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  • The missing Spanish creoles by John H. McWhorter
  • Alan S. Kaye
The missing Spanish creoles. By John H. McWhorter. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2000. Pp. ix, 281. $50.00.

The author begins this challenging book claiming that creolistics is ‘a field on the brink of a serious mistake’ (1). McWhorter’s goal is to show that the ‘limited access model’ of creole genesis is erroneous. According to this prevalent view, New World and Indian Ocean plantation creoles came into being because African slaves had limited access to the various lexifier languages. McW asserts, rightly in my opinion, that ‘all work on plantation genesis uses some version of the limited access conception as a spring-board (1). One of the reasons he abandons the reigning ‘paradigm’ (his word, 2) is that, in the Spanish colonies, slaves acquired Spanish—not a Spanish creole. Why so? As it turns out, the reason Spanish Creole never developed is that its progenitor, Pidgin Spanish, did not arise in Africa to be transplanted to the colonies. This same reasoning explains why Brazilian Portuguese Creole never developed.

The basic thesis of this book is quite innovative (the author asserts he is ‘recidivist’ in that creoles are born as pidgins [4]), viz. that plantation creoles began as pidgins spoken on the West African coast, or as McW puts it: ‘Thus I assume [emphasis mine] that creole genesis begins with pidginization’ (5). Some specialists, such as Robert Chaudenson and Salikoko Mufwene, do not share this assumption; they envisage the development of plantation creoles without any prior pidgin stage.

What about Papiamentu and Palenquero, two Spanish-based creoles (13–20)? The author is correct to point out that they are Spanish-based synchronically because each has been relexified from an earlier Portuguese-based creole, which had in turn developed from Pidgin Portuguese.

The intriguing case of Bozal (‘African-born slave’) Spanish is also considered as a possible candidate for a missing Spanish creole; however, McW convincingly demonstrates that ‘this was simply the incompletely acquired, second-language Spanish of an immigrant generation’ (26). The case for an extinct Pan-Hispanic Creole is rightly dismissed as ‘unduly strain[ing] sociolinguistic credibility’ (31).

Much of the volume deals with the origin of the Atlantic English-based creoles (AECs) (41–145). According to the author, Ghanaian Pidgin English was brought to the Caribbean only once by castle slaves from Cormantin. If some AECs originated as independent developments, one would expect them to be as different as Tok Pisin is from Sranan.

An entire chapter is devoted to French-based creoles (FBCs) where the same Afrogenesis hypothesis (AH) has always had a few proponents (146–94). Once again it is claimed that if the FBCs arose independently, they would not be so much alike. Under the AH, the tremendous similarity points to one prototype pidgin transported from Africa.

Much of what the author says in this well-written and thought-provoking work about the AH makes good sense as does his well-known position that creole languages are the world’s simplest (perhaps this should be qualified to read ‘simple’ in some areas); however, further research is a desideratum, I believe, in view of the recently published opposition to the AH as being seriously flawed (Michel DeGraff, ‘On the origin of creoles: A Cartesian critique of Neo- Darwinian linguistics’, Linguistic Typology 5: 213–310, 2001). [End Page 222]

Alan S. Kaye
California State University, Fullerton


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