Glossary of Pidgin and Creole Terms S-Z


by María Rosa Fernández Bell and Glenn Gilbert
Editing by Alicia Spiegel and Jeffery Parsell


scope (principle of) – A theory by Givón, which says that "the closer or more relevant the meaning of the inflectional morpheme is to the meaning of the verb, the closer the expression unit must occur to the verb stem." (R: 267) In the TMA systems of creoles, aspect occurs closer to the verb stem than tense and mood do.

secondary foreigner talk – "Found in literary representations and a variety of second-hand reports" (R: 83) (the speech created by Richard Adams in Watership Down). It supports the idea that there are intuitive strategies of simplification because it shares a number of features found in cases of primary foreigner talk (lack of inversion in questions, unmarked interrogative forms in which intonation marks utterances as sentences, unmarked forms of the verb used for present and future time, reduplication, preverbal negation, etc.)

semantactic – The combination and interrelation of syntax and semantics.

semantic bleaching – A process that occurs simultaneously to grammaticalization (see grammaticalized). The expressive capacity of the language is gradually lost, because content words loose its meaning to become function words and serve syntactic functions. A common process in creoles. (See also lexical emptying.)

semantic repartition(s) – "The creole feature whereby possession and existence are expressed by the same form." (R: 60)

semantic transparency – It refers to phrases with a crystal-clear structure – easy to learn, easy to use. The meaning is absolutely transparent. (See paradigmatic univocity.)

semi-creole – These are creole-like languages which are characterized by many features commonly associated with creoles; and yet they retain a substantial amount of the inflectional morphology of their respective superstrate languages.

sentence external vs. sentence internal – When a linguistic element occurs at the very beginning or at the very end of the sentence, it is called 'sentence external'. Sentence internal elements, on the other hand, are incorporated within the syntax of a sentence. "Propositional qualifiers in pidgins . . . are sentence external . . . In creoles, the markers are sentence internal and always preposed to the verb." (R: 57)

serial verbs – "Chains of two or more verbs which have the same subject. They can be transitive or intransitive. If the first verb is transitive, an object appears after it." (R: 106) Common in pidgins and creoles, this structure has been attributed to substratum influence.

simplification – "An increase in regularity," which implies greater generality of rules and fewer exceptions in grammar. (R: 32) It does not necessarily imply impoverishment. Speakers make the language as good and useful as they need to. (For strategies of simplification, see secondary foreigner talk.)

social identity – It has to do with the social group the speaker identifies with, which is marked in language by a particular way of speaking. (See assertion of identity.)

social marginalization – This has to do with the social prestige of a language. When this prestige decreases, the use of the language also decreases, because another language takes its place. This was what happened to Russenorsk around 1850: Russian became more prestigious and replaced it.

source languages – another name for substrate languages.

specific vs. nonspecific reference – One of the parameters of Bickerton's LBH, this distinction affects noun phrases and marks whether their references are specific, i.e., known to the listener, or non-specific, i.e., unknown to the listener. In English, "the two classes are systematically distinguished by the distribution of the and a/an." (B: 147)

stable pidgin – It "has both simple and complex sentences; but more importantly, there are social norms and a consensus concerning linguistic correctness. It is used for communication in a fixed number of domains, for social control and to a small extent, self expression . . . e.g., Russenorsk (Russo-Norwegian)". (R: 124)

standardization – It "has to do with whether a language possesses an agreed set of codified norms which are accepted by the speech community and form the basis for teaching of it either as a first or second language." (R: 42) It "involves elaboration and minimization of variability." (R: 312)

stative vs. nonstative – One of the parameters of Bickerton's LBH. Stative verbs are those "that express states of affairs rather than actions (know, seem); also static/state verbs" (C: 431), while non-stative or dynamic verbs "express activities and changes of state, allowing such forms as the progressive ('He's running')" (C: 419)

substrate – "A variety that has influenced the structure or use of a more dominant variety or language (the substratum) in a community." (C: 431) Also substratum.

substrate hypothesis – This is the view that creole languages are predominantly the product of a substrate lexicon imposed on source-language syntax; or viewed another way, the creole is an almost totally relexified source language or languages. An extreme example of this position is the treatment of Haitian by Lefevre and Lumsden.

superordinate language – The source language which has been reduced to form a koiné.

superstrate – Also superstratum. (See substrate.)

SVO word order – "Sentences which consist of a subject and verb or subject verb object." (R: 128) It is the most common word order in pidgins and creoles.

syntacticization – A process that "involves a move away from a more transparent iconic mode of communication to a more abstract and less obviously iconic one. Givón claims that this process is a pervasive fact of language change, language ontogeny and language evolution." (R: 302) It has to do with "syntactic modes of communication." (See pragmatic mode.)

telic – "Said of a verb when the activity has a clear terminal point (kick); contrasts with atelic verbs (play)." (C: 431) This kind of verb expresses goal-directed, punctual actions.

tense-modality-aspect systems (TMA) – Bickerton "states that the majority of creoles express these grammatical categories by means of three preverbal free morphemes, which occur in the order (if they co-occur): tense, mood, and aspect . . . The tense particle expresses the meaning [Anterior] . . . the modality particle expresses [irrealis]. . . the aspect particle expresses [Nonpunctual]." (R: 49) He also argues that this system is a human universal linguistic prototype. "All known creole TMA systems exhibit the same three member inventory of pre-verbal elements marking the same semantic (and syntactic) functions." (R: 265)

tertiary hybridization – This has to do with the claims of some researchers to the effect that the upper language speakers played a minimal or no role at all in the pidginization process, in opposition to those who support the claim that European languages had been deliberately and systematically simplified. The former state that "pidgins do not develop in order to facilitate communication between master and servant, but rather in order to serve the needs of subordinate groups with mutually unintelligible dialects or languages." This is what is called 'tertiary hybridization' and it occurs among substrate speakers in pidginization.

transfer theory – In second language acquisition, "the tendency for interlanguage to be shaped by features of the learner's first language . . . Essentially transfer theory predicts that learners with different +L1 backgrounds will learn a second language in different ways due to differing effects of positive and negative transfer [see interference]." (R: 206-207) Contrasts with the universal principles of interlanguage development theory.

undirected language acquisition – Untutored language acquisition, i.e., learning a language without formal instruction.

universal grammar – "A grammar specifiying the possible forms a language's grammar can take." (C: 432) Chomsky's universal grammar consists of a set of principles of syntactic organization, and it is part of his LAD. In Bickerton's LBH, universal grammar is formed by the most basic elements of +semantics which are part of all languages, particularly present in pidgins and creoles.

universal hierarchy of difficulty – An explanation of language acquisition which says that there is a hierarchy involved in the acquisition of features when adults and children are acquiring another language. It is related to the way in which a language encodes a particular category and it determines a natural order of emergence of features. An alternate explanation of these similarities in language acquisition between children and adults is found in Slobin's operating principles. (R: 218).

universal principles of interlanguage development – The principles that constrain second language acquisition. "There is a tendency for interlanguage development to proceed along lines that are common to all language learners, regardless of native language background." (R: 206) This theory is disputed by the transfer theory.

universalist hypothesis – This view is diametrically opposed to the substrate hypothesis. Universal principles of language building operate in the genesis of creole languages, irrespective or the component languages which were involved in their formation. A textbook example is Bickerton's proposal of a genetically in-wired Language Bioprogram.

unmarked – "The sounds that do not present a particular contrastive feature in a language or languages." (C: 432) (See markedness (theory of)).

valence-changing morphology – "Distinctions such as transitivity, causativity, etc." which affect the verb. Bybee predicts that if a language has any morphology at all, it has valence-changing morphology (Tok Pisin has it). (R: 267)

verb-second language – A language that follows the verb-second principle: a constraint on main clauses that the verb must be the second element. SVO order is a hallmark feature of creoles.

vitality – "This means whether the language has a viable community of native speakers." (R: 42) The main difference between a pidgin and creole lies in terms of this feature.