Vol. 23:1 (1999) ► pp.61–103
Substratum Semantics in the Verbal Lexicon of Haitian Creole
The aim of this paper is to document the presence of substratum semantics in the verbal inventory of Haitian creole on the basis of a comparison of a sample of verbs in Haitian, French (its lexifier language) and Fongbe (one of its substratum languages). The paper begins with a comparison of the meanings of a sample of Haitian, French and Fongbe verbs. Although the phonological representations of the Haitian verbs are derived from the phonetic representations of French verbs, the details of their semantics do not correspond exactly to those of French, but rather to those of Fongbe. Idiomatic expressions in Haitian are often expressed with similar verbal phrases in Fongbe, whereas they are rendered by a simple verb in French. Aspectual properties of verbs (stative/non-stative) constitute another facet of verbal semantics, and I compare the aspectual properties of Haitian, French and Fongbe verbs. Haitian verbs, like Fongbe verbs, are often not specified for aspectual properties, in contrast to French verbs. Thematic properties constitute yet another topic in the semantics of verbs, addressed here from the point of view of the verbs' agentiveness. On the basis of these various types of data, it is argued that the bulk of Haitian verbs' semantic properties have been carried over into the creole from the substratum lexicons. This situation argues in favor of the claim that the process of relexification plays a central role in the formation of a Creole's lexicon. Some cases of acquisition of French verbs are also reported. Such cases have triggered a reorganization in the properties of the verbal lexical entries originally relexified from the Haitian substratum languages.
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