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Review of  Pidgins and Creoles: An Introduction

Reviewer: Elena Perekhvalskaya
Book Title: Pidgins and Creoles: An Introduction
Book Author: Ishtla Singh
Publisher: Hodder Education
Linguistic Field(s): Sociolinguistics
Issue Number: 12.1679

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Singh, Ishtla (2000) Pidgins and Creoles: An Introduction.
London: Arnold, ISBN 0 340 70094 7

Reviewed by Elena Perekhvalskaya Milkova, St. Petersburg
University (Russia).

Pidgin and Creole (further P&C) studies have turned into
a respected field of knowledge nowadays, and introductory
courses of P&C linguistics are already being taught in many
universities. Consequently, there is a growing demand for
good instructional books addressed to students at various
levels including that of introductory P&C linguistics. Such
books would serve as the first acquaintance with the basics
of this branch of linguistics for undergraduate students who
have only begun majoring in this field. Ishtla Singh's book
is just that kind of manual.

It is noteworthy that Ishtla Singh, who was born in
Trinidad, is herself a native creole-speaker. Many problems
concerning P&C, such as the comparative prestige of a
creole, language planning in creole-speaking communities and
the like are not just academic issues for her, but are
problems of her own language and an important part of her
identity. Reading this book, one hears the voices of a
Creole speaking community. Ishtla Singh uses traditional
Trinidad story- telling formulas which give her book an
unmistakable creole flavor. It also explains the "reverse
logic" of the book which in fact should be titled "An
introduction into Creole (not pidgin) studies". There is a
certain passion and polemic ardor of the author when she
discusses such topics as Creole status, attitudes towards
Creoles and the situation of the slaves at the time of the
Creole formation.

As the book is intended for undergraduate students with
just an elementary knowledge of the subject, the author gives
detailed explanations of some other topics that are not
strictly concerned with P&C linguistics. Thus, much
attention is paid to the explanation of goals and methods of
sociolinguistics as well as comparative and historical
linguistics. For instance, Singh retells the story of Sir
William Jones and his discovery of the Indo-European family
while explaining the development of historical language
studies. Ishtla Singh bases her book on several classic
works in P&C linguistics (Arends, Bickerton, John Holm,
McMahon, Muysken, Muhlhausler, Sebba, and others). In this
way, she expresses varying and sometimes contradictory
viewpoints which allows readers to gain a wholistic
perspective on the topic.


In the PREFACE, the author defines the potential reader
of her book as a second or third year undergraduate majoring
in either the English language or linguistics. It may be
also helpful for students in humanities.

In the first chapter, DEFINITIONS, the basic concepts
of P&C studies: jargon, pidgin, creole, nativization,
lexifiers and so on are introduced. The starting point of
analysis is not a pidgin but a creole. This is a
characteristic feature of this book; it deals mainly with
linguistic and social problems of creoles, while pidgins are
mentioned mainly as their source, an early stage of their
formation, a "creole prehistory" that has not much interest
by itself. Using this logic, the author moves backwards from
a creole to a pidgin and than to a jargon thus making clear
a creole-speaker perspective. While explaining processes of
pidginization, Singh uses a biological metaphor of primary
("normal" language), secondary (jargon) and tertiary (pidgin)
hybridization. Definitions and general features of pidgins
are given according to Sebba and Muhlhausler. Much
attention is paid to the process of creolization; analyzing
these processes with different English-based creoles, the
author shows how different socio-historical factors worked
together creating a certain creole- formation.

Part of the chapter is dedicated to the history of P&C
studies before Schuchardt. As P&C linguistics is not
regarded as a totally separated trend, the author discusses
its further development inside wider sociolinguistic,
historical linguistic and language acquisition theoretical
contexts. Singh shows in what way the study of P&C benefited
from research made inside these fields and how these fields
contributed from P&C linguistics. Probably, too much space
is dedicated to the explanation of the peculiarities of the
historical method as well as to the discussion of the
genetic affiliation of P&C and its place on the traditional
genealogical language tree.

The second chapter, THEORIES OF GENESIS, discusses
various theories of P&C formation. These are devised (after
Arends) into three groups: 1) theories that take the
superstrate languages as a starting point (Foreigner talk
theory, the Imperfect L2 learning hypothesis and Nautical
jargon theory); 2) theories emphasizing the role of
substrate languages (Theory of monogenesis); 3) theories
based upon universals of language acquisition (Bioprogram

Theories that emphasize the role of substrate language
in P&C formation are limited to the two versions of the
theory of monogenesis. The author follows K. Whinnom's and
Hancock's ideas that trace all Atlantic P&C to one source via
the process of relexification. Theories based upon universals
of language acquisition are represented by the language
bioprogram hypothesis. Singh gives a detailed analysis of
Bickerton's hypothesis which is regarded as a consequence of
Chomsky's language Acquisition device theory. The author
cites McMahon in defining bioprogram as a naturally encoded,
genetically transmitted set of instructions that specifies
certain semantic and syntactic features. This biological
language turns an unstable jargon into a classic creole. So
creoles could be categorized in terms of distance from the
bioprogram. The list of the 12 syntactic and semantic
features generated by the bioprogram is included.

Chapter Three is totally dedicated to the CREOLE
CONTINUUM. For Singh, there are several possible ways how a
creole can coexist with its lexifier language. Singh
discusses diglossia, a characteristic for Haiti, as a
possibility for the coexistence with the lexifier language
and then focuses on the situation of a creole continuum.
Singh points out that the creole continuum situation is a
problem for Creole-speaking societies because it leads to
decreolization, a process whereby a Creole language loses
its specificity and turns into a peculiar dialect of the
target language.

Singh uses terms such as 'language murder' and 'language
suicide' to designate the loss of the less prestigious
language. In the case that the two languages are not
closely related, it is designated as 'language murder' and
when the languages are closely related and the less
prestigious one absorbs structures from the language with
the higher status it is termed 'language suicide' Though
rather widely used, these terms are obviously metaphoric and
do not seem appropriate as they do not really clear up the
processes of language shift in typical creole continuum
situations. Singh analyzes DeCamp's model of language
continuum using his example of Jamaican creole, and
introduces terms basilect, mesolect and acrolect. She points
out that the mixtures presented in mesolects are caused by
an implicational hierarchy. The author analyzes the
possibility of applying this continuum model to the
language situation in Trinidad, noting that, in fact, if a
speaker uses 'child' and not 'pikinini' he or she will also
use 'eat' and not 'nyam'. However, the continuum model should
serve as an analytic tool that makes it possible to
represent existing variants that emerge in a specific Creole
speaking community. Having applied DeCamp's method to the
Trinidad language situation, Singh concludes that DeCamp's
unidimensional model is inadequate in some contexts and that
creole-speaking communities have in reality, multi-systemic

Chapter Four, LANGUAGE PLANNING, starts with an
explanation of what 'language planning' is. Singh uses
classical examples of language planning, like Hebrew revival
and then focuses on the problems of language planning in
Trinidad. For a specialist in P&C linguistics, it is
probably the most interesting part of the book as it
presents some new information. Trinidad is a place of extreme
ethnic diversity, that includes not only various West
African and European elements but also a significant Chinese
and a pronounced Indian migrations that made the local
ethnic mixture rather peculiar; Trinidad linguistic diversity
is characterized not only by the creole continuum situation
but also by the fact that many migrants still use their
ethnic languages (e.g. Hindi). Trinidad is a place where two
different-based creoles coexist, as there is still a French-
based creole minority.

The author presents historical evidence that shows the
changing attitude towards Creole and the amplification of
its domains of usage. At the end of the chapter Singh also
gives short sketches of language situations in other selected
creole- speaking regions.

The Appendix contains several texts in Trinidad creole
that illustrate the early stages of Creole language
formation. A Glossary is provided for some of the linguistic
terms used in the book. Also, a 7 page Bibliography gives
students the original sources of information as well as
further readings for information. The book contains two 2
maps showing the spread of P&C in the world and an Index
that makes the book easier to use.


Ishtla Singh's book is an instructive manual so it
should be evaluated as such. The material covered in the
book is adequate but not entirely complete. There are almost
no examples of any non-English based pidgin or creole. It
could give readers an incorrect perspective, as the striking
structural resemblance of different P&C is not really shown.
Besides, the interpretation of some non English-based P&C
seems erroneous, e.g. I can not agree with the interpretation
of Russenorsk (p. 2) as a jargon that was "re-created" each
year. Russenorsk existed for more than hundred years and all
material that is available shows its surprising stability.

The most salient deficiency of the chapter dedicated to
the origins of P&C is the lack of polygenesis theories. They
are not even mentioned (to say nothing of the important
R.Hall -- D.Taylor polemics) , though these theories stress
the significance of substrate languages much more than the
monogenesis theory. The only names mentioned in this respect
are the Herskovites who made a very important input into the
study of the substrate language role but they are not the
most important names to mention.

Creole language received more attention by the author
than did Pidgin. So the situation of primary pidginization
is pictured in a simplistic 'slave-master' way without any
details of a concrete situation. The exact socio-historical
context of the pidginization in Trinidad remains unclear.

The presentation of the material is of very high
quality. Everything is explained very clearly and without
any doubt this book will be of great help for a beginner in
P&C linguistics. At the same time, the long passages
dedicated to those linguistic trends and methods that have
no relationships with P&C studies (e.g. the above mentioned
story of Sir W. Jones's discovery) could easily have been
omitted. The author is writing the introduction to P&C but
not to general linguistics. Probably, Singh's intention was
a manual for students who possess no linguistic knowledge
whatsoever. If this was the case, then the passages in
question are understandable.

It would also seem that this book is also targeted
towards those who speak a creole as the first language and
for whom P&C studies are "history of the mother tongue". In
this respect it seems a pity that the book presents mainly
sociolinguistic data and that there is no analysis of the
Trinidad creole excepting several notes on Creole usage and
French and Hindi lexical loans. A more profound analysis of
different lexical strata in Trinidad Creole would show 'in
vivo' the input of all Trinidad ethnic groups in Creole
lexicon. Readers would observe how language reflects the
multiculturalism of the island. That would be an interesting
introduction into a linguistic analysis of P&C-type languages
for beginners, especially for creole-speaking students who
would regard their language from another point of view.

The book of Ishtla Singh is a surprise as one hears the
voice of a Creole speaking scholar and discovers the
presentation of known material from an entirely new point of
view, that of the Creole speaker. I am sure that this book
will encourage students to major in P&C studies and as a
byproduct will augment the prestige of creoles.


Arends J., P. Muysken and N. Smith (eds.) (1995).
Pidgins and Creoles: An introduction. Amsterdam: John

Bickerton D. (1988) Creole languages and the
bioprogram. In F.J. Newmeyer (ed.) Linguistics: The
Cambridge survey, vol. I. Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press,
pp. 268-84.

DeCamp D. (1971) Towards a generative analysis of a post
creole speech continuum. In D. Hymes (ed.) Pidginization and
Creolization of Languages. Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press.

Holm J. (1988) Pidgins and Creoles (vols. I and II).
Cambridge Language Surveys. Cambridge Univ. Press.

McMahon A. (1994). Understanding language change.
Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press.

Muhlhausler P. (1986). Pidgin and creole linguistics.
Oxford: Basil Blackwell.

Sebba M. (1997). Contact languages: Pidgins and
Creoles. Hampshire and London: MacMillan Press.

Elena Perekhvalskaya Milkova is an Associated Professor
of linguistics in the Department of General Linguistics at
St.Petersburg State University, Russia. Her research
involves the study of language contacts, cross-cultural
communication, Russia-based pidgins, endangered languages,
and the Udihe language (Altaic family).


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