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  • Processes of Language Contact: Studies from Australia and the South Pacific
  • Suzanne Romaine
Jeff Siegel , ed. 2000. Processes of Language Contact: Studies from Australia and the South Pacific. Montreal: Les Editions Fides (collection Champs linguistiques). 326 pp. ISBN 2-7621-2098-5. Canadian$34.95.

Most of the eleven contributions in this collection arose in the context of a variety of courses, symposia, and conference presentations held at the University of Queensland in July 1998. The richness of the material in the individual contributions far surpasses the space available here for commentary on all the papers. Inevitably, my comments will be selective, and I have tried to concentrate on what is either new, or in a few cases, incorrect.

In his editorial introduction Siegel groups the papers under four main themes: Substrate influence (with papers by Harold Koch on Australian Pidgin English, Terry Crowley on Bislama, Christine Jourdan on Solomon Islands Pijin, and a paper coauthored by Jeff Siegel, Barbara Sandeman, and Chris Corne on Tayo); Simplification (with papers by Ian Malcolm on Aboriginal English, Joan Bresnan on pidgin genesis and optimality theory, and Terry Crowley on simplicity and complexity in Sye and Ura); Diffusion (with papers by Jane Simpson on Australian Aboriginal Pidgins and Jennifer Munro on Kriol); and Depidginization/Decreolization (with papers by Geoff Smith on Tok Pisin and Chris Corne on Tayo).

Koch's paper ("The role of Australian Aboriginal languages in the formation of Australian Pidgin grammar: Transitive verbs and adjectives") is a welcome exploration of the question of substrate in one of the most important and earliest of the South Pacific pidgins. It complements well Baker's (1993) important work establishing the Australian contribution to Melanesian Pidgin English (see also Romaine to appear). Where Baker found first attestations of certain key items in New South Wales Pidgin English, this suggests that the relevant substrate model was in Aboriginal languages rather than the Oceanic languages usually examined by scholars such as Keesing (1988). Koch shows how two of the highly distinctive grammatical features of Pacific Pidgin Englishes, namely the so-called transitivizing suffix -im and the adjectival suffix -pela, were influenced by Aboriginal substrate models.

Like many grammatical markers in other pidgins and creoles, the lexical sources are clearly derived from the superstrate, English in this case, although they ended up in structures rather uncharacteristically English. Koch proposes that the reanalysis of English unstressed pronominal objects him (and also it) as object enclitics allowed verbs to be disyllabic in conformity with the preferred phonotactic shape of Aboriginal verb forms at the same time as it prevented words from ending in consonant clusters; for example, send became sendim. In addition, verbs in Aboriginal languages are strictly classified according to transitivity. The persistence of substrate syntactic categories is thus consistent with relexification. [End Page 523]

In her chapter ("My nephew is my aunt: Features and transformation of kinship terminology in Solomon Islands Pijin"), Christine Jourdan tries to explain the selectivity in retention in Solomon Islands Pijin of kinship categories from vernacular languages. Unfortunately, some of her assertions are unsubstantiated, such as her claim that given the overwhelming preponderance of men on ships and plantations, "one can safely surmise that the word brata entered Melanesian Pidgin English first" (107), that is, before sista. Actually, both terms are attested from New South Wales Pidgin English as early as 1802, and subsequently in its descendant Queensland Plantation Pidgin English, the ancestor of Melanesian Pidgin English.1 (Interestingly enough, auntie is also attested, but not uncle, in Queensland, though not in New South Wales.) This suggests, among other things, that a full account of the semantics of the terms will need to examine the kinship terminologies of the relevant Aboriginal languages. And just as importantly, it reinforces what should be axiomatic in our working methods; namely, it is dangerous to "surmise safely" without having examined historical data.

In addition, one cannot ignore the contribution of English kin terms, particularly during the period of expansion. In Tok Pisin the pattern ego gender indexing with same sex siblings being identified with different terms (cf. brata/sista) has been remodeled semantically along English lines. The result is that one is no longer sure...


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