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  • Introduction to the special issue on creole morphology
  • Darlene LaCharité

The creolistics literature is replete with attempts to define creole languages as a type based on shared linguistic properties. For example, Bickerton (1981, 1984) maintained that creoles are characterized by such properties as serial verb constructions, multifunctional categories, strict sequence of tense, mood, and aspect markers and the inability of overt determiners to modify nouns with nonspecific referents. More recently, McWhorter (1998, 2001) has claimed that the creole prototype is defined largely by having little or no inflectional morphology and, to the limited extent that it exists, transparent derivational morphology.

McWhorter's claim set off a firestorm of protest and had the felicitous effect of inspiring many linguists to study the hitherto neglected area of creole morphology. Efforts to refute his claim quickly yielded an abundance of evidence thatmany different creoles from a variety of lexifier languages do have both inflectional and derivational morphology and that their derivational morphology is often not transparent (e.g., DeGraff 2001; Lefebvre 2001, 2002, 2004; Braun and Plag 2002; Kouwenberg and LaCharité 2003, 2004, 2005, 2010; Brousseau and Nikiema 2004; Plag 2005; Bhatt and Plag 2006; Farquharson 2007; Braun 2009). The fact that the Handbook of pidgin and creole studies (Kouwenberg and Singler 2008) devotes a chapter to morphology (Crowley 2008) tacitly acknowledges that the topic can no longer be overlooked. Whether or not creole languages constitute a language type is still debated, but there is now a fair consensus that creole languages cannot be defined by the absence of productive morphology or its necessary transparency.

Though we might consider McWhorter's claim to have been soundly falsified, we should not become complacent and let the question of creole morphology drop. The field still remains largely unexplored. If we want to address the central question in creolistics—how a creole language is created—we have to move beyond the debate on morphological richness in creole languages to a careful examination of the distribution and the semantic and developmental properties of creole inflectional and derivational morphology. In other words, we can and should now devote research energy to examining the operation of creole morphology in thorough detail and determining what insights it offers into the key questions in the field.

The present issue is a step in this direction. The articles take for granted that creole languages do have inflectional and non-transparent derivational morphology and proceed to examine various aspects of that morphology, with a view to providing [End Page 1] better, more in-depth descriptions of particular creole languages and moving us a step closer to answering the questions of how creole languages are initially crafted and how they evolve. Collectively, the articles touch on issues of both inflectional and derivational morphology in a range of creoles of different lexifier languages, including English in Jamaican Patwa, Tok Pisin and Vincentian, French in St. Lucian, Portuguese in Guinea Bissau Creole, Cape Verdean, Papiamentu1 and Angolar. One article brings to the discussion evidence from Nicaraguan Sign Language, which many consider to be a recent creole language (Kegl 2008; Kegle, Senghas, and Coppola 2001).

I turn now to a brief summary of the current issues and future directions as expressed in the articles. The first article, by Marlyse Baptista, is one of two that discuss questions of inflectional morphology in creole languages. Specifically, Baptista examines tense, mood, and aspect (TMA) morphology and plural marking in four Portuguese-lexified creole languages: Guinea Bissau Creole, Cape Verdean, Papiamentu, and Angolar. Baptista's article bears on the question of how creole languages emerge and develop by comparing details of TMA and plural marking in the contemporary languages mood, and aspect (TMA) morphology and plural marking with that found in early (fifteenth- and sixteenth-century) literary texts. These texts contain representations of Black speech that is presumed to form a common ancestor for at least three of the four creole languages. By comparing and contrasting what was present from the earliest stages with contemporary TMA marking in the four languages, details of inflectionalmorphology that accompany early emergence—where substrate transfer and/or processes of L2 acquisition are much more likely to play a determining role—and those that represent...


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