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Review of  Hawai`i Creole English

Reviewer: Federico Damonte
Book Title: Hawai`i Creole English
Book Author: Viveka Velupillai
Publisher: Palgrave Macmillan
Linguistic Field(s): Sociolinguistics
Subject Language(s): Creole English, Hawai'i
Book Announcement: 15.1860

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Date: Tue, 15 Jun 2004 18:04:24 +0200 (MET DST)
From: Federico Damonte <>
Subject: Hawai'i Creole English

AUTHOR: Velupillai, Viveka
TITLE: Hawai'i Creole English
SUBTITLE: A Typological Analysis of the Tense-Mood-Aspect System
PUBLISHER: Palgrave Macmillan
YEAR: 2003

Federico Damonte, Dipartimento di discipline linguistiche,
comunicative e dello spettacolo, University of Padua

This volume offers a detailed description of the tense-mood-aspect
system(TMA) of Hawai'i Creole English (HCE). The description itself
is contained in chapters 4, 5 and 6, which describe the temporal,
aspectual and modal system respectively. The book also provides
information about HCE and its origin (chapter 2), a description of the
theoretical framework used in the description (chapter 3) and a
summary of the overall TMA system (chapter 7). There are also two
appendixes, containing some longer texts in phonetic transcription and
fully glossed (appendix 1) and a table of the verbs occurring with the
marker ''wen'' (appendix 2). An Introduction (chapter 1), three
different Indexes and the Bibliography complete the book.

In the Introduction, the author states that the aim of the book is
that of providing a synchronic description of the TMA of HCE from a
typological, cross-linguistic perspective. From this point of view,
the creole status of HCE is not relevant: the author explicitly says
that she has decided to describe HCE as if it were not a creole
language (p. 2). The author claims that the question whether creole
languages form a different typological class or not (McWhorter (1998))
needs to be based on explicit criteria for determining membership
in that class. The TMA system of HCE is thus described in its own
terms, and whether the results of this description can be used to
determine whether there is a creole prototype or not is an issue
the author does not deal with. In other sections of the Introduction
the author provides a short history of the studies on the TMA of HCE
and a brief summary of the different hypothesis about the origins of
creole languages and the similarities between them.

In chapter 2, the author provides a short history of the Hawaiian
Islands and its population, and a longer section about the data that
form the empirical basis of the description. The author has made an
effort to make the empirical evidence as diverse as possible: both
written and oral sources of different types were used. The written
sources comprise prose, drama, poetry and dialogue in fictional works,
while the oral sources consist of both elicited and naturalistic
language, namely recordings of the author and an informant talking in
HCE. The author also used Dahl's (1985) tense and aspect
questionnaire, but interestingly reports that most informants
hesitated, and some even refused, to fill it out, because they were
intimidated by it (p. 19). All the examples quoted from oral sources,
including the longer samples collected in Appendix 1 have been
transcribed in a rather narrow phonetic transcription. Finally, the
author reports that all the data gathered have been collected in a
database which is searchable by any of a number of filers, such as
ethnicity of the informant, age at the time of interview and so on.

The third chapter describes the theoretical framework used in the
analysis. In the section on tense (3.1), the author, following Comrie
(1985) distinguishes between absolute and relative tense. The author
also points out that in the actual use of tense markers in texts,
speakers mark the time reference only once (p. 33). The section on
aspect (3.2) is longer, as many different categories are usually
subsumed under this label. The author adopts Johanson's (2000)
framework, on the grounds that it distinguishes clearly between aspect
on one side and tense and actionality (namely the internal make up
of the event) on the other. Finally, modality is analysed through the
well-known categories used in Palmer (2001), namely propositional and
event modality, epistemic and deontic modality etc.

In the fourth chapter, a thorough description of the markers of
temporality in HCE and its associated interpretations is provided. The
authors discusses the base form of the verb, which she claims refers
to anything up the moment of speech; the ''-s'' form, an absolute
present; the past maker ''was'' and the future tense markers ''gonna'' and
''bumbye'', the latter expressing a remote future event. The author also
points out that the marker ''go'' has an aspectual (or rather
actionality) meaning, rather than a future one. A final section
briefly describes the copula system in HCE.

The fifth chapter on aspect is longer and more complex, which reflects
the complexity of the system being described. In the section on ''wen''
(5.1), the author claims that it is not a temporal marker, but rather
an ''adterminal'' marker, which spells out the fact that the event has
reached its ''crucial'', or natural, limit. This, among other things,
predicts that ''wen'' can only be used with dynamic verbs, a prediction
borne out by the data (p. 77-79). The author then examines the
''intraterminal'' markers, that is, those which view the event from
within. In HCE these are ''stay'', ''-ing'', and ''stay V-ing''. The author
claims that these are not interchangeable, as they denote three
different types of ''focality'', i.e. degrees in the narrowness of the
''range of vision'' included around the deictic centre, with the ''-ing''
form having a very high focality and thus roughly corresponding to the
progressive; ''stay V-ing'' being narrower in its scope and including
only the range of vision around ''now'' (p. 94); and ''stay'', a
rather rare form according to the author, marking habituality. The
author then discusses the past habitual marker ''justu'' and the
completive marker ''pau''. Finally, the author briefly examines the
the absence of productive verbal reduplication in HCE.

In the sixth chapter, on the modal system, the author first discusses
the ''try V'' form, and distinguishes it from the true imperative form,
i.e. the bare stem of the verb. Then she examines the ''can'' marker,
which can express both ability and permission. She interestingly
points out that there is a semantic difference between
''cannot'' and ''no can'' with the former expressing inability and the
latter prohibition (p. 116). The markers ''have to'' and ''gotta'' also
have different meanings, with the latter having a more subject-
oriented interpretation than the former. ''Should'' is said to convey
the possibility that an event that according to the speaker should
take place, might actually not come about (p. 124). The ''better''
marker conveys an admonition, while ''must'' and ''might'' are epistemic
markers corresponding to the Standard English (SE) modals ''must'' and
''may'' respectively (p. 127).

The conclusive chapter (7) provides a very useful summary of the
overall TMA system of HCE, in which the categories actually attested
in HCE are discussed from the point of view of the framework used. In
section 7.2 the author provides a detailed comparison of the HCE TMA
system with the SE one, showing that the two systems overlap in some
points but they still differ considerably. After a brief section on
variation within HCE, the author discusses the implications of her
findings for Bickerton's (1981) Language Bioprogramme Hypothesis,
which considers all creole languages the mirror image of our
genetically wired ''linguistic bioprogramme''. The author points out
that the TMA system is both quite different and more complex than what
the LBH predicts, thus confirming previous critiques of the LBH such
as Singler's (1990). The author's conclusion is that there are no
clear typological parameters to group creoles' TMA systems into a
typological class (p. 160).

In my opinion the volume fully succeeds in its aim of providing a
synchronic description of the TMA of HCE which can be fruitfully used
for cross-linguistic comparisons. The author has achieved this
objective by using standard, well-known theoretical frameworks, as in
the case of the temporal and modal systems. When a non standard
framework is used, as in the description of the aspectual system, the
author describes it very clearly and uses its categories consistently.
The result is a very clear description of a significantly complex part
of grammar. The fact that all examples are fully indexed both by the
relevant feature (such as ability, prohibition etc.) and the marker
contained in the examples itself (i.e. stay), and even by the age,
ethnicity and origin of the informant also adds to the usefulness of
this work, and in this respect makes it a model that will hopefully be
followed by other description of creole languages.

On a more theoretical level, the book is remarkable by the way it
relies on clearly defined theoretical frameworks and describes all the
markers appearing in the language according to them. This has the
interesting consequence that ''non-creole-like'' markers such as
the inflected past form of the verb, or the ending ''-ing'' are treated
the same way as more ''creole-like'' markers such a ''wen'' and ''stay''.
But even more significantly, the author shows that despite the
presence in HCE of TMA markers that have a direct equivalent in SE,
such as the inflected past form of the verb, the overall systems are
still quite different. As the author correctly points out (p.160),
this fact bears on the theory of decreolization: close contact with
English for a prolonged period of time has not brought HCE any closer
to SE.

On the empirical side, the book is full of very interesting findings
about little known TMA markers, such as ''had'', used only on the island
of Kaua'i (p. 99). More generally, it is remarkable how all the forms
surveyed by the author have clearly different interpretations,
contrary to the idea that creoles' grammars expand for fundamentally
stylistic reasons (Labov 1990). Of all the forms discussed in the
book, only ''ought to'' seems to be a simple stylistic variant of
''should'', and it is confined to just one author (p. 124-125).

There are some issues though, that would have required some
discussion, in my view. In particular, it would have been interesting
to examine the combinability of these markers. For instance, even if
modals cannot combine in English, they can in English dialects such as
Scots English and in many other languages. Crucially, TMA markers
combine in a fixed order in many languages, as shown in detail by
Cinque (1999). It would have been interesting to see whether or not
HCE patterns along the overall fine-grained hierarchy proposed by
Cinque. Similarly, it would have been worthwhile to see whether
combinations of markers give origin to unexpected meanings, such as
the conditional meaning being expressed in Turkish by the past and
future markers (Cinque 1999, 72). Since typology is strongly concerned
with word order, this seems a natural expansion of the author's

But these comments do not detract from the importance of this book, which
makes a very welcome addition to our knowledge of both TMA systems and
creole languages by virtue of its clarity, thoroughness and consistency.

Bickerton, Derek 1981, Roots of Language, Ann Arbor, Karoma

Cinque, Guglielmo 1999, Adverbs and Functional Heads: A Cross-
Linguistic Approach, Oxford, Oxford University Press.

Comrie, Bernard 1985, Tense, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press.

Dahl, Osten 1985, Tense and Aspect Systems, Oxford, Blackwell.

Johanson, Lars 2000, Viewpoint Operators in European Languages
in Dahl, Osten (ed.) Tense and Aspect in the Languages of Europe,
Berlin, Mouton de Gruyter.

Labov, William 1990, On the Adequacy of Natural Languages, in Singler,
John Victor (ed.) Pidgin and Creole Tense-Mood-Aspect Systems,
Amsterdam, Benjamins, 1 - 58.

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

Singler,John-Victor 1990, ''On the Use of Sociohistorical Criteria in
the Comparison of Creoles'', Linguistics, 28, 645-659.
Federico Damonte graduated at the University of Padua with a thesis
about the syntax of relative clauses in English based pidgins and
creoles. He later worked on the "left periphery" of the sentence in
Saramaccan. He received a Ph.D. in 2004 from the University of Padua
with a thesis about the syntax of argument structure enhancing

Format: Hardback
ISBN: 0333993403
ISBN-13: N/A
Pages: 232
Prices: U.K. £ 45
U.S. $ 69.95