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Review of  An Introduction to Pidgins and Creoles

Reviewer: Elena Milkova
Book Title: An Introduction to Pidgins and Creoles
Book Author: John Holm
Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Linguistic Field(s): Sociolinguistics
Subject Language(s): Creole English, Jamaican
Tok Pisin
Issue Number: 12.823

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John Holm, (2000) An Introduction to Pidgins and Creoles.
Cambridge textbooks in linguistics. Cambridge University Press,
282 p.

Elena Perekhvalskaya Milkova, St. Petersburg State University.

The new book of John Holm is not just a shorter version of his
previous work 'Pidgin and Creoles (vols. I and II)'. The new book
contains a great amount of fresh material and represents a new
linguistic insight at the problem of pidgins and creoles (further
P&C) formation. Though it is based on the same foundation as the
old book it is dedicated to different problems. While the two
volumes of 'Pidgins and Creoles' were a comprehensive survey of
the field that could serve as an introduction for the general
reader with some basic knowledge of linguistics, the new book,
thought it is titled 'An introduction' deals more with problems
of P&C formation and is limited mainly to the Atlantic zone.

The new book is thoroughly revisited, only sociohistorical
chapters remained alike. Other parts of the books are remade to
serve a new topic. So chapters on lexicosemantics and phonology
are shortened, and a new chapter 'Social factors' appeared. At
the same time information on 'non European-based' P&C is


Chapter 1. 'Introduction' starts by introducing the most basic
terms of the field: pidgin, creole, jargon, substrate,
superstrate, tertiary hybridization, nativization, and so on. The
majority of these definitions are in fact sociolinguistic, so
pidgins and creoles are defined as languages with an unusual way
of being formed. Therefore these definitions imply general
information on P&C formatting. The author gives a compressed
version of modern views on the formation of P&C, that being
short is by no means simplistic; he analyses the whole range of
different ideas of the case.

Chapter 2 'The development of theory' traces the development of
the major ideas in the study of P&C and gives an overview of the
history of P&C linguistics. The author pays much attention to the
general scope of ideas that lead to the corresponding advances in
the field. He studies views about P&C beginning from the epoch
before the European Expansion, through the 17th, 18th and early
19th centuries, regards views of the first pioneers of
creolistic, Van Name, Schuchardt, Hesseling, Reinecke, and
finishes studying ideas of R.Hall and D.Taylor, the two
linguists who formed the study of P&C into a new academic field.
>From this point ideas and not names are discussed: the theory of
monogenesis with relexification as a key mechanism; the concept
of creole continuum and decreolization as a mechanism of change;
the struggle between universalists and substratists.

The chapter offers the overview of theories and ideas about P&C
and also sets a general topic of the book, this is an attempt to
solve the main problem of P&C linguistics: what was the input of
different contacting languages in the formation of P&C.

Chapter 3, 'Social factors' deals with historical and social
background of P&C formation. P&C are defined sociolinguisticly,
thus their development may be understood only by taking into
account multiple social factors. The author presents a list of
P&C based on Western European languages and discusses social
history of the speakers of the seven P&C, each one belonging to a
different group. He lists Portuguese-based P&C (with more
details on the Angolar C); Spanish-based P&C (Papiamentu); Dutch-
based (Negerhollands C); French-based (Haitian C); English-based
Atlantic C (Jamaican C); English-based Pacific P&C (Tok Pisin).
P&C based on other languages are not analyzed, with the only
exception of the Nubi C Arabic.

Charter 4, 'Lexicosemantics' as well as the following chapters 5
and 6 compare P&C of various lexical bases (mainly of Atlantic
zone plus Tok Pisin) by linguistic level. Chapter 4 deals with
lexicons of P&C and shows that they retained relatively few words
not from their lexifier languages. However while vocabularies of
various P&C differ in form, they share many common traits: P&C
lexicons typically preserve some amount of archaic and regional
items and retain a pronunciation that is no longer current in the
metropolitan variety. Substrate lexical influence is traced
mainly in the semantic range of P&C words and their syntactic
shifts from one category to another. It is also manifested in
calquing, leading to semantic shifts unusual for European
languages, use of reduplication, etc.

Chapter 5 'Phonology' presents the study of some phonological
features found in a number of P&C but not in their lexical source
languages. In many cases it is difficult to determine the degree
of continuity from the superstrate language as opposed to
influence of the substrate languages, though there is a strong
evidence to support the great influence of African languages on
creole phonology that manifests in phonotactic rules, in
suprasegmentals, in shaping P&C vowel and consent systems.

Chapter 6 'Syntax' discusses syntactic features which are shared
by a number of P&C but not by their lexifier languages. Their
number is rather large and can hardly be explained by mere
coincidence. These common features reflect the influence of both
superstrate and substrate languages, as well as universals of
adult second language acquisition, creole internal innovations
and the convergence of all or some of these factors. The analysis
of P&C verb phrase includes the structure of unmarked verb,
Anterior tense, Progressive aspect, Habitual aspect, Completive
aspect and is followed by the discussion of specific
constructions expressing various meaning of English 'be' and the
analysis of serial verbs. Determiners, gender, possession, and
pronouns are examined as elements forming the noun phrase.
Finally, other functional words (conjunctions, prepositions) and
the word order typical for P&C are discussed. Table and charts
summarizing the facts help to keep track more easily.

The 'Conclusion' presents a brief assessment of the theoretical
implications of the social and linguistic data in this book. The
author gives a short survey of ideas discussed and makes two main
conclusions: 1. structural features although shared by most/all
P&C can not be used to determine that a language is a creole
without reference to its sociolinguistic history. 2. Atlantic P&C
have 'double belonging' to both the family of their lexifier
language and their own family, the Atlantic creoles.

The book finishes with an extensive bibliography.


There are two approaches to the evaluation of this book,
depending on the whether we regard it as a textbook or as a new
book in P&C studies, that summarize data achieved in this field.

As an instructive book it needs students with more than a very
basic knowledge in linguistics. Defining notions pidgin, creole
etc. the author gives short and precise definitions with very
short explanations. The best reader of this book would be a
student with some reading experience in the field or a linguists,
specialist in another sub-field. John Holm's book gives a very
precise and detailed picture of main current trends in P&C
linguistics. It would also be useful for linguists who study
language contacts in broader sense, as this book is constructed
so that it is easy to find necessary facts both by language
involved or by linguistic phenomena. Well made Index is also of
great help.

Lack of detailed information on 'other-based' P&C is probably a
weak point of this book regarded as a textbook or a reference
source, but its topic is the description of 'Atlantic Creole
family' and as such it is an event in P&C linguistics.

The book of John Holm is a new attempt to solve the old and by no
means solved problem: what is the input of different contacting
languages (languages of substrate and superstrate) into the
formation of P&C? It is easier to try to do it using Atlantic
P&C, that arose 'among speakers of partially similar African
languages learning partially similar European languages under
partially similar social conditions'. Data from 'other-based' P&C
would only make the main trend of thought more obscure. Atlantic,
and especially Caribbean, zone P&C serve as an experimental
test-tube of language mixing, where under the very well known
sociohistorical background different European languages underwent
the process of pidginization when used by speakers of the more or
less the same African languages.

As it could be expected the new Pidgins turned out to be very
much alike, but linguists still can not come to the agreement.
whether it is due to the influence of languages of substratum or
it is because there exist the general universal process of
simplification and pidginization.

That is what John Holm is trying to solve, using the only true
method appropriate for the case. He regards every fact, be it
phonetic or syntactical, and discuss its origin, showing all
possible points of view. So the reader receives a whole picture
in its complexity.

One reason why the study of P&C is essential for linguistics in
general is the hope that these languages would make it easier to
understand mechanisms of language contacts and especially of the
'language mixing'. If linguists could detach certain features
characteristic only for the situation of language contacts they
could answer many disputable problems in the history of other
'normal' languages, e.g. in the history of English. The
conclusions though are not very optimistic. John Holm notes that
there are no pure linguistic data that would determine a language
as a creole.

In general, 'An Introduction to Pidgins and Creoles' is a very
useful and interesting book that would be of great help for both
students and researchers in the field and also would be a good
guide for newcomers. Besides, the book is a wonderful reference
source on many issues dealing with P&C linguistics.


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

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

Elena Perekhvalskaya (Milkova)
St.Petersburg State University, Russia
Sat, 24 Mar 101 09:43 +0300 MSK


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