Chapter published in:Advances in Contact Linguistics: In honour of Pieter Muysken
Edited by Norval Smith, Tonjes Veenstra and Enoch O. Aboh
[Contact Language Library 57] 2020
► pp. 108–158
Are creoles a special type of language?
Methodological issues in new approaches to an old question
This paper takes as its starting point Muysken’s (1988a: 300) view of a ‘creole’ language as “just a language.” With this statement, Muysken rejects the idea of a creole prototype. Over the past 20 years, that idea has seen several new proponents. We provide a brief overview, before turning our attention to the work of Bakker et al. (2011; et seq.). That work relies on statistical and phylogenetic computational procedures which are not well understood by many linguists in the field of pidgin and creole studies. As a result, Bakker et al.’s methodologies have gone virtually unchallenged, although several critiques of their data – and by implication, of their conclusions – have been published. In this paper, we focus on the methodologies, providing detailed explanations of the statistical and phylogenetic computational procedures. We show that the data set used in the statistical procedure, a multiple regression analysis, fails to come anywhere near the minimum number of datapoints required for such an analysis to be meaningful. We show further that the apparent sophistication of the phylogenetic approach, which relies on a combination of computational packages to produce output in the form of reticulate networks, cannot remedy the flaws arising from questionable assumptions about linguistic features, pervasive errors in the data which are fed into the computation (including errors which appear to be systematic), the problematic treatment of gaps in the data, and the overinterpretation of output patterns. Contrary to Bakker et al.’s claims, Muysken’s (1988a) statement has not been disproven by these technologies.
Keywords: creole typology, creole exceptionalism, phylogenetics, statistical analysis, reliability of data
Published online: 29 October 2020
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