In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Grammatical Categories in Creoles

  • Introduction
  • General Reference Works
  • Textbooks
  • Journals
  • Exemplary Grammars
  • Creole Language Typology
  • Reflexives and Pronoun Systems

Linguistics Grammatical Categories in Creoles
Marsha Forbes-Barnett
  • LAST REVIEWED: 26 October 2015
  • LAST MODIFIED: 26 October 2015
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199772810-0009


Grammatical categories may be split into two large groups. There are those that are verbal or sentential and express concepts such as tense, mood, and aspect (TMA), as well as passive, focus, and negation; and there are those that are nominal and express person, number, possession, definiteness, and specificity. The specific means for the expression of these kinds of grammatical categories by Creoles arising from different linguistic melting pots make this area an interesting field of study. In Creole languages, the study of such forms has been historically related to questions on the nature of Creoles, markedness, Creole prototypes, and Creole genesis. In these debates, there has been a constant and enduring focus on grammatical categories and in particular on verbal TMA particles. That focus considers the interface between syntax and semantics in, for instance, the debate on the stative-nonstative distinction as well as the theoretical question surrounding the boundary between the category adjective and verb. In the 21st century, nominal categories have also seen interest in them increasing. In this regard, the study of null and functional elements has provided interesting insights into the semantics of quantification, specificity, and matters of scope. Investigations into these questions have led to discussions of language acquisition, social and historical foundations of language, language evolution, as well as linguistic theory and typology. Given the varied linguistic foundations of languages included under the umbrella of Creole and the diversity of viewpoints, this article is sensitive to the major division between Atlantic and other Creoles and the place of historical privilege ascribed to the former group, especially the Creoles of the Caribbean region as is evident in the volume of work on these languages. Nevertheless, while many of the insights on Creole languages have originated from the study of Caribbean languages, movement outside of this geographical area has challenged those findings. In this regard, the study of Pacific Pidgins (and Creoles) has called into question the view that grammatical expansion of Creoles necessarily includes nativization.

General Reference Works

The works in this section capture a wide cross-section of the historical, theoretical, and typological issues in the field with data from a variety of Creoles. Hymes 1971 is a much-cited source due to the continued relevance of the views put forth in that era to current discussions. Notable references from this volume include DeCamp’s article on the Creole continuum, Alleyne’s article on African agency in Creoles, and Gumperz and Wilson’s on convergence. The first volume in the Creole Language Library, Muysken and Smith 1986, showcases discussions of various viewpoints on Creole genesis: notably the universalist (Derek Bickerton), the substratist (John Holm, Mervyn Alleyne, Hans den Besten) and relexification (Claire Lefebvre), an extreme substratist viewpoint. Holm 1988 and Holm 1989 remain classic references for the sociohistorical background and general descriptions of a wide range of Creole languages. Holm and Patrick 2007 is comparative in its focus, providing a systematic description of parallel grammatical categories and structures across a range of Creoles. The latter work is superseded in magnitude and scope only by Michaelis, et al. 2013a, the atlas that has collected data from a significant number of representative Creoles as well as Pidgins, mixed languages, and other contact languages. Similarly Michaelis, et al. 2013b, in the survey series, provides descriptions of a range of contact languages in three volumes covering English and Dutch-based languages (Volume 1), Portuguese, Spanish, and French-based Creoles (Volume 2) and contact languages of Africa, Asia, the Pacific, and the Americas (Volume 3). Each chapter provides sociohistorical, sociolinguistic, and grammatical descriptions for the languages featured, making this series an invaluable reference source. Kouwenberg and Singler 2009 zeroes in on core areas in Creole studies including issues surrounding a Creole prototype, viewpoints on genesis, theoretical linguistic perspectives, and sociological concerns.

  • Holm, John. 1988. Pidgins and creoles: Theory and structure. Vol. 1. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge Univ. Press.

    Detailed reference work that paints a historical background of the field but focuses on specific structural areas toward a theory on the impact and contribution of European lexifiers and African substrates in the development of Creoles. It was reprinted and abbreviated as a textbook (see Holm 2000, cited under Textbooks).

  • Holm, John. 1989. Pidgins and creoles: Reference survey. Vol. 2. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge Univ. Press.

    An extension of Holm 1988. It consists of a survey of Pidgin and Creole languages grouped according to lexifier languages with text data highlighting salient features.

  • Holm, John, and Peter Patrick, eds. 2007. Comparative Creole syntax. London: Battlebridge.

    An authoritative resource providing parallel descriptions of grammatical categories in eighteen Creole languages of different lexical sources and geographical locations. Grammatical categories covered are those highlighted for distinguishing Atlantic Creoles from their lexifiers namely, TMA, the unmarked verb, the copula, negation, bare nouns, definite and indefinite articles, case, possession, etc.

  • Hymes, Dell, ed. 1971. Pidginization and Creolization of languages. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge Univ. Press.

    Contains the work of some of the most influential Creolists of the period. A useful sketch of issues occupying the discussion space at the time that this volume was published.

  • Kouwenberg, Silvia, and John Victor Singler, eds. 2009. The Handbook of Pidgin and Creole Studies. Blackwell Handbooks in Linguistics. Oxford: John Wiley.

    A comprehensive reference covering areas of current concern in the field. Contributors represent some of the most authoritative and influential. Of particular relevance here are Winford’s chapter on Atlantic Creole syntax, Bruyn’s on grammaticalization, and Meyerhoff’s on Pacific Pidgin and Creole syntax.

  • Michaelis, Susanne, Philippe Maurer, Martin Haspelmath, and Magnus Huber, eds. 2013a. Atlas of Pidgin and Creole Language Structures Online. Leipzig, Germany: Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology.

    This comprehensive atlas of Pidgin and Creole languages captures features and structures in a vast range of Pidgin and Creole languages. It consists of databases for over seventy Pidgin and Creole languages and other contact languages, presenting data and discussions for a variety of phonological and morpho-syntactic features.

  • Michaelis, Susanne, Philippe Maurer, Martin Haspelmath, and Magnus Huber, eds. 2013b. The Survey of Pidgin and Creole Languages. Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press.

    A comprehensive three-volume survey of Pidgin and Creole languages compiled by specialists in the field. Volume 1 covers English and Dutch-based varieties; Volume 2 covers Portuguese, Spanish, and French origins; while Volume 3 is dedicated to contact languages based on languages from Africa, Asia, the Pacific, and the Americas.

  • Muysken, Pieter, and Norval Smith, eds. 1986. Substrata versus universals. Creole Language Library 1. Amsterdam: John Benjamins.

    The first publication in the Creole Language Library series. Significant for its focus on showcasing competing viewpoints on Creole genesis. Major positions represented (universalist, substratist, relexification) continue to stimulate investigation and discussion in the field.

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