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Review of  Contact Englishes of the Eastern Caribbean

Reviewer: Kendall (Ken) Don Decker
Book Title: Contact Englishes of the Eastern Caribbean
Book Author: Michael Aceto Jeffrey P. Williams
Publisher: John Benjamins
Linguistic Field(s): Sociolinguistics
Issue Number: 15.1227

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Date: Fri, 9 Apr 2004 08:34:30 -0500
From: Ken Decker
Subject: Contact Englishes of the Eastern Caribbean

Aceto, Michael and Jeffrey P. Williams, ed. (2003)
Contact Englishes of the Eastern Caribbean, John Benjamins,
Varieties of English Around the World G30.

Ken Decker, SIL International

"Contact Englishes of the Eastern Caribbean" is a
collection of papers by various authors with focus on
Anglophone Eastern Caribbean territories. More
specifically, it is the editors interest in varieties that
have received little attention in published linguistic
research. It is the state goal of the editors, "simply to
stimulate more field-based linguistic research and, more
specifically, fieldwork in neglected Anglophone areas of
the Americas in order to broaden our base of knowledge
about these language varieties." The papers cover a wide
variety of language related topics, including: syntax,
phonology, historical linguistics, dialectology,
sociolinguistics, ethnography, and performance.

In 2002, Aceto published an article listing research that
has been published about each of the Anglophone Caribbean
Creoles, including varieties further north, such as Afro-
Seminole and Bermuda. One of the purposes of that article
was to highlight the territories for which there was little
or no publication of linguistic research. This is a concern
that I have shared, so I was anticipating the arrival of
this new volume. Too often, I have heard implied, and even
explicitly stated, that since Jamaican and Guyanese have
been thoroughly studied, we know everything about variation
in Caribbean Creole Englishes. There is much more to learn
through these other varieties. I also believe that they are
languages worthy of academic recognition.

To this end, several of the chapters in this book provide
information on varieties for which there has been no
previous linguistic publication, for example: Turks and
Caicos, Barbuda, and Anguilla. "English in the Turks and
Caicos Islands: A look at Grand Turk", by Cecilia Cutler,
is a very welcome presentation of the first linguistic
research on the speech of the Turks and Caicos Islands.
This chapter gives a nice overview of historical
information describing the development of the speech, an
introduction to basic phonological features, a brief
description of the TMA (tense, mood, aspect) structure of
the verb phrase, and a few clause features.

The discussion in many of the other chapters involves
innovative research topics that have received little
previous attention. For example, Jeffrey Williams's chapter
concerning a white community on Anguilla includes both
innovative research and gives description of a territory
for which there has been no published linguistic research.
For several years Williams, one of the editors of this
volume, has studied the speech of white West Indian
communities. (For example see Williams 1984 and 1986.) His
interest is in the speech of whites with which slaves would
have had contact during the time of creole development. His
chapter, titled "The establishment and perpetuation of
Anglophone white enclave communities in the Eastern
Caribbean: The case of Island Harbour, Anguilla", presents
the history of a white English-speaking community and
reveals linguistic features that mark the variety as having
a unique identity. Unfortunately, the speech of the black
Anguillan community remains unexamined.

The speech varieties in focus in most of the other chapters
have received only little attention from linguists. As
pointed out by Aceto in his 2002 article, the speeches of
some of the Caribbean territories have had more
publications, while possibly not linguistic attention. For
example, there have been numerous articles published on the
folklore of the Bahamas, but less on linguistic
description. Helean McPhee, in her chapter titled "The
grammatical features of TMA auxiliaries in Bahamian
Creole", presents a thorough description of the TMA
structure of Bahamian Creole. Another chapter on the
Bahamas is by Becky Childs, Jeffrey Reaser and Walt
Wolfram, titled "Defining ethnic varieties in the Bahamas:
Phonological accommodation in black and white enclave
communities". The research described in this chapter uses
phonological data to investigate ethnic identification
between two Bahamian communities on the island of Abaco:
Sandy Point, a black community, and Cherokee Sound, a white
community. Their use of phonological data for studying
sociolinguistic accommodation is interesting and well
presented. However, I felt that more description of the
sociolinguistic evidence of accommodation would have been
helpful to confirm their interpretation of the phonological

Another kind of English contact environment addressed in
the volume is that found on Dominica and St. Lucia. Both
Dominica and St. Lucia were originally populated by
speakers of French Creoles. The islands were ceded to
Britain in 1763 and 1814 respectively, and institutions,
most importantly education, shifted to English. Discussing
the situation on Dominica, Beverley Bryan and Rosalind
Burnette's chapter is titled "Language variation and
language use among teachers in Dominica". Its purpose is
to describe a study of teacher's knowledge and awareness of
language varieties on Dominica. However, as background for
understanding the environment in which their study was
conducted, the chapter is largely a compilation of
previously published material describing the multilingual
environment of the island. Much of the data comes from
Christie (1982, 1983, 1987). Christie (1983:22) refers to
the English variety of Dominica as a creole. Similarly, Le
Page (1977:109) described a "creolized English" on St.
Lucia. Paul B. Garrett's chapter presents information for
St. Lucia, which is similar to the Dominica situation.

In "An "English Creole" that isn't: On the sociohistorical
origins and linguistic classification of the vernacular
English of St. Lucia", Garrett questions whether or not
there is a variety of English on St. Lucia that can truly
be described as a creole. The same question can be raised
for Dominica. Taken as a unit these two chapters describe
an interesting development among two creoles. Initially,
through contact in the domain of the classroom, the Creole
Frenches were relexified with English but maintained creole
syntactic structures. Garrett considers a wide variety of
information that might be relevant for defining the speech
as a creole. The definition of 'creole' seems to be a
perpetual problem. The editors, in the introduction, note a
recurring need on the part of many of the authors to define
how they use the term 'creole'. To me, this was a tiring
aspect of reading this volume. Others who find this a
pressing issue will undoubtedly appreciate the complexity
of the situation on St. Lucia and Dominica, and its
usefulness for this concern.
While I do not necessarily agree with Garrett's argument,
like St. Lucian Vernacular English, I would not consider
Dominican Vernacular English (DVE) a creole on other
grounds. My observation, during a recent visit to Dominica,
is that there is not a unified or standardized DVE speech
that could be linguistically described and would be typify
by any group of speakers. There is a multitude of forms
used by as many individual speakers. It is a very unstable
linguistic situation and the 'community' is trying to move
towards some other shared speech. In creole-speaking
communities, there are certain social domains in which the
creole has a recognized important cultural role. Those who
speak the various forms of DVE have no sentimental
attachment to their speech. The multitude of forms referred
to as DVE do not serve any such cultural role. The
'community' is pulled between those with sentiments for
restoration of the French Creole and the inevitable
political and economic force of English hegemony. The forms
of DVE could be described as simply the speech of
unsuccessful learners of standard English. Students who are
successful in language learning do not speak anything
resembling a relexified French Creole.

The definition of creole varieties is taken up in another
chapter. Michael Aceto, one of the editors of this volume,
uses a first description of Barbudan Creole as a basis for
proposing a new typology for Caribbean creoles in "What
are Creole languages? An alternative approach to the
Anglophone Atlantic world with special emphasis on Barbudan
Creole English." Both the new information on Barbudan and
a creative approach to generalizations about creole
languages will be useful to other creolists.

"Barbadian lects: Beyond meso", by Gerard van Herk, is
another chapter that addresses creolist definitions. He
also looks at an extensive list of reported Bajan creole
syntactic features, and comments on evidence of their use
in his data. Certain features are found in the speech of
young Bajans when trying to sound more Bajan. He describes
this as "constructed dialect". However, Bajan is hardly a
"neglected Anglophone area", Aceto 2002 lists over twenty
publications on this speech.

Another chapter that deals with well-documented varieties
is David Sutcliffe's "Eastern Caribbean suprasegmental
systems: A comparative view with particular reference to
Barbadian, Trinidadian, and Guyanese". While not
discussing any lesser-known creoles, the research explores
an academic area that has had minimal attention among
creolists. This research describes tonal and intonational
patterns found in Caribbean creoles and their relationship
to tonal patterns in some African languages.

A different type of research problem is taken up by Robin
Sabino, Mary Diamond and Leah Cockcroft in their chapter,
"Language variety in the Virgin Islands: Plural marking".
Not that plural marking is particularly troublesome, but
the authors use this data to explore the effect of audience
on production. The so-called 'observers paradox' is a
particularly troublesome aspect of fieldwork. The authors
also look at diachronic change in plural marking.

The most unusual chapter in this volume is Joan M. Fayer's
"The Carriacou Shakespeare Mas': Linguistic creativity in
a Creole community." This chapter looks at the influence
on a traditional cultural celebration from literary English
used in the schools. Another chapter, "Creole English on
Carriacou: A sketch and some implications" by Ronald
Kephart, presents a more linguistically descriptive
approach. This chapter presents a brief introduction to
syntactic features of Carriacou Creole English.
Unfortunately, both of these chapters only present
previously published information. See Fayer and McMurray
1999, and Kephart 2000.

This volume covers a wide variety of linguistic concerns
and introduces data on many Caribbean varieties that have
received little linguistic interest. This collection should
be welcomed by all linguists who study is in the Anglophone
Caribbean. There are chapters that will also be of interest
to grammarians, phonologists, anthropologists, and
sociologists. My only criticism of the volume would be that
some of the chapters didn't include enough data to totally
convince me of the authors thesis.

Finally, I would like to retell an event related by Kephart
in this volume:
"A Grenadian physician, after listening to me
describe my goal of discovering the grammar rules
for Carriacou Speech, asked if I had thought about
the political ramifications: according to him, if I
was able to show that CCE [Carriacou Creole English]
had its own grammar, then I would have proven that
those who speak it are real human beings, and should
be treated accordingly."

This is the deepest value of what is accomplished when
attention is given to languages that have been ignored. As
was the intention of the editors, I hope that this volume
will serve to stimulate more research in languages, creole
or other, that have received little or no academic
attention. We can also hope that the work of academics will
help the people whom they study.

Aceto, Michael. 2002. Going Back to the Beginning:
Describing the (Nearly) Undocumented Anglophone Creoles of
the Caribbean. In G. Gilbert (ed.) Pidgin and Creole
Linguistics in the Twenty-First Century. New York: Peter

Christie, Pauline. 1982. "Language Maintenance and
language shift in Dominica." Caribbean Quarterly 28:41-50.

-----. 1983. "In search of the boundaries of Caribbean
creoles." In L. Carrington, (ed.) (in collaboration with
D. Craig and R. Todd-Dandaré) Studies in Caribbean
Language. St. Augustine, Trinidad: Society for Caribbean
Linguistics. 13-22.

-----. 1987. "Dominica: A Sociolinguistic Profile." Working
Papers in Linguistics. UWI, Mona: Department of Language,
Linguistics and Philosophy, 50-73.

Fayer, Joan and Joan McMurray. 1999. The Carriacou Mas' as
"Syncretic Artifact". Journal of American Folklore

Kephart, Ronald. 2000. Broken English. The Creole Language
of Carriacou. New York:Peter Lang.

Le Page, Robert. 1977. "De-creolization and re-
creolization: A preliminary report on the sociolinguistic
survey of multilingual communities Stage II: St. Lucia."
York Papers in Linguistics 7: 107-128.

Williams, Jeffrey. 1984. White Saban English: a socio-
historical description. The University of Texas. Austin.
Unpublished Master's thesis.

-----. 1986. The forgotten Caribbean: the sociolinguistic
histories of the white peasantries in the Anglophone and
francophone Caribbean. Post-doctoral proposal prepared for
the Program in Atlantic History, Culture, and Society. The
John Hopkins University.
Ken Decker is a sociolinguistic consultant for SIL
International. He has studied Caribbean Creole languages
for about 12 years. He is also interested in language
vitality and language development issues.