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Language simplification: Reduction of Amerindian, African and French language structures in the Caribbean

  • Peter Bakker (Aarhus University)
Friday 30 November 2018
LUCL Colloquium 2018-2019
Cleveringaplaats 1
2311 BD Leiden


Reduced forms of Carib (Cariban), KiKongo (Bantu, Niger-Congo) and French (Romance, Indo-European) have been documented in the history of the Caribbean. These were used in interethnic communication between Europeans and Africans and Amerindians. Reduced forms of speech can be the result of native speakers simplifying their speech (“foreigner talk”), or of learners simplifying the target language in their learning process (unsuccessful second language acquisition), or a compromise between several groups (medium for interethnic communication). In some cases, these can evolve into pidgins, and into creoles.

Simplified Carib has been primarily documented from French Guiana from the 1600s to the 1900s, and simplified KiKongo is known from one source from Haiti around 1790. Simplified French was documented on the Lesser Antilles and Haiti from the 1630s to around 1670/1730, after which it creolized in the Afro-Caribbean communities (but not in the Amerindian communities).

I will discuss the documented speech of these three varieties in the context of the ecology of language contact of the time, including who were responsible for the simplification. I will discuss the structures of these reduced varieties in the context of pidginization (all three cases) and creolization (French only). The case of French in the Lesser Antilles provides a clear proof of a pidgin-to-creole-development, a process deemed impossible by some on theoretical grounds.

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