Please join us for the final meeting of the Language Variation & Change workshop of the 2019-20 academic year. Daniel Lam will be presenting on his research this Friday, May 24 at 3:30pm, in Rosenwald 301.
Determiner-noun fusion in Haitian Creole: A statistical learning perspective
Daniel Lam, UChicago
Since its inception, creole linguistics has been divided by a question central to the field: Does the emergence of creole languages follows the same path as so-called “full-fledged” languages? Hoping to contribute to answering this question, I examine a phenomenon found in most French-based creoles: determiner-noun fusion (DNF). DNF is defined as the instance whereby a combination of a determiner (or part of it) and a noun in the lexifier language, most commonly French, is analyzed in the Creole language as a noun of identical or similar meaning as its nominal etymon. DNF has been historically explained principally as reflecting the influence of the Bantu substrate (Baker, 1984; Strandquist 2005). However, Bonami and Henri (2015) show that DNF in Mauritian Creole (MC) can be predicted by a combination of factors, some of which stretch beyond substrate influence, such as gross frequency of the etymon noun and collocational frequency of the etymon determiner-noun pairing. Here, I show that the pattern of DNF in Haitian Creole (HC) supports their finding and furthermore, is consistent with the literature on statistical learning in word segmentation. Specifically, backward transitional probabilities between French determiners and nouns are predictive of the DNF pattern in HC. As a result, DNF is a consequence of a general mechanism in word learning, although this does not exclude substrate influence as a contributing factor. Also, the facts do not support the claim that there was “a break of transmission” in creole emergence (McWhorter, 2018) or that only children played a key role in creole creation (Bickerton, 1981; Hudson Kam and Newport, 2005).