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Review of  Languages in Contact

Reviewer: Angela Bartens
Book Title: Languages in Contact
Book Author: John Holm
Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Linguistic Field(s): Sociolinguistics
Anthropological Linguistics
Issue Number: 15.1690

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Date: Tue, 01 Jun 2004 10:36:52 +0300
From: Angela Bartens
Subject: Languages in Contact: The Partial Restructuring of Vernaculars

Holm, John (2004) Languages in Contact: The Partial Restructuring of
Vernaculars, Cambridge University Press.

Angela Bartens, University of Helsinki


The author of this book, John Holm, is one of the established names in
present-day Creolistics. His 1988-89 handbook of Pidgin and Creole
languages remains unsurpassed as the most complete survey of the
languages in question. His more concise 2000 handbook is widely used as
a textbook.

For a number of years now, the research of John Holm has focused on
semi-creoles or partially restructured language varieties. The book
under review is the first book-length discussion of the topic.


In the Preface (p.p. xi-xviii), Holm explains that he has replaced the
term semi-creole by restructured varieties because the former term
seemed to have too many negative connotations. He also comments on the
debate on whether creoles can be defined by intralinguistic criteria
only initiated by McWhorter (1998) by stating that creolization is a
sociolinguistic process since its defining characteristics include
social as well as linguistic phenomena (p. xiv). By extension, this also
applies to semi-creoles or restructured varieties.

In Chapter 1 (The study of partially restructured vernaculars, pp.
1-23), Holm gives an overview of the existing research literature
dealing with the five varieties he is describing: African American
English (AAE, also called African American Vernacular English or Black
English), Afrikaans, Nonstandard Caribbean Spanish (NSCS), Brazilian
Vernacular Portuguese (BVP) and the Vernacular Lects of Reunionnais
French (VLRF). The term semi-creole dates back to Schuchardt, also
called the father of Creole Studies, while partial restructuring was
used by Hesseling and Vasconcellos, other philologists of the turn of
the late 19th and early 20th century (pp.6-8) meaning that the
phenomenon had been noticed early on. Although already Reinecke (1937)
mentions four of the varieties in question as not fully creolized or
semi-creole languages, there has been very little comparative research
and the varieties in question have been approached from the perspective
of decreolization as descendants of former creoles at best. The idea
that they may not have been fully creolized in the first place has been
resuscitated by scholars working on the individual languages quite
recently as a result of ''the effort to correlate the synchronic
structure of these languages to the sociolinguistic history of their
speakers'' (p. 3). However, it seems somewhat exaggerated to state that
''The genesis and development of such partially restructured languages
have become one of the most important leading edges of contact
linguistics as a whole.'' (p. 3) At the end of the chapter (pp. 21-23),
Holm also traces the making of the present volume to two seminars on
partial restructuring organized by him at the City University of New
York during the 1990es. In addition to Holm~Rs own research, the initial
papers written in the seminar have resulted in a number of doctoral

In Chapter 2, Holm discusses the ''Social factors in partial
restructuring'' (pp. 24-71). The social factors, e.g. demographic ratios,
are linked to the degree of restructuring of a variety. Unexpected
results are produced by the importation of other restructured languages,
maroonage, and superstrate withdrawal (p. 28). According to Holm, sixty
years may have been necessary both for the non-native-speaking
population to reach a numerical majority and for these varieties to
reach their present degree of restructuring (p. 28). The general
introduction is followed by sub-chapters on the restructured varieties
being examined. Drawing from recent work by specialist on AAE, Holm
makes the interesting point that the variety is increasingly diverging
from Standard American English (p. 40-41) rather than converging as
scholars believed until well into the 1980es. On the other hand, pieces
of so-called well-established knowledge, e.g., that BVP was influenced
in a significant manner by the speech of the settlers and slaves who
during the second half of the 16th century fled to Brazil (p. 51) and
that the existence of Papiamentu justifies the assumption that there
once was a creole in (parts of) Brazil (p. 52) or that Whites in Iberian
America were more friendly masters (p. 62) and that ''sufficient evidence
[exists] that a Spanish-based pidgin based on Afro-Portuguese did in
fact exist in the Caribbean'' (ibid.) are reiterated without pointing out
that all of these issues have been thoroughly debated in the research
literature and can probably not be considered as settled. The chapter
ends with a summary of common sociolinguistic factors, also presented in
a table (table 8, p. 71) where the estimated proportion of whites is
listed in various societies in the late 18th century which may seem odd
considering that these societies, e.g. Brazil, Santo Domingo, Curaçao,
Jamaica, were originally settled at quite different times. Among the
societies being considered in this volume, Reunion is left out

Chapter 3 deals with the verb phrase (pp. 72-91), traditionally of
great interest to creolists as the divergence between prototypical
creoles (if such exist) and their superstrate languages are most
striking in this area. The issues raised for each restructured variety
are verbal morphology, auxiliaries/preverbal markers, negation, and
non-verbal predicates. Comparing BVP and NSCS, Holm concludes that
''Because of the sociolinguistic parallels in the history of NSCS and
BVP, it is reasonable to deduce by analogy that it was
contact-influenced morphological simplification rather than only
internally motivated phonological rules that led to the reduced
inflectional distinctions of not only BVP but also NSCS.'' (p. 84).
Unfortunately, we feel that the evidence presented by Holm is not
sufficient and that the thesis that restructuring in the BVP VP is
morphological while it is phonological in NSCS still holds. A slight
contradiction can be found in the discussion of BVP and NSCS where the
basic verb form of Atlantic and/or Spanish- and Portuguese-based creoles
is first said to derive from the imperative (and only possibly the 3rd
person singular; p. 81), then from the 3rd person singular (p. 84). The
observation that Spanish was ''of course'' in contact with Arabic in
Andalusia for many centuries (p. 83) would have required further
developing. In the summary on the reduction of the verbal paradigms in
the varieties in question, the argumentation that ''Indication that this
morphological simplification was due to language contact as well as a
general tendency in the European language towards the loss of inflection
can be seen in the fact that sometimes inflected forms in the source
language were selected as base forms in the newer variety~E'' (pp. 90-91)
seems circular at best.

Chapter 4 deals with the noun phrase (pp. 92-115), i.e., the marking of
number, gender and possession as well as the pronominal paradigm. In the
case of the NP, there is evidence from one relatively marginal variety
of NSCS, the highly restructured variety of the Colombian Chocó (by the
way, in order to include the Pacific Coast of Colombia which is, in
fact, justified by the linguistic facts, the definition of NSCS as
including the speech of ''Coastal Venezuelans and Colombians'', p. 17,
should perhaps have made explicit that both coasts of Colombia are
included), that restructuring is also morphological (p. 106). However,
it is quite a different issue if this feature can be generalized to all
of NSCS and to its VP as well (cf. supra). Stating that the loss of
plural ?s in the NSCS NP is more frequent when the noun is masculine
because the article lo still contrasts with singular el (p. 106) would
seem to call for quantitative data. In the discussion of BVP, Holm
departs from the fact that many Atlantic creoles form their nominal
plural by pre- or postposing the personal pronoun they to the noun. The
earlier attestation of a hybrid form like osele leads him to assume that
plurality was formerly marked with the personal pronoun ele(s) in the
BVP NP and that this marker was replaced by the plural definite article
masc. os (fem. as) as a result of decreolization (p. 102).
Unfortunately, Holm does not cite any other evidence. By consequence,
osele could be a nonce formation. As in the case of the BVP VP, the
restructuring of the BVP NP is clearly morphological.

In chapter 5, Holm discusses the structure of clauses (pp. 116-134),
i.e., word order and dependent clauses. All varieties have many features
of their European source languages but there has also been substantial
simplification, e.g. in BVP and Afrikaans relative clauses which are
introduced by invariant que and wat, respectively, as well as
sub-/adstrate influence, e.g. the AAE complementizer say or the
reinforcement of the Dutch word order SOV in Afrikaans by Khoi and
Indo-Portuguese (in this last case, Holm appears to attribute more
weight to the Dutch input, cf. pp. 120-121, 133).

In the concluding chapter (pp. 135-146), the author ties the strings
and different strands of the volume together. First of all, he concludes
that as far as sociolinguistic factors are concerned, the demographic
balance between native and non-native speakers during the first century
of settlement as well as the fact that the emerging variety is adopted
as a community language are crucial (pp. 135-136). In the discussion of
the linguistic factors, Holm compiles a table of the attestations vs.
non-attestations of the features examined in the book. By adding the
numbers of attested features, he is able to quantify the different
degrees of restructuring. AAE, VLRF and BVP turn out to be quite
strongly restructured, scoring15, 14 and 13 out of 18 features,
respectively, while Afrikaans and NSCS are less strongly restructured
(both 9 out of 18 features). This taxonomic approach is not new in
creolistics, cf. Parkvall (2000), Baker & Huber (2001). Then Holm goes
on to discuss the linguistic processes in partial restructuring the
readers should be familiar with from his previous research on partially
restructured varieties: language drift, primary leveling, imperfect
language shift, language borrowing and secondary leveling (p. 143). In
this context, we wonder if anyone has questioned his use of primary
leveling in the sense of ''preserving lexical or structural features that
are archaic, regional, or rare in the target language, sometimes
extending them to new contexts'' (p. 143) but this may not be of interest
here (cf., however, the definition of leveling as ''the loss of marked
and/or minority variants'' in Trudgill [1986:126]). The final conclusions
include the observation that ''restructuring can indeed take place to
differing degrees. This issue is now settled.'' (p. 144) and the reader
somehow misses a reference although at least I remember having
questioned the usefulness of the term semi-creole precisely for
conveying the impression of a 50-50 division (Bartens 1999). Discussing
the literature on other contact varieties, Holm cites Siegel (1997) who
identified frequency, regularity, salience and transparency as the main
forces at work during leveling in a contact situation and continues:
''This suggests a solution for the long search for principles that guide
the selection of substrate features into pidgins, creoles, and partially
restructured varieties during their genesis, and their adoption of
further features during their development'' (p. 145) but then admits that
Boretzky (1986) reached quite similar conclusions (p. 146). Finally,
Holm urges the scientific community to apply the insights gained from
the study of one kind of restructuring to the study of other kinds of
restructuring, e.g. Romanian, Old French, and Middle English (p. 146),
an idea that seems to come up every now and then as far as the languages
cited are concerned.

The volume also contains a table of contents (pp. vii-viii), lists of
the maps (p. ix) and tables (p. x), a comprehensive bibliography (pp.
147-165) and an index (pp.166-175).


As mentioned above, this is the first book-length comparison of what
used to be called semi-creoles and thus constitutes a pioneer study. Its
strenght lies precisely in its comparative nature, bringing together and
uniformizing information otherwise dispersed in various studies.

Some critique has been formulated already in the synopsis part. The
main drawbacks are the following: The book is too concise. Many times, a
single example is given per structure and per restructured variety. For
example, in the discussion of VLRF nominal gender, it would have seemed
relevant to the reviewer to know not only that Malagasy has definite
articles but whether they are differentiated according to gender or not
(p. 109). Somewhat in the same line, Holm draws his data on the most
radical features of any variety of BVP from a single scholar. What is
worse, Holm relies on the work of his students whenever this is possible
rather than citing established literature. Obviously he should be
congratulated for having inspired and supervised so much research on
partially restructured varieties but this does not justify the following
kind of cases: The nominal plural formation of the type cafe, cafese,
well known from any textbook on Latin American Spanish discussing
Dominican Spanish is presented as a discovery made by Green (1997; p.
106). In the discussion of VLRF reflexives, it is incomprehensible that
the reference for tena ''body, self'' is another forthcoming dissertation
and not, e.g., a grammar or a dictionary of Malagasy. The passage
''However, Chapuis (forthcoming) asserts that~E(Cellier 1985a)'' seems odd
to say the least.

There are some minor inaccuracies as well. Fongbe is mentioned as a
variety of Ewe, a view no longer held by Africanists. There are two
quotes from Hackert and Holm the first four lines of which are
identical. In the first case, the reference is given as Hackert and Holm
(1997[no page indicated]; p. 13), in the second case, it is Hackert and
Holm forthcoming. Schwegler and Morton 2002 (p. 64) was published in
2003 according to the bibliography. However, there are only very few
typos and the layout of the book is impeccable.

In spite of the drawbacks pointed out above, we highly recommend this
volume to anyone interested in partially restructured varieties, creole
languages or language contact.


Baker, Philip & Magnus Huber (2001) Atlantic, Pacific, and world-wide
features in English-lexicon contact languages. English World-Wide 22:2,

Bartens, Angela (1999): Existe-t-il un système verbal semi-créole?.
Neuphilologische Mitteilungen XCIX :4 (1998), 379-399.

Boretzky, Norbert (1986) Verbkategorien im Fantse und im Jamaican
Creole. Ms.

Cellier, Pierre (1985) Comparaison syntaxique de créole réunionnais et
du français (Reflexions pre-pedagogiques). Universite de la Reunion.

Chapuis, Daniel (forthcoming) Aspects of Restructuring in Vernacular
Lects of Reunion French. Ph.D. dissertation, City University of New

Green, Katherine (1997) Non-standard Dominican Spanish: evidence of
partial restructuring. Ph.D. dissertation, City University of New York.

Holm, John (1988-89) Pidgins and Creoles. Volume I: Theory and
Structure, Volume II: Reference Survey. Cambridge: Cambridge University

Holm, John (2000) An introduction to pidgins and creoles. Cambridge:
Cambridge University Press.

McWhorter, John (1998) Identifying the creole prototype: vindicating a
typological class. Language 74:4, 788-818.

Parkvall, Mikael (2000) Reassessing the role of demographics in language
restructuring. In I. Neumann-Holzschuh and E.W. Schneider (eds.):
Degrees of Restructuring in Creole Languages (pp. 185-213). Amsterdam &
Philadelphia: John Benjamins.

Reinecke, John (1937) Marginal Languages: a sociological survey of the
creole languages and trade jargons. Ph.D. dissertation, Yale University.

Siegel, Jeff (1937) Mixing, leveling, and pidgin/creole development. In
A. Spears and D. Winford (eds.): Pidgins and Creoles: structure and
status (pp. 111-149). Amsterdam & Philadelphia: John Benjamins.

Trudgill, Peter (1986) Dialects in Contact. Oxford: Blackwell.

Dr.phil. Angela Bartens is Acting chair of Iberoromance Philology at
the University of Helsinki. Her research interests include language
contact including pidgins and creoles, sociolinguistics and applied
sociolinguistics including language policy and language planning.

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