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Summary Details

Query:   Intonation and Creoles
Author:  Sam Callanan
Submitter Email:  click here to access email
Linguistic LingField(s):   Phonology

Summary:   Regarding query: http://www.linguistlist.org/issues/17/17-582.html#1

Firstly I would like to thank all those who responded for taking the time
to share their expertise:
Aidan Coveney, Silvia Kouwenberg, Pieter Muysken, Miriam Myerhoff, Peter
Patrick, Aaliya Rajah-Carrim, Emmanuel Schang, and Yi Xu.
As some respondents pointed out, the distinction between tone and
intonation is not particularly rigid, particularly with regard to creoles.
Accordingly I have not made an attempt to distinguish the two areas in this
I have summarized what the respondents said below, in order to save space I
have collated any specific references and other resources mentioned at the end.

Peter Patrick notes there is work on this area by Shelome Gooden who has
also worked on Belizean Creole. She has online references and papers at her
home page:

And a report on Jamaican Creole at:

He notes there is older work on this area by Hazel Carter. And says the
IVIE project page has a little on British Jamaican:

Peter Patrick also says that in the Comparative Creole Syntax book he is
coediting, they have minimal information on question structures in 18
creoles. He said ‘I can't give you a count, but nearly all of them have
non-preposed (non-Aux-inverted) SVO order for questions (that's if they are
SVO languages! as not all P/Cs are). In other words, many Qs are formed
with the same word-order as declarative statements.
So, though not all authors report on it, it seems very likely that
final-rise intonation is present for nearly all of them. This may not be
very interesting, as it's what's expected, but there it is...’

Miriam Meyerhoff says that on HRT (High Rising Tone) in questions there
are various snippets of information, usually indications in the Caribbean
literature to the effect that Caribbean creoles do not necessarily use HRT
on questions (leading to pragmatic miscomprehension). She recommends
looking at Peter Patrick’s personal web page. He has a link to a
bibliography on creoles, particularly to do with Jamaican and other
Caribbean Creoles.
She also notes that many Caribbean creoles (English and Spanish for sure)
have a typologically unusual system that uses stress *and* tone
phonemically, albeit to a limited extent.
She also recommends the CreoleTalk group as a
useful source of information. She says that people here are *incredibly*
helpful, but they do appreciate you having done your homework first.

Miriam Meyerhoff and Peter Patrick both recommended looking at Hubert
Devonish's work:

Dr Emmanuel Schang says that unfortunately there are no studies on the use
of intonation in the Gulf of Guinea Portuguese Creole Languages, but that
there are some studies on tone and stress by the following researchers:
Luiz Ferraz, Antony Trail, Philippe Maurer.

Aaliya Rajah-Carrim noted that there is not much work specifically on
creole intonation, but recommended trying some of Thomas Klein, John
McWhorter, David Sutcliffe and Jeff Allen's work.

Aaliya is a native speaker of Mauritian Creole, (a French-lexified creole).
She says that MC is spoken by people of various ethnic and religious
backgrounds in Mauritius. ‘There are different varieties of MC spoken on
the island. The varieties are influenced by the ancestral/ethnic language
of the speaker - the influence can be felt at the level of vocabulary,
syntax and phonology. When I was doing my research on language attitudes in
Mauritius, I was often told that ''Indo-Mauritians adopt a Bhojpuri
intonation when they speak MC'', ''The language used by old Sino-Mauritians
sounds like Mandarin''. I haven't been able to find anything in the
literature to back these observations. But the point remains that speakers
perceive differences in the varieties used on the island.’

Dr. Silvia Kouwenberg suggested that perhaps I had originally taken too
narrow a definition of intonation, she says several creole languages use
limited tone systems and intonation. She suggested looking at work by
Roemer on Papiamentu tone (she has also published on this subject). She
also notes there is some work by SIL researchers on tone in Saramaccan, and
an article on the role of prosody in reduplication in Sranan by Norval
Smith & Liliane Adamson, (references below).

Specific references:

Adamson, L. and Smith, N. Productive derivational predicate reduplication
in Sranan. In Twice as Meaningful. Reduplication in Pidgins, Creoles and
Other Contact Languages. Kouwenberg, S., (Ed.). London: Battlebridge

Carter, H. (1979) Evidence for the survival of African prosodies in
Caribbean creoles. Society for Caribbean Linguistics Occasional paper 13.

Carter, H. (1982). The tonal system of Jamaican English. 4th Biennial
Conference of the Society for Caribbean Linguistics, Ramaribo, Suriname.

Devonish, H. (2002) Talking Rhythm, Stressing Tone: Prominence in
Anglo-West African Creole Languages. Kingston: Arawak Press.

Devonish, H. (1989) Talking in Tones: A Study of Tone in Afro-European
Creole Languages. London: Karia Press.

Devonish, H. and Murray, E. (1995) On stress and tone in Papiamentu: An
alternative analysis. UWILING :Working Papers in Linguistics (UWI, Mona),
Jan. 1995: 43-57.

Kouwenberg, S., (Ed.) Twice as meaningful. Reduplication in pidgins,
creoles, and other contact languages. Westminster Creolistics Series 8.
London: Battlebridge Publications.

Kouwenberg, Silvia. (2004) The grammatical function of Papiamentu tone.
Journal of Portuguese Linguistics 3, 55-69.

Local, J. K., Wells, W. H. G. and Sebba, M. (1984) Phonetic aspects of
turn-delimitation in London Jamaican. York Papers in Linguistics 11: 215-28.

Rountree, S. C. (1972) Saramaccan Tone In Relation to Intonation and
Grammar. Lingua 29: 308-25.

Sutcliffe, D. (2003). Eastern Caribbean Suprasegmental Systems: A
Comparative View with Particular Reference to Barbadian, Trinidadian, and
Guyanese. In Contact Englishes of the Eastern Caribbean. Aceto, M. and
Williams, J. P., (Eds.). Amsterdam: John Benjamins. 265-96.

I would just like to thank again all those who responded, and say that if
anyone has any further information they would like to add then feel free to
contact me at:

Many thanks,


LL Issue: 17.1210
Date Posted: 21-Apr-2006


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