Non-Creole Features in the Verb System of Afro-Hispanic Languages: New Insights from SLA Studies

By Sessarego, Sandro | International Journal of Linguistics, March 1, 2012 | Go to article overview

Non-Creole Features in the Verb System of Afro-Hispanic Languages: New Insights from SLA Studies


Sessarego, Sandro, International Journal of Linguistics


Abstract

The goal of this paper is to show how two commonly found linguistic features in Afro-Hispanic contact varieties can be explained as the result of advanced second language strategies and, for this reason, they do not necessary imply a previous creole stage for these languages. The features under inspection are lack of subject-verb agreement and the presence of non-emphatic, non-contrastive overt subjects. The current analysis recurs to recent findings in generative approaches to second language acquisition (SLA) to provide new insights into the nature of these syntactic structures.

Keywords: Afro-Hispanic languages, Creole genesis, Subject-verb agreement, Pro.

1. Introduction

In several regions of Latin America, people of Afro-Hispanic descent are the majority of the population. During the last decades, the dialects spoken by these Afro-Hispanic communities have received increasing attention. Many studies have been carried out to explore the nature of these linguistic systems and to speculate on their genesis and evolution (see Schwegler 2010 for a review). It has often been suggested that a number of the grammatical features currently found in some of these dialects may have been directly inherited from an Afro-Hispanic or Afro-Lusophone creole language, used by black slaves across Latin America in colonial time (cf. Granda 1970, 1988; Schwegler 1993, 1996, 1999; Otheguy 1973; Megenney1993; Perl 1998; etc.).

Similarly, Perl (1998:3) reports specific Spanish dialects that might have been derived from such a contact variety and are currently spoken in various regions of Latin America (e.g., Cuba, Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic, parts of Northern Colombia and Venezuela, the coastal regions of Honduras, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, Panama, the Pacific coastal regions of Colombia, Peru and Ecuador, as well as, some parts of Mexico, Belize, Trinidad and Tobago). Trying to understand whether all these Afro-Hispanic varieties passed through any creole stage would require an in-depth linguistic and sociodemographic analysis of the history and evolution of each Afro-Hispanic dialect. This has been partially carried out by some scholars and will not be presented here due to space limitations (cf. Lipski 1993; Díaz-Campos & Clements 2008, Sessarego 2011). Nevertheless, in the current article, I would like to focus on two common features, which have been repeatedly mentioned in relation to a potential creole origin, and appear to characterize these Spanish dialects transversely: (a) Use of non-emphatic, non-contrastive overt subjects; (b) lack of subject-verb agreement.

In the present study, I will show that such phenomena can be explained as the result of advanced second language strategies. For this reason, they do not imply any previous creole stage. In particular, I will show that recent theoretical and empirical findings in generative approaches to second language acquisition (SLA) can provide us with new insights into the nature of these syntactic structures. Section 2 lays out the theoretical framework adopted in this study. Section 3 provides a sample of some of the Afro-Hispanic dialects presenting these two features. Section 4 shows why these features may be better explained as the byproduct of advanced SLA processes, rather than creole-like traces. Section 5 summarizes and discusses the findings. Section 6 concludes.

2. Theoretical Framework

The language architecture assumed in this study is the one provided by the Minimalist Program (Chomsky 1995, 2000, 2001). According to this model, the component of the human mind devoted to language, the language faculty, is optimal; it is defined by a small number of syntactic operations (Merge, Move and Agree) and it is common to all human beings. The cyclical application of Merge and Move builds constituent structure. The operation Merge selects two elements from the collection of lexical items (Numeration) and assembles them. The operation Move creates a copy of a certain element and merges it in a different part of the syntactic structure. …

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