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Presidential Distinguished Professor of Linguistics
University of Pennsylvania
The Founder Principle: In search of long-lasting linguistic imprints in Creole emergence
One of the core areas of Creole studies is the search for the set of source languages that contributed to their development. As the linguistic ecologies in which Creole languages emerge vary widely across time and space, this means that the grammars of individual Creoles are shaped by distinct source languages which themselves have changed over time.
Having developed out of a hierarchical relationship where the language of the dominant group (often, a colonial language) is opposed to the languages of the dominated populations, the colonial language is easily identifiable due to the lexicon that it passed on to a given Creole. The identification of the original creolophones’ first languages and the sociohistorical context in which their interactions were embedded is, however, much more challenging. Unveiling the identity of the original founding populations in contact (Mufwene, 2001, 2008; Sankoff & Brown, 1976; Sankoff, 2001; Thomason, 2001, 2010) and the languages they spoke is key to our understanding of their social interactions and how various aspects of their Creole grammar developed and function. For this reason, contact linguists typically explore the sociohistorical, political, cultural and economic factors that fostered the emergence of a particular Creole language (see Sankoff, 2021 for a meticulous study of the history of language contact in Papua New Guinea).
This presentation reports on a collaboration between linguists and geneticists (Laurent et al., 2023) based on eight years of field work in Cabo Verde islands. In an attempt to unveil the original populations in contact, we reconstructed the detailed genetic and linguistic admixture histories of Cabo Verde. As Cabo Verdean Kriolu is the first Creole language that was born during the transatlantic slave trade from contacts between Portuguese and a variety of African languages (Quint, 2000; Lang, 2009; Baptista, 2015), the archipelago represents an ideal site to investigate, jointly, genetic and linguistic admixture histories and their interactions since the mid-15th century.
One of our findings points to the Mandinka population having played a major role in the formation of Cabo Verde and its language Cabo Verdean Kriolu. The sociohistorical and genetic information examined in Laurent et al. (2023) is now informing current research comparing Cabo Verdean Kriolu to its source languages. In the last part of this presentation, I report on ongoing research (Baptista and Cisse, in preparation) exploring to what extent some grammatical domains like the nominal domain of Mandinka has shaped the syntax and semantics of the Cabo Verdean Kriolu noun phrase.
This work shows that pairing linguistic analysis with the examination of interacting sociohistorical, cultural, genetic, economic, and geographical factors can help in our study of the structure and social underpinnings of Creole emergence.
A pizza lunch will be served. Please bring your own beverage.