Creoles, their substrates, and language typology

Creoles, their substrates, and language typology. Ed. by Claire Lefebvre. (Typological studies in language 95.) Amsterdam: John Benjamins, 2011. Pp. ix, 626. ISBN 9789027206763. $158 (Hb).

Reviewed by David Elton Gay, Bloomington, IN

As Claire Lefebvre, the editor of this book, , 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 chapters 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 book is divided into five parts. The first is comprised of a long introduction by the editor, in which she outlines the specific problems that the contributors will be addressing. The introduction is followed by three sections on creoles: the first 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 in Asia, which includes Singapore English, China Coast Pidgin, Chabacano, Kupang Malay, and Sri Lankan Malay; the third section examines creoles in the Pacific, with essays on Papuan Malay, Central Australian Aboriginal English, Australian Kriol, New South Wales Pidgin, Solomon Islands Pijin, and Tayo. An essay by Bernard Comrie, ‘Creoles and language typology’,concludes the book. .

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

Do the creole languages form a typologically distinct group? As the editor 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 on the reading list of anyone interested in pidgins and creoles, language contact, and language typology.