/we/ relative clauses across creoles - summary
mhoff at LING.ED.AC.UK
Fri Mar 3 21:10:43 UTC 2006
I would like the thank the many people who took
the time to rely to my recent query on /we/ as
the means for introducing relative clauses in
English based creoles. I posted variations on the
same query (with a slightly different spin in
each case) to three lists (CreoleTalk;
Austronesian Languages; Association for Social
Anthropologists in Oceania). My summary of
responses will draw on the replies I got from all
three sources, both in the interest of precision
and comprehensiveness. (And my apologies for the
cross-postings to some people.)
I received replied from: Gerry Beimers, Terry
Brown, Ross Clark, Vincent Cooper, Lise Dobrin,
Joseph Farquharson, Malcolm Finney, Alex
François, David Frank, Paul Geraghty, Philip
Gibbs, Ron Kephart, Thomas Klein, Jari Kupiainen,
Rena Lederman, Eva Lindstrom, Bill McKellin,
Salikoko Mufwene, Peter Patrick, Elizabeth
Pearce, Robert Philips, Paula Prescod, John
Singler, David Sutcliffe, and Bill Thurston.
Thanks so much to all of you, especially the
people who sent so much terrific data based on
their own experience with different creoles, or
who took the time to search through corpora for
spontaneous examples of /we/ relativisers.
Several people referred me to:
Philip Baker and Magnus Huber 2001. Atlantic,
Pacific, and world-wide features in
English-lexicon contact languages. English
World-Wide. 22. 157-208.
Based on Baker's extraordinary collection
of early creole texts, this article gives
earliest attestations for a /we/ relativiser in
Gullah (US South, 1891), Jamaican (Caribbean,
1941), Krio (West Africa, 1882), West African
Pidgin English (1926), Melanesian Pidgin English
(Pacific, 1913). On the basis of this, B&H
classify /we/ as a "world-wide" feature.
In what follows, I've split the responses up into
two sections (Pacific and Atlantic) so different
groups of readers can focus on the bits they
might be more directly interested in.
Although the earliest teach-yourself-Tok-Pisin
book by Dutton does not give /we/ as a general
relativiser, correspondents pointed out that
Dutton & Thomas 1985 A New Course in Tok Pisin.
Canberra: Pacific Linguistics does.
Geoff Smith 2002. Growing Up with Tok Pisin. London: Battlebridge Publications.
Smith's vast corpus of adolescents'
spoken Tok Pisin also attests /we/ forms but
these do not seem to be distributed evenly across
all regional dialects.
Some researchers who mainly use Tok
Pisin in the Highlands (or who learnt it there
some time ago) indicate that /we/ is not widely
used there, and suggest that relative clauses are
marked through intonation rather than
People familiar with New Britain report
noticing it cropping up there in the late 1980s,
but say that the more usual form for relativising
is/was the clause bracketing structure discussed
by Gillian Sankoff (i.e. [N [ia ia]]).
Likewise there seems to be dialectal variation in
the frequency and distribution of <wea> forms in
Solomons Pijin (some respondents felt that the
more common strategy might be parataxis or
clauses joined without an overt co-ordinator like
'and', or argument doubling. However <wea> is
attested for Pijin as early as 1978 (Simons &
Young) and has an entry in Christine Jourdan's
Fiji English also uses <where> to introduce many
relatives (not only temporal or spatial), and
Anna Shnukal's work on Broken (Torres Strait)
provides at least one example of /we/ being used
as a general relativiser.
For Bislama the substrate parallels for /we/ as a
relativiser are widespread and very robust.
Substrate parallels possibly also account
for some of the regionally "idiosyncractic" uses
of <we> in Bislama, e.g. to introduce clauses
giving an intensive reading, e.g. I hot we i hot
'It's really hot'. Alex François and Liz Pearce
noted robust parallels with the diverse functions
of Bislama /we/ in Mwotlap and Unua
(respectively). It's possible that Bislama has
innovated what we might call the "stranding" of
/we/, i.e. I hot we i hot = I hot we. Mwtolap,
for instance, does not allow the stranding of the
equivalent complementiser introducing an
As far as I have been able to find out
this use of /we/ is unattested in Solomons Pijin
at present. I don't know whether or not it occurs
at all in Tok Pisin. My guess would be not.
Malcolm Finney is working on Krio and discussed
/we/ relatives in a recent paper "Complementation
in Krio and Lexifier English: Implications for
Syntactic Theory" at the Society for Pidgin and
Creole Linguistics in Albuquerque in January 2006.
John Singler searched his corpora of West African
Englishes and reports: "I checked in the three
Liberian varieties I work on. Liberian Settler
English, the African-American enclave variety,
pidginized Vernacular Liberian English, and Kru
Pidgin English. LSE doesn't have it. It's rare in
VLE, a feature of the speech of older speakers
who speak VLE as L2 variety. Younger speakers
don't use it. Older speakers who aren't as
fluent as these two men also don't seem to use
it. KPE uses it. "
/Wa/ forms are abundant in the Gullah New
Testament. David Frank found more than 7000
tokens and estimates that about half the uses of
/wa/ are relativisers. David Sutcliffe writes
that it may not be widely known "older /
conservative southern AAE (African American
English) also has where / weh relative".
In the Caribbean, a number of languages introduce
relative clauses with /we/. Although there is
some dispute about how long /we/-introduced
relatives have been used in Jamaican, there is no
doubt that it is well-established now as a
Paula Prescod 2004 (Une description grammaticale du syntagme nominal
dans le créole anglophone de
St-Vincent-et-les-Grenadines. Paris.) finds /we/
used in Vincentian creole to introduce relative
clauses on persons, things and places. I also
have noticed a number of examples in Bequian. Ron
Kephart notes it on Carriacou (Grenada) and
apparently it occurs in St Kitts-Nevis creole as
Other references that people provided in which /we/ relativisers are mentioned:
-Gilman & Mufwene 1987. How African is Gullah and why? American Speech
-Bailey, B. L. 1966. Jamaican Creole Syntax: A
Transformational Approach. Cambridge: University
-Robert Philips Bidialectal Instructional Theory
-Peter L Patrick (2005), "Jamaican Creole
morphology and syntax." In A Handbook of
Varieties of English. Vol 2: Morphology and
Syntax, ed. B Kortmann, EW Schneider, C Upton, R
Mesthrie, K Burridge. Berlin: Mouton.
-Mufwene, Salikoko 1986. Restrictive
relativization in Gullah. Journal of Pidgin and
Creole Languages. 1. (includes comparison w.
Again, tangku tumas we yufala i givhan olsem.
Reader, Linguistics & English Language
University of Edinburgh
14 Buccleuch Place
Edinburgh EH8 9LN
ph.: +44 131 650-3961/3628 (main office) or 651-1836 (direct line)
fax: +44 131 650-6883
-------------- next part --------------
An HTML attachment was scrubbed...
-------------- next part --------------
An-lang mailing list
An-lang at anu.edu.au
More information about the An-lang