Creoles, their substrates, and language typology

Creoles, their substrates, and language typology. Ed. by Claire Lefebvre. (Typological studies in language 98.) Amsterdam: John Benjamins, 2011. Pp. ix, 626 pp. ISBN 9789027206763. $158 (Hb).

Reviewed by David Gay, Bloomington, IN

As Claire Lefebvre writes, because ‘creole languages draw their properties from both their substrate and superstrate sources, the typological classification of creoles has long been a major issue for creolists, typologists, and linguists in general’ (3). The authors of the essays in this volume explore both the problem of substrate influence on creoles and the question of whether or not creoles form a typologically distinct group of languages.

The volume is divided into five parts. The first is a long introduction by the editor, ‘The problem of the typological classification of creoles’, in which the specific problems that the contributors address, as well as their results, are outlined. The introduction is followed by three sections on the creoles: the first, ‘Creoles spoken in Africa and in the Caribbean’ looks at the influence of African languages on Santome, Portuguese Creole, Kriyol, St. Lucian and Haitian Creole, Saramaccan, Papiamentu, Belizean Creole, Nicaraguan, Providence and San André Creole Englishes, and Palenque. The second section looks at creoles spoken in Asia, which includes Singapore English, China Coast Pidgin, Chabacano, Kupang Malay, and Sri Lankan Malay. The third section examines creoles spoken in the pacific, with essays on Papuan Malay, Central Australian Aboriginal English, Australian Kriol, New South Wales Pidgin, Solomon Islands Pijin, and Tayo. The final section is comprised of a concluding essay, ‘Creoles and language typology’, by Bernard Comrie.

The evidence for substrate influence is occasionally stretched further than it should be, and the authors occasionally demonstrate less knowledge than might be expected of the dialects, colloquial languages, and standard languages that form the superstrate languages, and also of other creoles and pidgins. However, overall, the essays present an intriguing look at just how the substrate languages influence the creoles.

The question remains: do the creole languages form a typologically distinct group? As Claire Lefebvre notes, ‘creoles manifest a great deal of variation among themselves [and] thus they cannot be claimed to be “alike” in any sense of the word, nor to constitute a typological class as such’ (30). However, even if one of the conclusions of the volume is negative, this still remains an important work on the influence of substrate languages on pidgins and creoles. As such, it should be included on the reading list of anyone interested in pidgins and creoles, language contact, and language typology.