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Review of  A Contrastive Grammar of Islander

Reviewer: Svetlana Kurteš
Book Title: A Contrastive Grammar of Islander
Book Author: Angela Bartens
Publisher: Finnish Academy of Science and Letters
Linguistic Field(s): Language Documentation
Subject Language(s): Creole English, Islander
Issue Number: 14.3337

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Bartens, Angela (2003) A Contrastive Grammar: Islander-Caribbean
Standard English-Spanish, Finnish Academy of Science and Letters,
Series Humaniora 327.

Announced at

Svetlana Kurtes, Language Centre, University of Cambridge, UK


The present monograph is a succinct contrastive grammar of the three
languages spoken in the Caribbean islands of San Andrés and Old
Providence -- Islander (a Western Atlantic English-based Creole,
assumed to be a descendant of Jamaican Creole and spoken by some
20,000 people), Caribbean Standard English and Spanish. The monograph
comprises two main parts: Word classes and phrases and The sentence.
Part I is subdivided into nine chapters: Nouns and the noun phrase;
The article; Adjectives and the adjective phrase; Pronouns;
Quantifiers; Adverbs and the adverbial phrase; Verbs and the verb
phrase; Prepositions and the prepositional phrase; Conjunctions. There
are two chapters in Part II: The simple sentence and The complex
sentence. In addition to the grammar part, the monograph includes a
further elaboration on the phonetic and graphematic systems of
Islander (pp.17-26), as well as some theoretical considerations on
contrastive linguistics and contrastive grammar. A detailed report on
lexical Africanisms in Islander also is appended
(pp.137-172). References.

In the introductory comments Bartens gives further details on the
theoretical ramification of her work, pointing out that the
traditional structural-functional model still proves to be the most
suitable for applied contrastive grammars (p. 11; also Coseriu 1972:
43), although the contrastivist should generally be eclectic in
his/her approach to theoretical models. The major point to be borne in
mind when deciding on this important issue is the underlying
motivation that differentiates theoretical (TCL) and applied (ACL)
contrastive linguistics from one another - 'while the former aims at
revealing universal structures and the essence of language
(e.g. Wandruszka 1971:135), ACL seeks to contribute to the pedagogy of
the teaching of specific language pairs' (p.10). Thus a theoretical
contrastive grammar (CG), although possible to conceive, would require
an immense endeavour to be achieved practically. Namely, it is
supposed to meet the four basic requirements by being bi-directional,
descriptive, contrastive and comprehensive (ibid.; also Czochralski
1966:20 ff). Consequently, applied CGs are by and large
unidirectional, simultaneously descriptive-contrastive and selective
in their approach to the observed linguistic phenomena (ibid.;
Czochralski, op. cit.; Filipovic 1986:8 ff).

Bartens further comments on the concept of tertium comparationis,
central to CL. It is pointed out that different types of tertium
comparationis are necessary in order to contrast different levels of
the observed languages. Moreover, modern CGs must not neglect 'the
pragmatic, sociocultural and psycholinguistic levels which are
nevertheless as integrally part of language as phonology or syntax'
(p. 12) and establish the tertia comparationis accordingly. The
pedagogical necessity to focus on actual language usage, termed the
'Sprachnorm' by Coseriu (1972:54 ff), has long been observed, and more
recently contrastive studies have successfully incorporated into their
methodological apparatus the concept of 'cultural scripts', a 'natural
semantic metalanguage' derived in particular from Wierzbicka's legacy
(1991). This is also the reason why contrastive analysis deals with
bilingual and bi-directional corpora comprising a representative
sample of the Spraschnorm, translations and parallel texts. Bartens
concludes that this apparent 'bias toward actual language usage has
earned CL the critique of not being ''serious'', i.e., theoretical
enough, for not dealing exclusively with the system level (Schmitt
1997:9-12). But it is precisely by analyzing the levels of the parole
and the ''Spraschnorm'' that CL is able to generalize to the system
level (Schmitt 1997:12-15)' (p.13).

Another important issue to be determined is the manner of presentation
in a CG. Existing grammars can essentially be classified into three
basic types: a) the structures are presented interlinearly (e.g. Veiga
1995); b) the structures are presented in separate columns or on the
different sides of an opening (e.g. Engel et al. 1999); c) the
structures are described for one language, then for the other and
finally they are contrasted (e.g. Damoiseau 1999). It is possible to
conceive a hypothetical type e) consisting of two separate parts,
descriptive and contrastive, as proposed by Czochralski (1966).
Finally, an intermediate type d) is found in CGs in which the
descriptive and contrastive approach is applied to a particular area
of grammar at a time (e.g. Engel et al. 1986).

Bartens' own manner of presentation is a combination of types c) and
a), while the examples are always interlinear. The author also
specifies that the examples presented in the grammar are authentic,
collected during fieldwork undertaken in San Andrés and Old
Providence in 2001 and 2002. Each grammatical category is briefly
defined in terms of its form and function, utilising a traditional
approach terminologically and theoretically. The grammar is trilingual
for a number of reasons. Namely, there is a very strong opinion on the
islands that the three languages influence each other, which in
succession determines other relevant issues in language pedagogy and
language policy. The author, however, emphasises that although Spanish
is widely spoken as the first and very often the only language of more
and more Islander children, its actual influence on Islander is still
restricted to massive calquing with no extensive structural influence,
at least not for the time being (p. 14; also Bartens forthcoming).


The present volume is a very welcome and long overdue contribution to
the theory and practice of contrastive linguistics, persuasively
showing the full potential of the discipline and reaffirming its place
among other linguistic branches.

Bartens' confidence in traditional principles of contrastive analysis
has resulted in a clear, well-presented and multifaceted contrastive
grammar, a form unjustifiably neglected for quite a while now. The
grammar neatly complements not only the existing literature on
theoretical and applied contrastive studies, but also the available
descriptive and pedagogical grammars of the languages in question.
Moreover, the fact that the grammar at the same time represents the
only comprehensive description of the Islander language is no doubt a
very praiseworthy achievement in the documentation and promotion of
less commonly spoken languages. Finally, and equally importantly, the
appended corpus of lexical Africanisms and the presented results of
the sociolinguistic study further supplement current linguistic and
multidisciplinary research of pidgins and Creoles.

The grammar, while closely adhering to the mainstream European legacy
of contrastive analysis, also introduces some innovative procedures
into its methodological apparatus, yielding contrastively valuable
results. This is precisely the reason why it will be very gladly
received among the members of its intended readership -- academics and
practitioners in the field of contrastive linguistics and other
tangent disciplines, who should take it as a model of the genre.


Bartens, Angela (forthcoming). Life-lines. Language contact and
language conflict on San Andres Islas, Colombia, The Finnish Academy
of Science and Letters, Helsinki.

Coseriu, Eugenio 1972. 'Über Leistung und Grenzen der kontrastiven
Grammatik'. In G Nickel (ed), Reader zur kontrastiven Linguistik,
Fischer, Frankfurt am Main, pp. 39-58.

Czochralski, Jan 1966. 'Grundsätzliches zur Theorie der kontrastiven
Linguistik', In Linguistics 24, pp. 17-28.

Damoiseau, Robert 1999. Elements de grammaire comparee
Francais-Creole, Ibis Rouge Editions, Petit-Bourg, Guadeloupe.

Engel, et al 1999. Deutsch-polnische kontrastive Grammatik, 2 vols,
Julius Groos, Heidelberg.

Filipovic, Rudolf 1986. 'Geleitwort: Kontrastive Grammatik im Rahmen
der Kontrastiven Linguistik'. In Engel et al., Kontrastive Grammatik
Deutsch-Serbokroatisch, 2 vols, Institut za strane jezike i
knjizevnosti, Novi Sad.

Schmitt, Christian 1997. 'Prinzipien, Methoden und empirische
Anwendung der kontrastiven Linguistik für das Sprachenpaar
Deutsch/Spanisch'. In Gerd Wotjak (ed), Studien zum
romanisch-deutschen und innerromanischen Sprachvergleich, Peter Lang,
Frankfurt am Main, pp. 9-30.

Veiga, Manuel 1995. O crioulu de Cabo Verde. Introducao a Gramatica,
Instituto Caboverdiano do Livro e do Disco, Praia.

Wandruszka, Mario 1971. Interlinguistik. Umrisse einer neuen
Sprachwissenschaft, Piper, München.

Wierzbicka, Anna 1991. Cross-cultural pragmatics. The semantics of
human interaction, Mouton de Gruyter, Berlin.

Svetlana Kurtes holds a BA in English Philology and an MA in
Sociolinguistics from Belgrade University and an MPhil in Applied
Linguistics from Cambridge University. She worked as a Lecturer in
English at Belgrade University and is currently affiliated to Cambridge
University Language Centre. Her research interests involve contrastive
linguistics, sociolinguistics, pragmatics/stylistics, translation
theory and language pedagogy.

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