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  • Growing up with Tok Pisin: Contact, creolization, and change in Papua New Guinea's national language
  • Miriam Meyerhoff
Geoff P. Smith . 2003. Growing up with Tok Pisin: Contact, creolization, and change in Papua New Guinea's national language. London: Battlebridge Publications. xi + 244 pp. ISBN 1 903292 06 9. £18.

Growing up with Tok Pisin (GTP) is not the sociological study that the book's title suggests. It is, instead, an extraordinary attempt at writing a living grammar of a language. Like a more conventional grammar, the book is divided into sections on phonology, morphology, the lexicon, syntax, and discourse. Unlike a more conventional grammar, Smith tackles the issues of variation and language change head-on within each section, rather than trying to describe an idealized system free of variation and consigning inter-speaker variability to subsections or a postscript. This is an issue any grammar should try to confront. It generally takes on a Manichean force, and most grammars represent something like a Chomskyan idealization of a homogeneous speech community. But, as sociolinguists have been saying for decades, the variation is the grammar, and in GTP Smith explores what a grammar that fully integrates variability would look like. If the decision to idealize away from variation can be justified in other cases, it is an odd decision for TP given the diachronic and synchronic dynamism of all the English-based creoles of the region—as Smith points out with respect to a different metalinguistic issue of language planning (211). The final result is a grammar that some people will find maddening—there are few categorical statements of what is or is not "grammatical" in GTP—but which I found exciting.

The overall goal of the study is to understand better the diversity and uniformity in late twentieth-century first-language speakers of TP. Smith's objectives are (a) to provide a thorough description of the language (cf. Labov's argument that linguists be fully accountable to the data, e.g., Labov 1994); and (b) to provide some of the basic linguistic facts necessary for principled future decisions on standardization and education. He has most ably moved all of us a long way toward achieving his goal, and I think it is also clear that he has gone a long way toward meeting his objectives. Along the way, he provides a manifesto for further research in TP or other Pidgins/Creoles. The significance of this work will, I think, in the long run prove to be enormous. [End Page 541]

The structure of GTP is as follows: an introductory chapter looks at some basic social and linguistic issues in creolistics and specifically the history of TP. The second chapter outlines Smith's methods of data collection. He borrows from the approach of sociolinguistic social dialect surveys, and begins his analysis of the synchronic structure of TP by gathering a corpus of 383,000 words based on narratives recorded from 536 10-19-year-olds visited at their schools throughout the Northern, Highlands, and Islands regions of Papua New Guinea. The sample covers areas where some local languages are Papuan and and some are Austronesian. The Southern region and National Capital District were not sampled (28). Chapters 3-7 cover aspects of the structure of TP mentioned above; the final chapter "Discussion of findings" summarizes 3-7 and offers some comments on connections between the findings of the study and theoretical issues in creolistics and the study of code-switching/-mixing. Smith also discusses possible applications of the current study, and looks ahead to areas in which the study might most profitably be extended. An appendix follows with a short text from each of the three areas sampled. There is an adequate index, by which I mean it is one of those indexes where if you already know precisely what it is that you are looking for (e.g., a lexical item, an author, a broad grammatical or semantic category) you can find it easily, but if you only vaguely remember that there was something on "sudden changes of state" the index won't help you find it on pp. 189-190.

The acknowledgements make clear that GTP is...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1527-9421
Print ISSN
0029-8115
Pages
pp. 541-546
Launched on MUSE
2003-12-30
Open Access
No
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