The Missing Spanish Creoles: Recovering the Birth of Plantation Contact Languages


JOHN McWHORTER challenges an enduring paradigm among linguists in this provocative exploration of the origins of plantation creole. Using a wealth of data -- linguistic, sociolinguistic, historical -- he proposes that the "limited access model" of creole genesis is seriously flawed. That model maintains that plantation creole languages emerged because African slaves greatly outnumbered whites on colonial plantations. Having little access to the slaveholders' European languages, the slaves were forced to build a new language from what fragments they did acquire. Not so, says McWhorter, who posits that plantation creole originated in West African trade settlements, in interactions between white traders and slaves, some of whom were eventually transported overseas.

McWhorter draws on modern techniques of diachronic and sociolinguistic analysis to demonstrate an "Afrogenesis hypothesis". He shows how a single English-based pidgin originating in Africa developed into Atlantic English creoles, and how French-, Portuguese-, and Dutch- based creoles have African-pidgin origins. McWhorter's hypothesis explains why there are no Spanish-based creoles, even though slaves in many Spanish colonies had what was considered to be "limited access" to the lexifier: because Spain had no settlements on the West African coast there was no Spanish pidgin to bring to the New World.

The evidence that most New World creoles were imports traceable to West Africa strongly suggests that the well-established "limited access model" for plantation creole needs revision. In forcing a reexamination of this basic tenet, McWhorter's book will undoubtedly cause controversy. At the same time it makes available a vastamount of data that will be a valuable resource for further explorations of genesis theory.

Additional information

Publisher: Place of publication:
  • Berkeley, CA
Publication year:
  • 2000


An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.