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Review of  Processes of Language Contact: Studies from Australia and the South Pacific.

Book Title: Processes of Language Contact: Studies from Australia and the South Pacific.
Book Author: Jeff Siegel
Publisher: Les Editions Fides
Linguistic Field(s): Sociolinguistics
Issue Number: 12.1548

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Siegel, Jeff, ed. (2000) Processes of Language
Contact: Studies from Australia and the South
Pacific, Fides (University of Montreal Press),
paperback, xi+326 pp., a collection of Champs
Linguistiques, ISBN: 2-7621-2098-5

Reviewed by: Liwei Gao, University of Illinois at

General Overview

This book collects eleven papers on the major
processes of language contact in Australia and
the South Pacific. Most of these articles
originate from courses, symposia, and conference
presentations which are associated with the third
Australian Linguistics Institute held at the
University of Queensland in July 1998. The first
four articles focus on the issue of substrate
influence. The next three chapters are concerned
with simplification. Chapter 8 and 9 deal with
the diffusion of certain features of pidgins and
creoles and also of substrate and superstrate
languages. And the last two chapters examine the
processes of depidginisation and decreolisation.

Description of the Contents

Chapter 1 is titled "The Role of Australian
Aboriginal Languages in the Formation of
Australian Pidgin Grammar: Transitive Verbs and
Adjectives". In this article Harold Koch focuses
on the discussion of substrate influence in
light of two grammatical features of the English-
lexified pidgins and creoles spoken in Australia
and other Southwest Pacific regions: the -im/it
transitive suffix and the -fela/pela adjective
marker. Based on the phonological, phonotactic,
and syntactic evidence in the substrate
languages, Koch argues that the formation of
these two grammatical features is a result of
the influence from the substrate languages,
although such influence may be indirect.

In Chapter 2, "'Predicate Marking' in Bislama",
Terry Crowley analyses the so-called predicate
marker "i" in Bislama, one of the Melanesian
pidgins. This linguistic unit "retains vestigial
properties as a third person singular pronoun,
while having undergone considerable
grammaticalisation as a verbal proclitic" (pp.
70). Based on its distributions and functions,
Crowley contends that no single source of
influence may account for the behavior of this
"predicate marker" in a complete manner. Instead,
the substrate subject-verb agreement systems,
superstrate language patterns, and universal
factors may all play a role in the development of
this "predicate marker".

The contribution by Jeff Siegel, Barbara
Sandeman, and Chris Corne (Chapter 3),
"Predicting Substrate Influence: Tense-
Modality-Aspect Marking in Tayo", tackles the
issue why some features of substrate languages
end up in a contact variety while others do not.
Tayo is a French-lexified creole spoken primarily
in St-Louis, a village in the South Pacific
French territory of New Caledonia. With the
guidance of the availability constraints (i.e.,
for the transfer of substrate features to occur,
there must be syntactically congruent morphemes
in the superstrate language), the reinforcement
principles (i.e., to be transferred, the
substrate features must have a high frequency of
occurrence in the contact environment), and the
process of simplification, they accurately
predict that three types of tense-modality-aspect
marking, i.e., progressive, accomplished, and
future marking, would be most likely to occur in
Tayo. They also predict that nine markers, e.g.,
the marker of potential, would be unlikely to
occur. Most of these predictions are confirmed by
the Tayo data.

Chapter 4, "My Nephew is My Aunt: Features and
Transformation of Kinship Terminology in Solomon
Islands Pijin", is contributed by Christine
Jourdan. It is the last contribution in this
volume that discusses the substrate influence. In
this article Jourdan compares the kinship
structure of Pijin, a Melanesian pidgin, to that
of the substrate languages. She shows that the
Pijin kinship system is not the same as that of
any of these substrate languages. And she
concludes that this difference may not be
explained by transfer, calquing, or
relexification. Instead, a pragmatic account is
more appropriate, i.e., the discrepancy is
attributed to the social cultural
dissimilarities. In the culture in which Pijin
arises, unlike the cultures in which the
substrate languages are used, the full range of
kin is not present, which consequently leads to
the simplification and reduction of the Pijin
kinship system.

In Chapter 5, "Aboriginal English: From Contact
Variety to Social Dialect", Ian Malcolm examines
the continuities between the pidgin developed out
of the contact between Australian Aborigines and
Europeans in the late 18th and early 19th century
and the variety of English used by the Aborigines
today. In so doing Malcolm holds that among
various processes of pidginisation involved in
the formation of the earlier pidgin, the most
significant one is simplification, which occurred
in both the English spoken by the Europeans and
the English by the Aborigines. Malcolm also
points out that such simplification is still
found in current Aboriginal English. In addition,
According to Malcolm, the so-called nonstandard
features in the current Aboriginal English now
function as markers of social identity.

Joan Bresnan's contribution to this collection,
"Pidgin Genesis and Optimality Theory" (Chapter
6), deals with one specific aspect of
simplification in pidgins - the prevalence of
free rather than bound morphemes. Rejecting three
other hypotheses that attempt to account for such
preference, Bresnan adopts the
accommodation/markedness theory, i.e., "Free
pronouns are prevalent in pidgins because pidgin
genesis begins with a process of simplification
in which speakers accommodate their interlocutors
by eliminating marked type of forms from their
language which are not shared by their
interlocutors' language" (pp. 150). Then
combining the mechanism in the Optimality Theory
with that in the Lexical Functional Grammar,
Bresnan explains how individual speakers get to
know what is marked/unmarked just on the basis of
the knowledge of their own languages.

The last article in this collection that inspects
simplification is the second contribution by
Terry Crowley, "Simplicity, Complexity,
Emblematicity and Grammatical Change" (Chapter
7). In this chapter Crowley stresses the point
that structural changes of a language, in this
case, simplification, may occur without its
contact with another language. Although it is
commonly assumed that the language used for
inter-group communication is simpler than the one
used for intra-group communication, given that
the former usually undergoes simplification in
the process of contact with other languages, yet
by comparing two languages currently spoken in
Vanuatu - the simpler Ura, which is a more
isolated language, and the more complex Sye,
which is a language with more contact with
other languages, Crowley points out that it is
not necessarily true that exoteric language use
implies structural simplicity, while esoteric
language use means structural complexity.

The contribution by Jane Simpson (Chapter 8),
"Camels as Pidgin-carriers: Afghan Cameleers as a
Vector for the Spread of Features of Australian
Aboriginal Pidgins and Creoles", starts dealing
specifically with the spread of certain features
of languages in contact. In this article Simpson
describes how a mobile group of people, in this
case, Afghans - immigrants from what are now
India, Pakistan, and Afghanistan, who provided
the camel transportation service to secluded
areas of Australia in the 19th century, may have
helped to spread various features of the pidgins
they spoke. Based on the collection of about 114
sentences or texts representing the varieties of
English spoken by Afghans, Simpson illustrates
the possible spread of lexical items, e.g.,
"stop" used for 'stay, live', phonological
features, e.g., /w/ for /v/, and grammatical
features, e.g., lack of copular, which is
exemplified by the sentence "when I declined any
[whiskey], old Amzula observes "My boss
Mahammedy." (pp. 213).

In Chapter 9, "Kriol on the Move: A Case of
Language Spread and Shift in Northern Australia",
Jennifer Munro looks at how language spreads by
examining the origin of Kriol, a creole language
spoken by indigenous people of northern
Australia. Rejecting the common explanation of
the genesis of Kriol, which holds that a number
of independently generated creole varieties
converged into this single language, Munro
demonstrates that the mechanism of language
shift, rather than language convergence, provides
a more reasonable account. According to Munro,
Kriol originated at the Roper River Mission
around 1908. From there it then spread to
transient camps and settlements by those speakers
working in the pastoral industry and army camps.
Later it developed into the lingua franca of
newly emerging communities speaking different
languages. And finally when these communities
became well established, language shift occurred
in that their traditional languages were replaced
by this single creole, Kriol, which became the
new identity of these communities.

In Chapter 10, "Tok Pisin and English: The
Current Relationship", Geoff Smith investigates
the possible depidginisation of Tok Pisin as a
result of the expanded contact with its lexifier,
English. Analyzing a corpus of speech of young
first-language Tok Pisin speakers in Papua New
Guinea, Geoff Smith documents various contact-
induced linguistic phenomena, such as
codeswitching between Tok Pisin and English and
the borrowing of English expressions by Tok Pisin
speakers. This being acknowledged, Smith
concludes that at the current stage English has
had little effect on the phonology, morphology,
or syntax of Tok Pisin. In other words, in the
current situation there is not yet a "post-pidgin
continuum" (pp. 286), as Tok Pisin and English
are still distinct from each other. Nevertheless,
Smith also recognizes that some current
situations in Papua New Guinea favor the
development of a "post-pidgin continuum" in the
future. Among them is the ever increasing
bilingualism in both Tok Pisin and English.

Similar to Chapter 10, the last chapter in this
collection (Chapter 11) by Chris Corne, "Na pa
kekan, na person: The Evolution of Tayo
Negatives", also deals with the effect on
pidgins/creoles when they come into contact with
their lexifier. In this study the decreolisation
of Tayo, a French-lexified creole, is examined.
According to Corne, there exists lots of
variation within the system of negatives in Tayo,
which results from the influence of French. In
addition, in light of the fact that, on the one
hand, in the creolisation process speakers of
substrate languages interpret superstrate strings
according to their own grammar, and, on the other
hand, in the decreolisation process speakers of
superstrate languages interpret creole
expressions also according to their own grammar,
Corne argues that decreolisation and creolisation
actually involve the same process of contact-
induced reanalysis. Also in this article, Corne
notes that the system of negatives in certain
varieties of Tayo is simpler than that in any of
the substrate languages. He further observes that
the Tayo negative system represents the overall
pattern of what all the substrate languages

Critical Evaluation

This collection provides the up-to-date
information about the studies of pidgins and
creoles in Australia and the South Pacific. It
also constitutes a major contribution to the
investigation into pidgins and creoles in
general. The eleven chapters in this volume are
appropriately organized according to four major
topics, i.e., substrate influence, simplification,
diffusion, and depidginisation/decreolisation, even
though some chapters are concerned with more than
just one of these topics.

What makes this book especially valuable is,
among other things, that it collects articles
addressing the issue at hand from sometimes very
different angles. For example, the first chapter
emphasizes the influence from substrate languages
on the formation of pidgins and creoles. However,
immediately following this, Chapter 2 postulates
influences that not only come from substrate
languages, but also from superstrate patterns and
also universal factors. The most evident example
is Chapter 7. As the contributor of this paper
Terry Crowley himself notes, while most articles
in this collection discuss contact-induced
change, his article argues that language change
also occurs without contact with other languages.

This book embraces the studies of pidgins and
creoles conducted within a broad scope of
theoretical frameworks, e.g., the Optimality Theory
and the Lexical Functional Grammar, which, as a
result, might limit the potential range of its
readers. On the other hand, this collection makes
an excellent reading to advanced students and
researchers in pidgins and creoles.


Liwei Gao is a graduate student of linguistics at
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
(UIUC). He has completed his M.A. in linguistics
at Jilin University, China, and is currently
working on his Ph.D. in linguistics at UIUC. His
research interest is in sociolinguistics
(language variation and change, language and
gender, world Englishes) and Chinese linguistics.


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