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Review of  Degrees of Restructuring in Creole Languages

Reviewer: Elizabeth Grace Winkler
Book Title: Degrees of Restructuring in Creole Languages
Book Author: Ingrid Neumann-Holzschuh
Publisher: John Benjamins
Linguistic Field(s): Sociolinguistics
Issue Number: 12.2996

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Neumann-Holzschuh, Ingrid, and Edgar W. Schneider, ed. (2001)
Degrees of Restructuring in Creole Languages. John Benjamins
Publishing Company, iv+492pp, hardback ISBN: 1-58811-039-7,
$120.00, Creole Language Library 22

Elizabeth Grace Winkler, Columbus State University

The text is the product of a 1988 conference held in Regensberg to
debate the notion of "degrees of restructuring" in creoles focusing on
an intriguing set of questions (p. 3) which I include here because
knowledge of these questions clarifies why these particular papers
were chosen and what contribution each makes to the unity of the volume.

* Which is the most suitable theoretical framework for the description
of processes of restructuring?

* Which morphological and syntactic categories are predominantly
affected by restructuring in individual creoles, and to what extent?

* To what extent do creoles with a common base language form a
continuum of varieties?

* When seen in this light, what is the status of concepts emphasizing
the hybrid character of creoles (mixed language theory, relexification

* Are there any intralinguistic features and typical structural
conditions which favor or cause different degrees of restructuring?

* What is the relationship between different degrees of restructuring
on the one hand and sociolinguistic conditions, e.g. varying
demographic proportions between different population groups, on the

* What is the role of bilingualism, first and/or second language
acquisition, or the numerical ratio of children to adults in the
process of varying degrees of restructuring?

Answers to these questions are significant because it has not been
clearly understood why creoles have not either universally nor
consistently undergone the same types and levels of creolization or
restructuring. The text also tries to disambiguate the terms
creolization and restructuring. Restructuring is defined as
reorganization of structures, especially morphosyntactic structures
(which obviously happens to non-creole languages as well unlike
creolization). Furthermore, because of conference discussions, it
became apparent that scholars studying English lexifier creoles and
those focused on Romance language lexifier creoles had long been
working from distinct "paths of creolization" a topic which had rarely
been noted or discussed by the field as a whole.

The book begins with a state-of-the-art piece by John Holm looking at
semi-creoles and other "partially restructured varieties" and the
challenges they present for traditional theories in creolistics. He
views this collection of work as a response by creolists to dealing
with varieties that seem to be "creole-like" but do not fit the
prototypical creole models, i.e., African American varieties of
English and Afro-Caribbean Spanish. These, and other language
varieties, never creolized to the point of developing basilectal
varieties but only underwent partial creolization and that their
non-creole features were not acquired as part of a process of
decreolization. His chapter deals in turn with Brazilian Vernacular
Portuguese, Afro-Caribbean Spanish, Afrikaans, and Reunionnais.

Baker details his own approach to restructuring called the
"constructive approach" as a response to weaknesses he sees in
Bickerton's Language Bioprogram Hypothesis, Lefebvre's commitment to
relexification, and Chaudenson's "Approximations".

Mufwene takes issue with both McWhorter's defining of
creoles by structural characteristics (following chapter) and
Thomason's (1997) concept of the prototypical creole. Mufwene holds
that there can be no definition of creoles beyond sociohistorical
ones because restructuring in creoles is akin to restructuring in
other languages. He especially takes issue with creoles being defined
by a set of structural features because these features both appear in
other non-creole languages and are not exclusive to creoles.

In the following chapter, McWhorter further supports his
structurally-based definition of creoles. His contention is not that
these features do not occur in older languages but that all three at
once do not. He points out that because creoles are new languages,
they have not as yet had time to develop alternatives to these
features as older languages have. This "diachronic drift" from the
prototype can be caused by a number of events including the amount,
timing, and type of both substrate and superstrate contact.

Alleyne tackles the possibility that the term "creolization" may well
have been used to describe opposite processes by scholars working
with English lexifier creoles as opposed to the Romance language
lexifier creoles. English creoles start as varieties much more
distant from their lexifier than their Romance language counterparts.
These languages later diverged from the lexifier whereas the English
creoles have grown more similar.

Chapters by Detges and Michaelis trace the evolution of specific
creole features (tense markers and subject pronouns) through analysis
of types of restructuring, grammaticalization, and reanalysis.
Michaelis' chapter argues these processes applied to creole languages
do not significantly differ from non-creole languages.

How the original demographics of creole communities have affected
creole development and their eventual typological distance from the
lexifier language is the focus of Parkvall's chapter. He does this by
looking at 45 commonly studied features of creole languages and
compares this data with knowledge of settler demographics of each
area. His data somewhat support his claim, and he discusses some
interesting exceptions.

Winford's chapter focuses on what he labels as "intermediate creoles"
- less basilectal creole varieties. He believes that these creoles
may share much in common with other types of language learning with
very restricted or interrupted access to the lexifier language,
though this is less true for the more radical creoles like Sranan or
Haitian Creole. Nevertheless, even in these cases he points out that
like with SLA, there is "heavy reliance on L1 strategies (L1
retention, traditionally referred to as 'transfer') as well as other
morphological simplification ..." (p. 216). Radical creoles, however,
depend on the substrate for continued development whereas L2 learners
and mesolectal creole speakers with more access to the "target
language" eventually replace L1, or early creole structures, with
those of the target. Intermediate creoles seem to have more in common
with traditional ESL models of untutored learner shift.

The status of languages often labeled as "creoloids" or
"semi-creoles" is the focus of the chapter by Kautzsch and Schneider.
They assert that the state of these languages reflects either
interrupted, differential, or incomplete creolization resulting in
varieties that though like "typical" creoles in some respects, fail
to have a sufficient number of creole features to be classed as such.

In an intriguing and highly informative piece, Huber studies the
contribution to the development of Sierra Leone Creole by one
particular group-liberated Africans (Africans removed from slave
ships before reaching the New World and returned to Sierra Leone -
despite their original countries of capture). He has done this
basically to answer the question: Is Krio African or
Caribbean/Atlantic in origin?. He attempts to tease apart the nature
of substrate contributions in this area of such intensely mixed
integration of ethnic groups both local and foreign. He extends his
understanding to the development of West African Pidgin English.

Plag and Uffmann analyze phonological restructuring for Sranan though
an analysis of paragogic vowels and detail how both substrate and
universal influences contribute to the selection of these vowels for
each word.

In an analysis of Tok Pisin, Muhlhausler focuses on the
restructuring of the lexicon and proposes and interesting thought:
that the development of the lexicon is closely tied to change in the
physical environment of the speakers: "development of the structured
lexicon is governed not by inherent forces but largely by external
pragmatic ones ..." (p. 356).

In a detailed discussion of the French-based creoles of Saint Bart
and Reunion, Chaudenson examines these radical creoles and the
sociolinguistic conditions that contributed to their development. The
title in itself is engaging, loosely translated "Creolization of
French and the Frenchification of Creole". His contribution adds much
to the developing body of work indicating that French and
English-based creoles begin and end in quite distinct places with
regards to restructuring.

Neumann-Holzschuh asserts that any study of restructuring should
focus on an analysis of individual grammatical categories, rather
than an analysis of the system as a whole because some structures
will restructure in a more radical way than others. She does this
with an examination of the morphosyntax of Louisiana Creole, a
non-radical French-based creole.

In the penultimate chapter, Schwegler challenges the notion of
creolization. He does this through an analysis of Palenquero, a
Spanish-based creole of Colombia in which the almost completely
bilingual Palenquero/Spanish population, who actively engage in
rampant codeswitching, have failed to decreolize their speech despite
these pressures.

An investigation of varieties of Afro-Caribbean Spanish is the focus
of the chapter by Lipski. He looks at these varieties more as a
product of an evolving interlanguage moving towards Spanish,
restructuring, rather than a process of creolization as a result of
broken transmission between generations.

The final chapter by Lang shows how an analysis of the verbal system
of Capeverdian Creole indicates that restructuring takes place at
both the core and the periphery of structures but in different ways.

This text is clearly aimed at those with a considerable understanding
of the field of creolistics, though most chapters, or at least parts
of them, are accessible to scholars interested in general language
contact in general as well. It is an interesting collection bringing
together a wide variety of scholars from quite diverse viewpoints
which is made more interesting by the fact that writers from
divergent stands had shared pre-publication versions of their
chapters and had addressed concerns and challenges to their

In their thoughtful introduction, Neumann-Holzschuh and
Schneider have pointed out that in lieu of all the questions that
recent research from both creolistics and language contact have
raised that "creole formation must be redefined" (p. 7). It is no
longer plausible to continue with outdated or limiting definitions
that do not adequately address the questions raised at the beginning
of this review. Furthermore, as Holm asserts, creole linguistics
needs to encompass aspects of contact linguistics as well because the
answers to some of these questions may come from non-traditional
approaches. And finally, any theory of restructuring must take into
account all the forces which bear on the development of language,
both linguistic and sociological.

Thomason, Sara G. 1997. Contact Languages: A wider perspective.
Amsterdam: John Benjamins.

Elizabeth Grace Winkler is a linguistics professor at Columbus
State University, a state college in Georgia, USA. Her research
publications have concentrated on African substrate influence on
Limonese Creole and codeswitching between Spanish and Limonese Creole
in Costa Rica. She has also authored a dictionary of Kpelle, a Mande
language of Liberia.