Creolization? Or Globalization?

John McCreery mccreery at
Mon Feb 21 00:17:38 UTC 2000

At 0:30 PM -0500 2/20/2000, Ronald Kephart wrote:

> One thing seems clear. Creolization implies changes in language
> structure, not mere vocabulary borrowing, which (correct me if I'm
> wrong) seems to be the case for Japanese and English, nor
> code-switching, which (again, someone may correct me) seems to be
> going on between Spanish and English in Texas and South Florida.
> Creolization seems to give rise to a speech community centered on a
> *new* language not mutually intelligible with any of the input
> languages.


Dear Friends,

Thanks to everyone who has responded so far to my probe in re creolization.
I can see now that I should have been a bit more explicit about the
background as well as the content of my request.  First, about the

Some of us seem to assume that I have launched a research project on English
usage in Japanese. I haven't. The occasion for the query was my gloomy
observation that several of the lists to which I belong tend to constantly
recycle the same sorts of ideas (nature vs. nurture, are sociobiologists
onto something or simply racist pigs)  about the same sorts of topics (race,
gender, language) using the same style of argument (asserting definitions
and logic-chopping, spieced with a bit of rancor and rage). The intellectual
background is an interest in the claim that anthropologists and/or  bring
something to the understanding of linguistic and cultural processes that
others don't possess. Putting aside the usual bromides about fieldwork and
cultural relativism, that would seem to come down to the claim that we have
some insightful ideas that others don't about whatever it is that we claim
to be talking about.

So now, about the content. Thanks largely to conversations with my wife Ruth
(sociologist, student of Japanese literature, one of the best
Japanese-English translators in the world), I have in mind a simple model--a
series of points along a continuum, marking what appear to be stages of
interaction between people who speak different languages: (1) borrowing,
largely new words for new things--a lot of this, as Laura Miller and others
have noted, goes on in Japan; (2) pidgins, highly restricted codes that
facilitate a limited range of interactions--Rudimentary Japanese combined
with English vocabulary familiar to native Japanese speakers, there are lots
of varieties to be heard where gaijin and Japanese interact, the "champons"
(throw it all in the pot) varieties spoken by students at international
schools might qualify; (3) creoles, pidgins elaborated and passed down for
one or more generations--hasn't happened yet in Japan, unless perhaps the
writing system be taken as an example; (4) new language, the differences
between the two original languages have faded into a kind of historical
memory--so, for example, a child grows up speaking English and may later
betaught in school about Norman-French and Anglo-Saxon--definitely hasn't
happened yet in Japan.

This model is obviously crude, and I know, thanks to allusions and
references provided by Ron Kephart, in particular, and now others as well,
that there are linguists who call themselves creolists, scholars who make a
special study of creoles and might, then, be expected to have more
sophisticated ideas about these kinds of processes. I do appreciate the
pointers to references and the offers of manuscripts. I will try to look
them up or, if they are sent to me, read them. What I was hoping for was
that someone might be able to go beyond, for example,

> An interesting current debate to watch is the one over whether there
> is a "creole language typology" as argued by John McWhorter
> ("Identifying the creole prototype: Vindicating a typological class."
> Language 74:4:788-818).

and provide for the non-linguists like me a brief precis of the ideas at
stake in the debate, at something around, say, Scientific American level.
How 'bout it Ron?

John McCreery
c/o The Word Works
15-13-202 Miyagaya
Nishi-ku, Yokahama
JAPAN 220-0006

Tel +81-45-314-9324
Fax +81-45-316-4409
e-mail mccreery at

"Making Symbols is Our Business"

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