Complex processes in new languages

Complex processes in new languages. Ed. by Enoch O. Aboh and Norval Smith. Amsterdam: John Benjamins, 2009. Pp. vii, 409. ISBN 9789027252579. $158 (Hb).

Reviewed by Haitao Liu, Communication University of China

This book addresses the issue of complexity in language evolution and creolization. After discussing several important linguistic questions concerning simplification and complexification in the introductory chapter ‘Simplicity, simplification, complexity and complexification: Where have the interfaces gone?’ (1–25), Aboh and Smith conclude that creolization should not be equated with simplification. The book consists of six parts: ‘Morpho-phonology’, ‘Verbal morphology’, ‘Nominals’, ‘The selection of features in complex morphology’, ‘Evaluating simplification and complexification’, and ‘Postscript’.

Tjerk Hagemeijer investigates the Gulf of Guinea creoles in the article, ‘Initial vowel agglutination in the Gulf of Guinea creoles’ (29–50). These creoles borrow many etymologically consonant-initial words from Portuguese, the lexifier, and contain agglutinated vowels that are devoid of any morphological function. Norval Smith’s article, ‘Simplification of a complex part of grammar or not? What happened to KiKoongo nouns in Saramaccan?’ (51–73), covers the consequences of a large number of KiKoongo words, which are marked by noun-class and number, being incorporated into Surinam creoles, which lack any noun-class or number marking systems. In ‘Reducing phonological complexity and grammatical opaqueness: Old Tibetan as a lingua franca and the development of the modern Tibetan varieties’ (75–95), Bettina Zeisler discusses the role of Old Tibetan as a lingua franca in the development of the syllable structure in modern Tibetan varieties.

Tonjes Veenstra, in ‘Verb allomorphy and the syntax of phases’ (99–113), argues that in some French-related creoles, the alternation of long and short verb forms is a reflex of French inflectional morphology that has survived the creolization process. The next article, ‘The invisible hand in creole genesis: Reanalysis in the formation of Berbice Dutch’ (115–58) by Silvia Kouwenberg, discusses the historical context in which Berbice Dutch developed. The author argues that simplification, usually considered as resulting from the dilution of European target languages, is not necessarily involved in creolization. In other words, creolization may follow diverse paths. Christine Jourdan presents an instance of language evolution in ‘Complexification or regularization of paradigms: The case of prepositional verbs in Solomon Islands Pijin’ (159–70). She notes that in Honiara, the capital city of the Solomon Islands, the speakers of the local variety of Pijin extensively useem, a transitive suffix, to transform prepositions into prepositional verbs.

Diana Guillemin deals with the development of determiners in Mauritian Creole in ‘The Mauritian Creole determiner system: A historical overview’ (173–200). In ‘Demonstratives in Afrikaans and Cape Dutch Pidgin: A first attempt’ (201–19), Hans den Besten explores the development of demonstratives in Afrikaans and Cape Dutch Pidgin.

Anthony P. Grant, in his article ‘Contact, complexification and change in Mindanao Chabacano structure’ (223–41), explores the phonological and structural complexification in Mindanao Chabacano, a predominantly Spanish-lexifier creole of southwestern Mindanao. Peter Slomanson argues that, owing to the encoding of finiteness and tense features, the negation in Sri Lankan Malay exhibits greater inflectional complexity than in the lexifier, in his article ‘Morphosyntactic finiteness as increased complexity in a mixed negation system’ (243–64). Umberto Ansaldo, in ‘Contact language formation in evolutionary terms’ (265–89), analyzes the evolution of case makers in a variety of Sri Lanka Malay, and concludes that a new grammar is simply the result of a recombination of grammatical features of the input language.

In her aritlce, ‘Economy, innovation and degrees of complexity in creole formation’ (293–315), Marlyse Baptista examines the view that a correlation between morphosyntactic simplification and semantic complexification would occur when there is language contact. This article also explores the degree of morphological similarities and dissimilarities between two sister creoles assumed to have evolved from the common source languages. Enoch O. Aboh, by pointing to the invalidity of the notion of simplicity in understanding the structure, as well as the genesis, of creoles, disproves the common belief that creoles are simplified versions of their lexifiers in ‘Competition and selection: That’s all!’ (317–44). Umberto Ansaldo and Sebastian Nordhoff, in ‘Complexity and the age of languages’ (345–63), discuss the issue of complexity in language genesis and the time needed for complex structures to emerge in the evolution of a language. They propose that (i) the structure of a new language, during its genesis, partially depends on the typology of the input languages, and (ii) the study of the rate of change needs to take into account ecological matters.

This book concludes with the article ‘Restructuring, hybridization, and complexity in language evolution’ (367–400) by Salikoko S. Mufwene. His article is a compelling invitation for more fine-grained investigation of the evolution and structures of vernaculars, illuminating the fact that the study of language contact may contribute to the study of general linguistics and forward a better integration of this research area into linguistics.

Altogether, this volume is a valuable resource, not only for creolists, but also for those who have a general interest in the study of language evolution and linguistic complexity.