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  • Relabeling in language genesis by Claire Lefebvre
  • Natalie Operstein
Claire Lefebvre. 2014. Relabeling in language genesis. Oxford: Oxford University Press. Pp. 319. US $56.00 (softcover).

This book examines substrate contributions to the genesis of creole languages by focusing on the role of relabeling (also called relexification). Relabeling is defined as "a process that consists in assigning a lexical entry a new label derived from a phonetic string drawn from another language" (p. 1). The equivalence between the relevant lexical entries is established on the basis of semantic overlap between the lexical entry in L1 and the corresponding lexical entry in L2. To illustrate the concept of relabeling, Lefebvre provides the example of the verb ansasinen 'to murder'/'to mutilate' in Haitian Creole. This verb combines the semantics of the substrate language (L1) verb, which is Fongbe , with the phonetic shape of the superstrate language (L2) verb, which is French assassiner. The shared meaning of the two verbs is 'to murder'. In a previous contribution (1998), Lefebvre demonstrated the role of relabeling in the genesis of Haitian Creole. The present book is intended as an update on, and a more in-depth analysis of, the role of relabeling in creole genesis based on subsequent publications on the topic.

Chapter 1, "Introduction", defines relabeling, explains the purpose of the book and provides an overview of the remaining chapters. Chapter 2, "Relabeling: A central process in language contact/genesis", surveys the existing terminology for language-contact processes that result in matching a lexical entry from L1 with a phonetic string (called label) from L2, and the language-contact situations in which relabeling takes place. It then briefly examines relabeling in three types of contact languages (mixed languages, pidgins/creoles and indigenized varieties of English), and relates the different input of relabeling into the genesis of these languages to sociolinguistic factors, which include the number of languages involved in a given contact situation and the amount of access to L2. [End Page 308]

Chapter 3, "The relabeling-based theory of creole genesis", summarizes and updates the theory of creole genesis developed by Lefebvre and her colleagues, reported in Lefebvre (1998). The relabeling approach is embedded within second-language acquisition (SLA) approaches to creole formation, which view creoles as "a crystallized incomplete stage of second-language acquisition" (p. 32). Methodologically, it consists of systematic structural comparison between creoles and their substrates, performed in isolation from the assumed processes of SLA. The theory assumes that relabeling occupies the central place in the creation of creoles, and that other formative processes, including reanalysis, grammaticalization and leveling, "apply to the output of relabeling" (p. 32). The agents of relabeling are adult speakers of the substrate languages. The chapter examines relabeling in lexical items, derivational affixes and selected functional categories, including tense-moodaspect systems, determiners, complementizers and conjunctions. Special attention is devoted to interplay between relabeling and grammaticalization in the origin of creole functional categories.

Chapter 4, "Relabeling in two different theories of the lexicon", by Renée Lambert-Brétière and Claire Lefebvre, looks at relabeling through the prism of two formal frameworks of grammar which differ in their modeling of the lexicon, the Principles and Parameters framework and Radical Construction Grammar. After briefly introducing each framework, the chapter argues that the latter approach is better at handling a relabeling-based account of the origin of several constructions in a subset of Caribbean creoles. Chapter 5, "Relabeling and word order: A Construction Grammar perspective", by Claire Lefebvre and Renée Lambert-Brétière, uses Radical Construction Grammar to model a relabeling-based account of the origin of word order in several Caribbean creoles. Chapter 6, "Relabeling options: On some differences between Haitian and Saramaccan", looks at selected structural differences between these two creoles from the viewpoint of a relabeling-based account of their origin. These creoles are chosen for comparison because of their shared substrates; the examined structural features include postpositions and morphological reduplication.

Chapter 7, "Relabeling and the contribution of the superstrate languages to creoles", argues that the substrate and the superstrate contributions to creole grammars can be accounted for in a principled way...


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