Variation in the Caribbean

Variation in the Caribbean: From creole continua to individual agency. Ed. by Lars Hinrichs and Joseph T. Farquharson. (Creole language library 37.) Amsterdam: John Benjamins, 2011. Pp. vi, 276. ISBN 9789027252593. $149 (Hb).

Reviewed by Eric A. Anchimbe, University of Bayreuth

Although contention over the creole continuum is no longer topical in research today, this book offers a smooth transition from creole continuum-based approaches to individual agency (sociolinguistic) approaches in the emergence and evolution of creoles, through its focus on variation both in the Caribbean and its diaspora. As the editors explain, the volume is ‘intended as a place for Caribbean data to meet with the broadest possible range of sociolinguistic approaches to variation, which includes a chance to introduce recent sociolinguistic thinking’ (3). The huge data sets and divergent corpora used here effectively offer authors the right platform to apply quantitative sociolinguistic methods to studying creole speakers’ individual and group identities, speech communities, and diaspora communities.

In three parts, the book addresses variation at the level of linguistic systems, identity, and the community. At the level of linguistic systems, Donald Winford investigates morphosyntactic variation between sa and o as futurity markers in Sranan; James A. Walker and Jack Sidnell describe negation in Bequia (St. Vincent and the Grenadines); and Ulrike Gut explores the use of relative markers in Standard Jamaican English. In the second part, three papers establish the link between variation and identity by investigating voices, genres, and orthographies in Barbadian Creole (Janina Fenigsen); stylistic variation at the morphological and syntactic levels in Jamaica (Dagmar Deuber); and language attitudes and linguistic awareness in Jamaican English (Andre Sand). Also premised on sociolinguistic variables, the papers in the third part articulate individual agency and choices in creole evolution, precisely, the varilingual repertoire of Tobagonian speakers (Valerie Youssef) and the emergence of the (new) Eastern Maroon Creole in French Guiana (Bettina Migge and Isabelle Léglise). The volume’s focus on individual agency in the Caribbean is extended to Caribbean diaspora communities in the United Kingdom (i.e. accommodation strategies by Barbadians in Ipswich) (Michelle C. Braña-Straw) and ‘creole’ and youth language in the Caribbean community in the inner-city area of Manchester (Susan Dray and Mark Sebba). A free-standing paper, which nevertheless also revisits variation, is John R. Rickford’s discussion of Robert Le Page’s theoretical and applied legacy in sociolinguistics and creole studies.

This volume is certainly innovative in the way it unites quantitative sociolinguistic methods and creolistics in projecting the current states of creole languages in the Caribbean. With two case studies of diaspora Caribbean Creoles in the United Kingdom, the authors further put to question assumptions of creole evolution based only on the creole continuum. The book is timely in shifting the research focus on Caribbean Creoles from system-based explorations to variational and usage-based descriptions that prioritize their existence as codes for normal daily human interaction and social and linguistic identification. With its strong focus on the linguistic systems of creoles, the first part seems a bit distant from the other two parts. This does not affect the quality of the volume in any significant way. Anyone interested in the sociolinguistics of creoles will find the book an important asset both for teaching and research. Scholars of pidgin and creole languages, also, stand to benefit from the book’s extensive empirical analyses.