Creoles at birth? The role of nativization in language formation
01 / 2009 - 12 / 2012
In pidgin and creole studies it is assumed that the structural elaboration differentiating a complex creole from its simple pidgin ancestor results from nativization, the process by which a language acquires a native-speaking community. Locally-born children play a crucial role: they help, via first language acquisition, a stable, elaborated linguistic system to emerge. Via second language acquisition, foreign-born adults (non-native speakers) contribute innovative features to the language, but such features are typically used in an unstable and inconsistent manner. Here the role of nativization is studied in the development of Sranan, the main English-derived creole of Suriname, and Negerhollands, the extinct Dutch-derived creole of the Virgin Islands. Both languages arose under comparable circumstances from the late 17th century onwards, but they differ strikingly in their rates of nativization. Negerhollands nativized relatively fast. Sranan, however, was slow, because for a prolonged period the Suriname population was dominated by enslaved African adults. This difference provides a unique opportunity to determine the effects of nativization on developing languages. Substantial corpora of 18th and 20th century texts exist for both languages, permitting a comparative analysis of the structural effects of nativization. Does 18th century Sranan, due to slow nativization, exhibit more non-native speech features than 20th century Sranan, in contrast with Negerhollands, that due to fast nativization is expected to display more native speech features already in the 18th century? As non-native language input derived from second language acquisition of primarily Ghanaian slaves, field work is carried out among Ghanaians learning English and Dutch to verify whether the linguistic features identified in the historical texts in fact represent non-native speech features. This project can provide fundamental insight in the roles of children and adults in language formation as well as the underlying organizational principles of human language and on language acquisition in general.
De structurele verschillen tussen complexe creooltalen en simpele pidgintalen worden veelal verklaard als het gevolg van moedertaalverwerving door kinderen. Dit onderzoek bestudeert de invloed van volwassenen op creooltaalformatie middels historisch taalonderzoek en hedendaags tweedetaalverwervingsonderzoek in Ghana en Nederland.