WS1: Complex sentences in creole languages

Workshop 1: The syntax of complex sentences in creole languages



Stefano Manfredi (CNRS-SeDyL)
Nicolas Quint (CNRS-LLACAN)



Over the last decades, we have witnessed significant progress in the study of the syntax of complex sentences (Van Valin & LaPolla 1997; Bybee & Noonan 2001; Haspelmath 2004; Bril 2010; Nordström 2010; Cristofaro 2013). In this overall context, the definition of complex sentence as a semantically hierarchized structure entailing different syntactic units calls into question descriptive notions such as subordination, coordination, parataxis, hypotaxis, main and dependent clause whose comparative validity is contingent on the adoption of different theoretical frameworks (e.g. functional grammar vs. formal grammar) as well as on language-dependent factors (Comrie 2008; Fabricius-Hansen & Ramm 2008). Although numerous studies have examined complex sentences in a number of linguistic areas and phyla (Frajzyngier 1996; Kortmann 1996; Auwera 1998; Caron 2008; Vajda 2008), typological work on complex syntax has shown limited interest in creole languages. At the same time, there have been only limited attempts to describe and compare complex sentences of creole languages (Michaelis et al. 2013).

As a matter of fact, creoles differ from other spoken languages in that they came into existence as a consequence of the disruption of the intergenerational transmission of their lexifier (Comrie 2011). These uncommon conditions of language emergence entail a multifactorial process of language change involving second language acquisition, substratum interference, as well as internal developments. The question could be then raised of how creole languages grammaticalized their complex sentences and to which extent these constructions differ from those of non-creole languages. In order to make typological generalizations about the encoding of the semantic relations of complex sentences in creole languages, an in-depth analysis of the formal parameters of coordination and subordination (presence/absence of subordinating and coordinating conjunctions, presence/absence of overt TAM marking, presence/absence of non-finite verbal forms, presence/absence of pronominal arguments) is needed. Qualitative and quantitative evidences for recurrent syntactic patterns might be a first indicator, but these also need be falsified against complex sentences in non-creole languages.

In the light of the above, this workshop seeks to address questions such as the following:

  • How can the description and comparison of the syntax of complex sentences in creole languages help us refine the traditional syntactic notion of ''complex sentence''?
  • To what extent does the syntax of complex sentences in creole languages depend on the reanalysis of the structures of their lexifiers and the transfer of substrate/adstrate structures and/or on universal tendencies implied by second language acquisition, and subsequent nativization (Diessel 2004)?
  • Are creole languages typologically different from non-creole languages in the broader domain of complex sentences (Bakker et al. 2011)?
  • Which qualitative and quantitative methods are most suitable to capture the syntactic variation affecting complex sentences in creole languages?

This workshop is intended as a forum to bring together researchers working on creoles that have been lexicalized by different languages (English, French, Portuguese, Spanish, Arabic), and that present different substrate/adstrate languages (Niger-Congo, Oceanic, Nilo-Saharan), with the aim of contributing to the debate about the semantic and formal parameters available to compare complex sentences. It will include both detailed case studies on the syntax of complex sentences in individual creole languages as well as more comparative-oriented presentations.


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  • Bakker, P., A. Daval-Markussen, M. Parkvall and I. Plag. 2011. Creoles are typologically distinct from non-creoles. Journal of Pidgin and Creole Languages 26: 5-42.
  • Bril, I. (ed.) 2010. Clause Linking and Clause Hierarchy: Syntax and Pragmatics. Amsterdam/Philadelphia: John Benjamins.
  • Bybee, J. and M. Noonan (eds.). 2001. Complex Sentence in Grammar and Discourse. Essays in Honour of Sandra A. Thompson. Amsterdam/Philadelphia: John Benjamins.
  • Caron, B. (ed.). 2008. Subordination, dépendance et parataxe dans les langues africaines. Louvain: Peeters.
  • Comrie, B. 2008. Subordination, coordination: Form, semantics, pragmatics. In: E. Vajda (ed.), Subordination and Coordination Strategies in North Asian Languages. Amsterdam/Philadelphia: Benjamins, pp. 1-16.
  • Comrie, B. 2011. Creoles and language typology. In: C. Lefebvre (ed.), Creoles, their Substrates, and Language Typology. Amsterdam/ Philadelphia: John Benjamins. 599-611.
  • Cristofaro, S. 2005. Subordination. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
  • Diessel, H. 2004. The Acquisition of Complex Sentences. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  • Fabricius-Hansen, C. and W. Ramm (eds.) 2008. ‘Coordination’ versus ‘Subordination’ in Sentence and Text. A Cross-Linguistic Perspective. Amsterdam/Philadelphia: John Benjamins.
  • Frajzyngier, Z. 1996. Grammaticalization of Complex Sentence. A Case Study in Chadic. Amsterdam/Philadelphia: John Benjamins.
  • Haspelmath, M. 2004. Coordinating Constructions: An Overview. In: M. Haspelmath (ed.), Coordinating Constructions. Amsterdam/Philadelphia: Benjamins, pp. 3-40.
  • Kortmann, B. 1996. Adverbial Subordination. A Typology and History of Adverbial Subordinators Based on European Languages. Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter.
  • Michaelis, S. M., P. Maurer, M. Haspelmath and M. Huber (eds.) 2013. Atlas of Pidgin and Creole Language Structures Online. Leipzig: Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology
  • Mithun, M. 1988. The Grammaticization of Coordination. In: J. Haiman and S. A. Thompson (eds.), Clause Combining in Grammar and Discourse, Amsterdam/Philadelphia: John Benjamins, pp. 331-359.
  • Noonan, M. 1985. Complementation. In: T. Shopen (ed.), Language Typology and Syntactic Description. Cambridge University Press, pp. 42-140.
  • Nordström, J. 2010. Modality and Subordinators. Amsterdam/Philadelphia: John Benjamins.
  • Vajda, E. 2008. Subordination and Coordination Strategies in North Asian Languages. Amsterdam/Philadelphia: John Benjamins.
  • Van Valin, R. and R. LaPolla 1997. Syntax: Structure, Meaning, and Function. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
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