Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Grammatical structures as a window into the past

Date:
November 4, 2013
Source:
Max-Planck-Gesellschaft
Summary:
A new world atlas of colonial-era languages reveals massive traces of African and Pacific source languages.

Position of question-words in 76 mixed languages around the world (red: fronted, e.g. What do you see?, blue: not fronted, e.g. You see what?)
Credit: © Atlas of Pidgin and Creole Language Structures Online

A new large-scale database and atlas of key structural properties of mixed languages from the Americas, Africa and Asia-Pacific has been published by researchers at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany, in a joint project with colleagues at the University of Gieίen and the University of Zurich, and involving a consortium of over 80 other researchers from around the world. These languages mostly arose as a result of colonial contacts between European traders and colonizers and indigenous and slave populations. The Atlas of Pidgin and Creole Language Structures, published by Oxford University Press and as a free online publication, contains in-depth comparable information on syntactic and phonological patterns of 76 languages. While most of these languages have words derived from the languages of the European (and sometimes Arab) colonizers, their grammatical patterns can often be traced back to the African and Pacific languages originally spoken by the indigenous populations, as the new atlas shows clearly.

Following the model of the highly successful World Atlas of Language Structures, the Leipzig team and their colleagues assembled a consortium of linguists who are specialists in 76 pidgin, creole and other languages arising from intensive language contact in the last few centuries. "Experts on understudied languages often work in isolation, but in order to see the bigger picture, we needed to bring their expertise together and create large-scale comparable datasets," explains Susanne Maria Michaelis of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology. She and her colleagues worked with experts on 25 languages of the Americas, 25 African languages, and 26 Asia-Pacific languages over several years. The result is an atlas of 130 maps showing a selection of grammatical features, plus two dozen maps showing sociolinguistic information as well as a substantial number of maps on the kinds of sound segments used.

Many of the maps reveal striking similarities between Caribbean languages such as Jamaican and Haitian Creole and the languages spoken by the slaves who were forced to work for the European colonists from the 17th century. Since the great majority of slaves in the New World colonies were brought from Africa, the Caribbean languages in many ways resemble the African languages. "You cannot see this easily in the words, which typically sound like Spanish, French or English, but closer examination of grammatical patterns such as tense and aspect systems leads us directly to African and Asian languages," says Philippe Maurer of the University of Zurich. For example, in Jamaican, the past tense of action verbs requires no special tense marker, unlike in English: For 'The men dug the hole', Jamaican has "Di man-dem dig di huol." This pattern occurs widely in West African languages. A number of such African patterns can even be found in the vernacular English variety of African-Americans in the United States.

"Grammatical structures have the potential to preserve older historical states and thus to serve as a window into the human past, but they are also rather difficult to compare across languages," comments Martin Haspelmath of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology. "Finding comparative concepts that allow experts coming from different research traditions to characterize their highly diverse languages in a comparable way has been a major challenge." But with the new database and the atlas built from it, researchers can now address a wide variety of questions more systematically.

While individual similarities between African languages and the languages spoken by the descendants of the slaves had long been noted, the Atlas of Pidgin and Creole Language Structures now provides far more systematic data on a much wider variety of structural features. "What is striking is that you see the influence of the indigenous languages also in Asia and the Pacific, areas which traditional creolists often neglected," says Susanne Maria Michaelis. For example, in the Portuguese creole variety of Sri Lanka, 'I like it' is literally 'To me it is liking', as in a typical South Asian language.

The Atlas of Pidgin and Creole Language Structures was published as a book by Oxford University Press, together with a three-volume Survey of Pidgin and Creole Languages. But most of the structural information of the atlas is also available in online format, published by the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology (http://apics-online.info). Many supporting materials, such as detailed bibliographical references and example sentences, are only available online.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by Max-Planck-Gesellschaft. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Cite This Page:

Max-Planck-Gesellschaft. "Grammatical structures as a window into the past." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 4 November 2013. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/11/131104092730.htm>.
Max-Planck-Gesellschaft. (2013, November 4). Grammatical structures as a window into the past. ScienceDaily. Retrieved September 23, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/11/131104092730.htm
Max-Planck-Gesellschaft. "Grammatical structures as a window into the past." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/11/131104092730.htm (accessed September 23, 2014).

Share This



More Fossils & Ruins News

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Iconic 'Easy Rider' Chopper Bike to Go on Auction Block

Iconic 'Easy Rider' Chopper Bike to Go on Auction Block

AFP (Sep. 19, 2014) — The iconic Harley-Davidson motorbike ridden by Peter Fonda in the 1969 classic "Easy Rider" is to go under the hammer in California, and auctioneers predict it will make at least $1 million. Duration: 01:09 Video provided by AFP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Chocolate Museum Opens in Brussels

Chocolate Museum Opens in Brussels

AFP (Sep. 19, 2014) — Considered a "national heritage" in Belgium, chocolate now has a new museum in Brussels. In a former chocolate factory, visitors to the permanent exhibition spaces, workshops and tastings can discover derivatives of the cocoa bean. Duration: 01:00 Video provided by AFP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Egypt Denies Claims Oldest Pyramid Damaged in Restoration

Egypt Denies Claims Oldest Pyramid Damaged in Restoration

AFP (Sep. 17, 2014) — Egypt's antiquities minister denied Tuesday claims that the Djoser pyramid, the country's first, had been damaged during restoration work by a company accused of being unqualified to do such work. Duration: 00:56 Video provided by AFP
Powered by NewsLook.com
King Richard III's Painful Cause Of Death Revealed

King Richard III's Painful Cause Of Death Revealed

Newsy (Sep. 17, 2014) — King Richard III died in the Battle of Bosworth in 1485, and now researchers examining his skull think they know how. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
 
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:  

Breaking News:

Strange & Offbeat Stories

 

Plants & Animals

Earth & Climate

Fossils & Ruins

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:  

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile iPhone Android Web
Follow Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins