Order in the creole speech community
Marking past temporal reference in Bequia (St Vincent and the Grenadines)
Creolists and variationists often conceptualize variation in multilectal speech communities as a continuum of linearly ordered linguistic features. Using the variationist comparative method, we analyze variation in past tense marking in a creole speech community (Bequia, St Vincent and the Grenadines), comparing across groups of speakers (communities and age-groups) in terms of frequencies of past-marking, language-internal constraints on past-marking and the ranking of factors within those constraints. Based on these multiple lines of evidence, the analysis shows that placing groups on a continuum is not straightforward, in line with local language ideologies. We argue that linear models of variation may reify relationships between varieties in terms of differences that are not sustained across different levels of analysis. We also show that the relationships between lects even in quite small communities are subject to change across generations.