student reader to see that language variation is as complex as society itself and that the reader is free to try for themselves formulating alternate explanatory models.
After a brief definition of language planning as it relates to creoles, illustrated with historical references to the standardization of modern Hebrew, French and English in their respective homelands, Singh uses a Trinidadian case study to alert the reader to the problem that European-language lexifier creoles are often still considered by their native speakers as deficient and shameful forms of the standardized Indo-European acrolect.
Language programmers operating on this assumption tried making the standardized Indo-European language the medium of instruction in primary and secondary education. However, the very high rate of failure to attain fluency in the standardized form made some language planners and critics realize that they were really looking at a diglossic situation. This in turn led to concessions wherein primary instruction has been permitted in the creoles in order for children to obtain necessary literacy tools before learning the acrolect as a second language. However, the continuing "failure" to acquire the standard form continues to vex the program planners, and persists as proof that creoles are different languages from their lexifiers, not just dialects.
The ongoing problem as the author sees it is that many creoles with Indo-European languages as the lexifier are still considered by both the populations that speak them and by the language planners themselves as inferior to their standardized European forms. This attitude is seen in the preservation of the European language as the sole language of government and education while the creoles are excluded from most print or allowed only in bracketed form in jokes, cartoons and some narrative. According to Singh this bracketing maintains the false dichotomy between the official European language as prestigious and the creoles as base.
Singh recommends that language programming be more inclusive of creoles by treating them as viable means of communication worthy of preservation, and by taking steps to increase the prestige of creoles in the eyes of both their speakers and others. While the globalization of international commercial relations influences creole speakers to learn the more standardized forms of the European lexifier languages, the esteem of creoles, and by extension, creole speakers, needs the intervention of language program planners.
While it is refreshing to hear a mother-tongue Creole speaker introducing creolistics from a Caribbean perspective, on the other hand the book is heavy on Caribbean examples. Singh over-emphasizes European-superstrate creoles and European colonial history. Little mention is made of the development of creoles with non-European languages serving as the supertstrate and where slavery was absent, such as in the case of the Malay-superstrate creoles of Indonesia.
While Singh critiques the use of binary oppositions such as "natural/non-natural" and the metaphor of language "families" as value- laden and discriminatory against pidgins and creoles (p.33, top), she then apparently uncritically uses the similarly dichotomized and value- laden binary terminology "central/marginal", "master/slave" and "colonizer/colonized". Her analysis of creole development and use as it relates to "power" could benefit from reconceptualizing "power" as diffuse and existing everywhere in everyone.
In chapter two, Singh wisely locates in an holistic, historical matrix her introduction to theories of creole genesis. The quotes from some old European linguists were fascinating. However, the extended historical treatment meant less space was available to discuss various theories.
In discussing creole genesis, Singh might have questioned the role of social dynamics and power between subaltern individuals and groups on a "horizontal" orientation, rather than looking to biological determinism on one hand, and dichotomistic master/slave relations on the other. Singh tantalizingly approaches such an analysis in the intriguing account of Nicaraguan sign language. On p.61 she mentions that one child in particular amongst the G2 signers, Mayela, had exceptional ability and flare. Singh quotes Judy Kegl as saying she felt "someone had given this woman the rule book". Could it be that this influential individual's idiolect formed the syntactic and grammatical pattern to which the other young signers willingly conformed for social/relational reasons?
The same sort of horizontal social analysis might have been applied to the case of Hawaiian Creole English. Singh recounts how the creole abruptly emerged on sugar plantations after the native Hawaiian worker population was augmented by a sudden influx of workers from China, Portugal, Japan, Korea, the Philippines and Puerto Rico during a 25-45 year period (p.53). Singh could have enhanced her discussion of LBH by also questioning the role of differing levels of prestige and influence between the subaltern groups. If one group were relatively few in number and lacking status and influence in the plantation worker society, they may have exerted less influence on how the creole developed and may have been more likely to assimilate to a more influential subaltern group's contributions. An influential clique with one particular set of grammatical rules could by their influence, by their assertions of being central and by the motivations of their peers to be included, have drawn their peers to adopt their own particular creole variety.
There are numerous other problems with Singh's supportive discussion of the LBH. Whereas Singh suggests a list of twelve possibly biologically determined grammatical features, when offering Nicaraguan sign language as proof for LBH she can only identify three grammatical features in sign language that correspond to her list of bioprogram universals. This is less than convincing support for the LBH.
Some of the twelve possible universals on Singh's list could also result from reduction and simplification processes. The fact that children use a simplified form of adult speech could also be influenced by adult-to-children talk, similar to foreigner talk, rather than from bioprogramming alone. And finally, since there are still upward of 4000 living languages yet to be documented, it is somewhat premature to speak of universals.
In her discussion of the "creole continuum" in chapter three Singh refers to "sweet talk/broad talk" and "careful/casual" as Trinidadian creole speech varieties that are not explainable by a simplistic, unidimensional continuum model, but there is no consideration of the influence of dialect variation. The sociolinguistic factors which determine which dialect variety is used in a given context in a monolingual setting could also be at work alongside the creolic dynamics in a "creole continuum". In other words it would have been interesting if the dynamics of "creole continuua" had been compared and contrasted with the dynamics of dialect variation, where those who desire to be identified as belonging to the most influential classes conform their speech to the influential class, and those who for other motivations wish to distance themselves from the status quo speak non- standardized speech varieties.
In the book's last chapter on language program planning, in the light of globalization of languages such as English, Singh raises the question, Is there room for creoles?
Singh's focus on the relationship between European standard acrolects in contrast to creoles in former European colonies constitutes a somewhat skewed matrix within which to locate language program planning. Language planning and the attempt to assimilate indigenous languages in developing countries is carried out on the large part by non-European language speaking governments. In the Republic of the Philippines for example, Tagalog, the minority language of the political elite, has been declared the national language and the education system used to promote Tagalog over other indigenous speech varieties.
While Singh suggests how language planners could help extend the use of creoles, she does not consider that permanently and irreversibly switching from creole to a superstrate language may actually be a viable option for some individuals and communities. While it may not sound politically correct, people and communities should also be free to switch languages if they feel it will make their lives more fulfilling.
I recommend this book for use by 2nd year university educational and linguistics students. The book's brevity and restricted scope and depth lend it well as an introduction to creolistics within a more general course introducing sociolinguistics. I believe 2nd year college students would have no problem reading this as a companion to a selection of other texts in one course. The author's perspective on minority rights also lends the book well to use as an introduction to issues of fairness in bilingual and multi-ethnic education.
ABOUT THE REVIEWER:
ABOUT THE REVIEWER Kerry Varcoe currently works in Indonesia as a linguistics consultant in endangered language conservation and literacy-based rural community development. Kerry holds an MA in applied linguistics from Charles Darwin University. Kerry is interested in critical semiotics and in the use of psycholinguistics, sociolinguistics and anthropological linguistics in understanding minority deconstructions of and resistances to dominant metaphors and cultural themes involved in the narrative formation of personal identity (a la Foucault's "subjugation").