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2005 LSA Institute Linguistic Society of America









LSA.223 | "Creolization" is acquisition

Michel DeGraff
MW 2:55-4:35
location: 32-D461

The goal of this course is to establish some basic "Cartesian-Uniformitarian" guidelines for empirically and theoretically constructive connections between studies of language contact (e.g., "creolization" as in the history of Haitian Creole), of language change (e.g., English diachronic syntax) and of language acquisition (e.g., patterns of morphosyntactic development in first- and second-language acquisition). Here "Cartesian" has a mentalist sense as in (e.g.) Chomsky 1966: it describes Creole genesis as the formation, in certain socio-historical contexts, of certain idiolects/I-languages. "Uniformitarian" evokes the fundamental working assumption that there is no sui generis psycho-linguistic process to be postulated in order to explain Creole formation: the latter is made possible by the same psycho-linguistic mechanisms that are responsible for the ontogenesis of (I-)languages everywhere else. Thus, "creolization", in my terms (also see Mufwene 2001), is strictly an a-theoretical abbreviation for the longer phrase "development of these languages that, for socio-historical reasons, have been labelled `Creole'...". In establishing these Cartesian-Uniformitarian guidelines, I investigate the possible contributions of first-language acquisition (L1A) and second-language acquisition (L2A) to "creolization". I will evaluate Creole-genesis theories that assign an exclusive role to either some kind of L1A (e.g., Derek Bickerton's Language Bioprogram Hypothesis) or some kind of L2A (e.g., Claire Lefebvre's Relexification Hypothesis). Such theories seem inadequate on various grounds---empirical, theoretical and socio-historical. What seems more compatible with the available empirical and socio-historical details and with current results in linguistic research, including language-acquisition research, is a scenario in which cohorts of both adult learners and child learners in (e.g.) the colonial Caribbean contributed to Creole formation, each class of learners in their own complex, yet principled, ways. This latter scenario will be the main topic of this course.