- The emergence of hybrid grammars: Language contact and change by Enoch Oladé Aboh
This book is an important new contribution to the study of creole grammars and language change in situations of language contact, which, the author argues (in the wake of Mufwene 2008), actually characterizes any process of language acquisition, hence any event of language change. Enoch Oladé Aboh is a professor of linguistics at the University of Amsterdam and a native speaker of Gungbe. A weaves together the results of fifteen years of work on the morphosyntax of Gbe languages and three Atlantic creoles (Haitian, Sranan, and Saramaccan) and the findings of his more recent research on the history of Western Africa during the slave-trade period. The preface is written by Salikoko Mufwene, whose biological approach to language genesis and evolution is acknowledged by A as a major source of inspiration for his own thinking. Another central building block of A’s work is the minimalist program, as developed by, for example, Noam Chomsky (1995), Richard Kayne (1994), Luigi Rizzi (1997), and Guglielmo Cinque (2004), whose framework allows him to decompose the workings of language change and formalize his syntactic analyses in light of language comparison.
The strength of this book lies in the detailed linguistic and historical evidence upon which A builds his theory of creole genesis. His linguistic research has led him to observe various noteworthy points of convergence between Gbe grammars and the grammars of Sranan, Saramaccan, and Haitian. But the assumption that Gbe, among the various language groups that must have been spoken by the African slaves deported to America, had a major impact on creole genesis in Haiti and Suriname could not be upheld without serious historical support. This is provided in detail in Ch. 2, an Africa-oriented complement to Chaudenson’s (2001, 2003) seminal research on the linguistic history of French slave plantation colonies. Having established on historical grounds that Gbe languages are indeed likely to have been sufficiently represented among the slaves of Suriname and Haiti during the plantation period to have had an impact on the emerging creoles, A had to try to work out the precise way in which Gbe and European grammars may have interacted to give birth to creole grammars. This linguistic component of his research is carried out within a new theoretical framework combining the key ingredients of Mufwene’s biological approach to language evolution with the central assets of minimalist syntax.
The book is divided into eight chapters. Ch. 1, the introduction, lays out A’s leading ideas about creole genesis and language change through hybridization and outlines the structure of the demonstration to follow. Ch. 2, ‘The agents of creole formation: Geopolitics and cultural aspects of the Slave Coast’, explores the geopolitics of the Slave Coast of Western Africa between the fourteenth and eighteenth centuries, and more specifically during the period of the transatlantic slave trade (sixteenth to eighteenth centuries). A argues, based on a body of research on African cultural and economic history, that the Gbe-speaking Aja people were crucially instrumental in the creation of Haitian and Surinamese creoles. The Gbe-speaking Kingdom of Allada developed between the fourteenth and eighteenth centuries across a vast area comprising all of the major ports of the Slave Coast and spreading northward from the Bight of Benin, and it drew most of its great economic wealth from a highly structured international slave trade. Slaves would often be people captured in wars fought by the king of Allada against his (also Gbe-speaking) rival vassals, and sometimes people condemned for debts or common-law crimes. These are but selected fragments of the abundant evidence provided by A in support of his assumption that Gbe speakers, although not the only language community among the African slaves deported to the Americas, were a sufficiently numerous and homogeneous group in the colonies—both culturally and linguistically—for their grammars to have impacted the development of the emerging creoles [End Page 468] during the linguistically...