This article hypothesizes that French Guianese Creole (fgc) had a markedly different formative period compared to other French lexifier creoles, a linguistically diverse slave population with a strong Bantu component and, in the French Caribbean, much lower or no Arawak and Portuguese linguistic influence.The historical and linguistic description of the early years of fgc shows, though, that the founder population of fgc was dominated numerically and socially by speakers of Gbe languages, and had almost no speakers of Bantu languages. Furthermore, speakers of Arawak pidgin and Portuguese were both present when the colony began in Cayenne.
French Guianese Creole (hereafter fgc) emerged in the South American colony of Cayenne in the late 1600s. The society that created the language was superficially similar to other Caribbean societies where lexically-French creoles arose. It consisted of slaves of African origin working on sugar plantations for a minority francophone colonial population. However, from the beginning fgc was quite distinct from Lesser Antillean Creole. It was “less ridiculous than that of the Islands” according to a scientist who lived in Cayenne in the 1720s (Barrère 1743: 40). More recently, scholars have identified some of the differences between the two languages (Hazaël-Massieux 1986, 1990; Baker 1987).
This article will take a complementary historical and linguistic approach to investigate and account for the early differences between fgc and the Lesser Antillean Creoles. We will examine firstly how differences arose so soon by comparing the early language contact situation in Cayenne to the more typical situation experienced in other societies in which lexically-French creoles arose. We will then investigate linguistic differences between fgc and Martinican Creole (mac), one of the Lesser Antillean creoles, with particular focus on the tense-mode-aspect (tma) system. An additional aim of the article is to make information about fgc available to an anglophone readership, since most studies of the language, particularly of its structure, have until now appeared in French (e.g. Saint-Jacques Fauquenoy 1972; Peyraud 1983; Schlupp 1997) or German (e.g. Pfänder 2000a).
2 Social History and Linguistics: A Combined Approach
The principal debate in creole studies today concerns whether creoles share similar degrees of complexity that distinguish them typologically from other languages. Those who argue in favour of typological distinction believe that creoles have a low degree of complexity as a consequence of their pidgin origins (McWhorter 2001, 2011; Parkvall 2008). Computational linguistic studies have created phylogenetic diagrams separating creoles from non-creoles (Bakker et al. 2011), although the methodology used to produce them has been challenged (Bartoletti, Fon Sing and Leoue 2011).1 Scholars engaged in the debate often neglect the importance of the social history to determine the setting in which creolisation took place. Arends (2002) argues that history actually plays the leading role. Even synchronic studies claiming that creoles are typologically distinct cannot ignore the environment in which those languages arose. If the phylogenetic diagrams produced by Kortmann and Szmrecsanyi (2009, 2011) and Bakker et al. (2011) correctly show creole distinction, then there must be some catalyst that shifts creoles away from the branches of their parent languages towards a creole branch. Such a catalyst is likely to be found in the early social history of the creole. The Founder Principle (Mufwene 2001) accords extra significance to the first members of a creole society, who can influence the linguistic parameters that new immigrants will follow.
The importance of studies of the early social history as a complement to linguistics in creole studies cannot be overstated. The most salient example is probably the case of Hawai‘i Creole, a language that was supposed to have emerged in a single generation through the universal grammar of the Language Bioprogram (Bickerton 1981, 1984). Roberts (1998, 2005) and Siegel (2000, 2007) have demonstrated through better knowledge of the social history of Hawai‘i Creole that the language emerged over more than one generation, and that there was initially a generation of bilingual speakers of the substrate languages and versions of the superstrate. Baker and Corne (1982) used a dual historical and linguistic approach in their study of Isle de France Creole and linked a significant Bantu presence to certain structures of the creole. Crowley (1990) showed its utility in his study of Bislama, and Siegel (2008a) emphasises the need for sociohistorical data in the investigation of how pidgins and creoles emerge. Recent comparative work on Surinam creoles has attributed subtle structural differences to varying ethnic proportions in the African population (Huttar, Aboh and Ameka 2013).
3 Cayenne—The Earliest Years
The permanent European settlement of Cayenne began in 1654, the permanent African slave population began in 1660. By the 1730s, white children born in the colony were native speakers of fgc after being raised by black nurses in that language (Barrère 1743: 40). The environment in which the creole arose differed in many respects from the typical language contact situation experienced in other parts of the French Caribbean. This section will outline the early language contact environment, emphasising the major points of difference from more typical environments that occurred in many other French creole societies.
3.1 The Native Americans
Native American languages are thought to have had little impact on the genesis of French creoles of the Antilles, apart from contributing lexical items such as the names of local plants and animals. Rapid colonial expansion on small Caribbean islands marginalised the indigenous inhabitants, most of whom were killed or expelled from the Antilles by the mid-1600s. In contrast, the Galibi of the Cayenne area maintained regular contact with traders, settlers and slaves throughout the colonial period. The Galibi spoke at least two languages: Kali’na and an Arawak pidgin that had been used as a diplomatic language across the Caribbean for centuries (Taylor and Hoff 1980). Two seventeenth-century French observers independently sketched what they thought was the native language of the Galibi, but their descriptions show “remarkable similarity” to the Arawak pidgin (Taylor and Hoff 1980: 308).
As late as the early 19th century a missionary reported: “The Arawak language can be of great benefit to a European travelling along the coast of Cayenne from Surinam to the Orinoco and Trinidad because people of that nation can be found throughout the region” (Quandt 1807: 294). The Arawak pidgin may consequently have had a greater influence on fgc formation than on other French creoles. It should also be considered a contributory language to the feature pool for the genesis of the creole.
The best source for Arawak pidgin as spoken in Cayenne is an unfinished grammar long attributed to Theodor Schulz. Research in the Herrenhut archives, however, shows it is an incorrect attribution to Schulz going back to Lucien Adam and his colleagues, who were editing a large number of Native American grammars and dictionaries in the 1880s. It seems they did not take enough care to collate copies of grammars they had and thus published them without verification against an original copy. Adam knew that Schulz had left the mission early, leaving behind an unfinished grammar of a Native American language. When he found a copy of an unfinished grammar, Adam assumed it was Schulz’s and edited it under his name. Handwriting comparison and the reconstruction of letter correspondences allow us to attribute the grammar and the accompanying dictionary to Theophilus Salomo Schuman. This is a most crucial finding, as Schuman lived a century before Schulz. His earliest letters are from 1748, only a few years after Barrère’s reference to the creole of Cayenne. Schuman’s grammar is an invaluable document for the study of early fgc and shows that the Arawak pidgin needs to be considered as part of the language contact situation in early French Guiana.
Guy Hazaël-Massieux (1990) presented the hypothesis that in contrast to the Lesser Antilles, Native American languages like Arawak may have played a role in the genesis of fgc. Historical evidence discussed above combined with the presence of presentative constructions in fgc that are typical of basic interactions such as ‘this is’ and ‘these are’ (Arawak a, cf. Hazaël-Massieux 1990, cf. French c’est, Lesser Antillean Creole se) support this hypothesis, although further research is clearly needed in this area.
3.2 The Portuguese
The permanent European settlement of Cayenne began with the arrival in 1654 of two small and distinct groups of refugees, one Dutch and the other Portuguese. They had been residents of Dutch Brazil, a prosperous colony with a Dutch administration and an economy run by Portuguese Jewish sugar planters. When Portugal captured Dutch Brazil in 1654, the colonists fled to many parts of the Americas. Those who arrived in Cayenne did not bring slaves with them (Jennings 1999, 2009). They discovered a fort and gardens in good order, the remains of a colony abandoned only months earlier, and were thus spared much time and labour establishing the colony. They also had good contacts with the Dutch West India Company, which made plans for Cayenne to be run as a Dutch-administered colony of Portuguese sugar planters and sent some colonists from Europe. The Company sent a shipment of slaves from Africa to Cayenne in 1660. Those Africans would become the founding members of Cayenne’s slave population. They would work for their Portuguese owners for between four and seven years before being sold to the French, who took over Cayenne in 1664. Although the Portuguese-speakers were present for only a relatively short time, they were there at the beginning of the founding slave population’s existence and might thereby have had an influence on fgc disproportionate to the time they spent there.
If more than one superstrate is involved in the formation of a creole, and one of them precedes the other in the history of the creole, then more basic lexemes are more likely to derive their form from the earlier superstrate than are less basic lexemes. 2003: 123
Again we see good evidence for the founder effect: early contact periods, however brief, do leave traces.
3.3 The First Africans
The first slave ship from Africa arrived in Cayenne in 1660 and sold either 120 (an, C14/1, 188)2 or 174 captives (Voyages 2013: 442213). The Africans were from “Guinée” (an, C14/1, 188), which referred to lands on the Bight of Benin, where many languages were spoken in a small area, and where multilingualism was the norm and still is. Most of those languages belong to the Gbe family of the Kwa languages and include the closely-related Ewe, Fon and Gun (Capo 1983; Kluge 2006). They will be referred to hereafter as Ewe.
The second shipment of slaves, again carried by a Dutch ship, came to Cayenne in 1661 or 1662, carrying Africans from Grand Popo and Alada (Debien 1964: 9–11), where Ewe and closely-related languages were spoken. The number of slaves sold is not known, but was probably less than 200, since the total slave population in 1665 was 260 (La Barre 1666: 40–41).
In many societies where a creole arose, the first slaves arrived before the colony had moved into the sugar plantation era. The slaves were put to work on small farms alongside their owners and had good access to their owners’ language. They were scattered about the colony in small numbers and had little use for their native languages. This typical situation is known as the homestead phase (Chaudenson 2001: 97–101). It accurately describes the experience of many founding slave populations of the French colonies of the Lesser Antilles. But it does not describe what happened in Cayenne. There, the first slaves were bought by experienced planters who made them work on sugar plantations.
In a typical French Antillean colony, the society moved from its homestead phase to its plantation phase once it had become established and could rapidly increase its slave population. Slaves were brought from different parts of western and central Africa. On the sugar plantations, slaves found that the diversity of linguistic backgrounds rendered their native languages largely useless within the slave community. In Saint-Christophe (modern St Kitts), for example, one observer noted the presence of thirteen different African languages (Pelleprat 1655: 53) while the missionary Mongin wrote in 1682 that there were sometimes ten or a dozen languages to be heard in a single slave hut (Chatillon 1984: 133–34). Mongin added that experienced slaves were assigned new arrivals and rewarded for teaching them French (1984: 134). In these situations, African languages from widely different groups had little practical use and a form of the owners’ language became a lingua franca.
In Cayenne, the situation was again different because an African language could be used widely within the slave community. The Africans from the first two ships could communicate easily with each other in Ewe. The slaves doubtless added terms from Portuguese to describe plantation life, and from Arawak pidgin when talking about local flora and fauna.
Cayenne’s proximity to West Africa made it an emergency stop for slavers who had experienced difficulties during the Atlantic crossing. Occasionally the slaver would sell a few weak captives for food and water, before taking the rest to bigger Caribbean markets. On 9 April 1664, the Dutch slaver Ridder S Joris arrived in Cayenne with 320 Africans who were presumably speakers of Bantu languages, since they had been loaded in Luanda. Twenty of them were sold in Cayenne before the ship sailed to Guadeloupe and Cuba with the remainder (Voyages 2013: 11389).
The twenty Bantu-speakers now had to achieve communication with the other slaves and to understand the owners’ orders. They cannot have exerted much direct linguistic influence; instead, they had to adapt to the existing linguistic conventions.
3.4 The French
In May 1664, one month after the Ridder S Joris arrived, a large French expedition seized Cayenne. The Dutch and most of the Portuguese went to Surinam, selling their slaves to the French. The remaining Portuguese would stay with their slaves in Cayenne until 1667. The French had to rapidly establish communication with the slaves, who had little or no experience of their new owners’ language, but who, over the course of four years, would have developed a way to communicate with the Portuguese. War, disease and emigration reduced the French population to about 300 by the late 1660s. It remained at that level for the next half-century, during the time in which the creole emerged.
The French expedition had sailed from La Rochelle, which suggests that the colonists were from the Aunis, Poitou and Saintonge provinces of western central France. Early census records suggest otherwise. Seventeenth-century Cayenne censuses list names like Lecompte, Leclerc, Dubois, Fontaine and Bouteiller, all typical of Ile-de-France, Normandy and Picardy. The maiden names of the planters’ wives are not generally known, although there were shipments of poor women from Paris to French Guiana in the late seventeenth century. In any case, all of the provinces mentioned lay in the Langue d’Oïl patois continuum that covered most of northern France. Settlers from those regions spoke one or more Oïl varieties. Even if they did not speak standard French, they understood the French of their leaders. While preparing to leave France, they heard various Oïl patois and other languages in the port cities of France. Rouen, for example, which was a city of departure for many early voyages to French Guiana, had a multinational community connected with the shipping industry (Brunelle 1991, 2003). On the voyage to Cayenne, the settlers would also have heard the speech of sailors of different backgrounds as well as a conventionalised variety that Hull (1979) terms “Maritime French”. Time spent in ports and ships had a demonstrable impact on both creoles and overseas varieties of French.
Not all of the French settlers began their experience of different languages shortly before leaving for Cayenne. Some had already lived in the Caribbean or been involved in the Atlantic world as traders or sailors. Father Biet, a survivor of a failed 1652–53 expedition to Cayenne, repeatedly recorded how veterans of earlier expeditions served as interpreters between Galibi chiefs and French leaders (Biet 1664). In short, the French, like other linguistic groups in Cayenne, had a range of linguistic competence and practice. They also had experience of implementing strategies to communicate with speakers of other languages. These strategies would be necessary for settlers who purchased or managed slaves.
3.5 Growth of the African Population
One of the many factors that set Cayenne apart from other French colonies was that slavers called infrequently because it was a small market. Linguistic conventions consequently had more time to stabilise than in colonies where there was a constant influx of African captives. The slave population remained low in Cayenne. In mid-1665, the colony had 180 slaves in French ownership and a further 80 slaves still with the Portuguese. There was no significant arrival of Africans in Cayenne between 1662 and 1669. During that interval, only two slavers are known to have called. The Ridder S Joris brought the 20 Bantu-speakers discussed above, and Captain Van Arel sold 27 of some 300 captives from the Gbe-speaking state of Alada in 1667 on his way to Curaçao (Voyages 2013: 11394). In 1669, Cayenne had about 200 slaves; over 90% of them spoke Ewe or a related language natively and 80% of them had been in the colony for at least 7 years.
The relative linguistic stability of the slave population made it easier for the form of communication between slaves and owners to be conventionalised. There are similarities with the early history of Réunionnais, which had a relatively stable bilingual phase before the development of the Creole (Chaudenson 1974). Réunionnais has more instances of French morphosyntax than other lexically-French creoles. fgc has more such instances than any other lexically-French creole of the Caribbean. Examples include occasional use of a preposed definite article (la govelman ‘the government’) instead of the more usual postposed article (lalin-a ‘the moon’), and a preposed plural indefinite article (des wom ‘men’).
… in the uprooted and mixed speech communities of the slaves, a person might have few or no people to talk to in his or her native language. Such a person would need a primary language for communicating with his or her fellows, not merely a secondary language to use for limited purposes of intergroup communication […] [T]he process of linguistic deculturation from the native languages must have been rapid in many cases, virtually immediate, in fact, for those slaves who were completely isolated and therefore could not continue to use their native language. 1988: 149–50
For early Cayenne the process of linguistic deculturation was never rapid, except for the Bantu-speakers of the Ridder S Joris.
The first known large arrival of Africans who did not understand Ewe occurred in 1673. The Chasseur and the Saint-François were contracted in 1672 to carry 60,000 livres (‘pounds’) worth of slaves from Senegal to the French colonies (an, F3/213, 122). The Chasseur went to Guadeloupe (Voyages 2013: 21562; Mims 1912: 172); Captain Thomas of the Saint-François went to Cayenne. At this time in Cayenne, the pièce d’Inde, the price of a fit adult male slave, was about 300 livres (Artur 2002: 270). The Senegal contract would have brought about 150 male and female captives of all ages to Cayenne. According to a planter who described his slaves’ ethnic origins with precision, the Africans were from the Cape Verde Islands (Debien 1964: 7–10). The lexically-Portuguese Cape Verdean Creole would have helped them communicate with slaves who had worked for the Portuguese in Cayenne. If they spoke languages from the Senegambian region like Wolof and Serer, they found them of little use in Cayenne.
Over the next four years, the population grew rapidly as a succession of slavers traded in Cayenne. One came from Senegal with people from a variety of linguistically different origins. Another brought Kalabari; in each case, the captives came from linguistic regions not mutually intelligible with Ewe. Several other slavers brought Ewe-speakers. In 1677 there were 1454 slaves (an, C14/1, 220), a total that would not be exceeded for another 30 years. About a thousand of those slaves—400 veterans from the 1660s and 600 recent arrivals—could communicate in Ewe. The remainder came from a variety of linguistic backgrounds. They included Cape Verde Creole, Ijo (from the Kalabari ship) and Bambara and Wolof (from the Senegal ship). They did not include Bantu languages, save for the few slaves of the Ridder S. Joris.
We have among the Negroes of Cayenne six or seven Angola Negroes. Who can begin their instruction, as we usually do with the new arrivals, with Negroes of the same language? But these six or seven Angolans are old, they have forgotten or nearly forgotten the language of their country. De la Mousse 1687, quoted in Wiesinger 2013: 7–8
The presence of Bantu speakers has been linked to agglutination in lexically-French creoles (Baker 1984), and possibly in lexically-Portuguese creoles (Ladhams 2012). fgc has by far the lowest rate of agglutination of any lexically-French creole of the Americas (Grant 1995: 156). The absence of Bantu influence in the early years of contact may well be the cause of this low rate.
While the lack of Bantu influence during Cayenne’s early years was a simple question of numbers, other factors besides population reduced the linguistic influence of non-Ewe speakers. A Cayenne plantation inventory of 1690 shows that on an estate with 92 slaves, veteran Ewe-speaking slaves occupied senior positions as overseers and sugar-makers (Debien 1964). They would have had more contact with the owners as well as influence over new slaves, who usually started as field hands.
During the 1690s and first decade of the 1700s, the Cayenne population remained relatively stable at more or less 250 whites (almost all speakers of Oïl varieties from France), and 1150 blacks. Occasional slave ships brought barely enough Africans—mostly speakers of Gbe languages—to compensate for the high mortality rate. fgc was probably the principal language of the slave community by the 1710s given Barrère’s observation about the black nurses raising white children in Creole in the 1730s.
The historical and linguistic description of the early years of fgc shows that speakers of Arawak pidgin and Portuguese were both present when the colony began in Cayenne. The slave-based society bypassed the homestead phase. It began as a plantation society, with a consequent slave hierarchy ranging from domestic slaves to field hands. The first slaves were, save for a few Bantu speakers, all speakers of Gbe languages like Ewe. Those slaves later occupied senior plantation positions when new slaves arrived. fgc thus had a markedly different formative period compared to other French lexifier creoles, which typically had a homestead phase, a linguistically diverse slave population with a strong Bantu component and, in the French Caribbean, much lower Arawak and Portuguese linguistic influence.
The Founder Principle accords disproportionate influence to the early language contact situation. We have suggested that fgc presentatives, frequently-used words from Portuguese and a low occurrence of agglutination all derive from Cayenne’s early years. In other French Caribbean societies where creoles arose, such as in Martinique, no other slave population was as homogeneous. This fact makes fgc an excellent candidate for testing substratal influence. In the following section we examine in detail a claim based on the near total dominance in the slave population of speakers of Gbe languages: that a comparison of the tma systems of fgc and mac will show that fgc shows greater parallels with Ewe (such as described in Ameka 2012; Avolonto 1992; Dzablu-Kumah 2006; Duthie 1984, 1993; Essegbey 2005; 2013; Huttar, Essegbey and Ameka 2007; Huttar, Aboh and Ameka 2013; Kluge 2006; Lafage 1985; Lefebvre 1990; Pasch 1995; Westermann 1961).
4 The tma Systems of French Guianese Creole and Martinique Creole
The tma systems of Martinique Creole (mac) (Bernabé 1983; Damoiseau 1984, 1990, 1994) and fgc (Pfänder 2000a) have been extensively described, but not yet compared in detail (cf. Pfänder 2000a for a first sketch). In the following we describe the fgc tma system, comparing it step by step to the system in mac. This of course only provides partial evidence, as a close comparison with Ewe can be prepared but not carried out here. Nevertheless, the foundations are laid.
The first textual evidence of fgc dates back to 1744, while other pieces of evidence come from 1797 and 1824. The principal 19th century sources are an 1848 abolition proclamation (Sournia 1976: 3–8), a grammar accompanied by fables, songs and poems (Saint-Quentin 1872), and a novel written in a conversational and familiar style, Atipa (Parépou 1987). Principal 20th century sources are the studies by Horth (1948), Saint-Jacques-Fauquenoy (1972), Contout (1973), Peyraud (1983), Schlupp (1997), Pfänder (1996, 2000a, 2000b), and Jennings (1999, 2009); for a short recent overview see Pfänder (2013). In addition, between 1995 and 2012 a corpus of fgc was compiled by Pfänder and colleagues (cf. Pfänder (2000a) and Ennis and Pfänder (2013) for a description thereof). Other fgc dialects are described by Corne (1971) and Tobler (1983). Despite obvious differences from French (and other lexically-French Creoles), descriptions of fgc are often influenced by French (and/or other Creole) categories and/or translations.4
At first glance the tma systems of both languages are the same; three preverbal markers operate in similar ways to show similar meaning (see Table 1).
However, three objections arise: First, the table does not show markers attested in the early years of each creole (see section 4.1). Also, the markers express different meanings in the two languages depending on verb semantics (see section 4.2). Lastly, a close analysis reveals that fgc displays an overall aspectual system, whereas mac has a mixed tense and aspect system (see section 4.3).
4.1 Variation of Markers in the Early Years
In the early years of its existence, fgc had two tma markers that are not attested today: wa and kaba. Saint-Quentin’s 1872 grammar states that wa is the future marker (1872: 133), and Horth says that wa was the archaic form of ké (1948: 28). In 19th-century texts the two markers coexist, with wa being more frequently used. It expresses an “uncertain” future, i wa manjé ‘he will eat’, in contrast with the “certain” future, i ké manjé ‘he is going to eat’. Preceded by té, wa expresses irrealis: i té wa manjé ‘he would eat’ or ‘he would have eaten’.
Ké did not emerge until more than a century after Cayenne Creole developed. The origin and evolution of the form of ké is clearly shown in 19th century Cayenne Creole texts; an 1848 proclamation uses kallé and ké (Sournia 1976), and Saint-Quentin (1872) uses ké, k’é and k’alé. These variations show the marker ka preceding ale ‘to go’. ka must therefore have developed before ké.
Kaba is a postposed marker of completive aspect derived from Portuguese. It is found in creoles with a Portuguese lexical base, but also in Sranan (mainly English lexical base), Negerhollands (Dutch lexical base) and fgc (Stolz 1987: 300). According to Horth, kaba was used with the meaning of ‘already’ and/or ‘completed action’ in vernacular or pidgin Portuguese on the Brazilian border.
Early mac also had different early markers. Hazaël-Massieux (1986) states that there were the irrealis markers ké, va and sra in the 19th century whose use was possibly regional. Poyen-Bellisle (1894: 42), born in 1857 in Guadeloupe, describes a “new” auxiliary for the future, ké, which he believes is derived from either ka + alé or ka + vais. He also asserts that sré is used for the conditional. Similarities in the systems of fgc and mac today, however, do not imply that the languages had similar systems when they emerged.
4.2 Greater Aspectual Functions in fgc than in mac
mac and fgc have four important tma markers; Ø, té, ka and ke. However, the function of these markers varies:
- •The perfective aspect marker (zero-marker) is used for all tenses in fgc, but only simple past marking in mac (cf. 4.2.1).
- •té expresses ‘past before past’ in mac, but ‘lack of present relevance’, simple past or “anti-perfect”—see discussion below in fgc (cf. 4.2.2).
- •The imperfective marker ka has an affinity for tense to express present events, both as habitual and as progressive actions in mac, whereas is mostly progressive, also with non-dynamic verb semantics, in fgc (cf. 4.2.3).
- •ke expresses a certain future in fgc and an uncertain future in mac (cf. 4.2.4).
In fgc the zero marker does not mark past tense, but perfective aspect. The following examples show how Ø can occur in past, present and future situations respectively according to context.
In mac most authors distinguish two verb classes, dynamic and stative. Whereas the former comprises the majority of predicates, the small group of stative verbs includes predicates that express facts of knowing and believing, mental state verbs, verbs of location, and modal verbs. In mac, the zero marker has been labelled as a perfective aspect marker with strong affinities to past tense with dynamic verbs and present tense with stative verbs.
Many other examples of zero-marked perfective future exist in fgc.
The zero marker exhibits the full functional range of a perfective aspect marker in fgc. In mac, however, Ø can be labelled as a perfective aspect marker, but is more specialised in use and tends to grammaticalise into a past tense marker.
té expresses ‘past-before-past’ in mac, but not in fgc, where it indicates that the action reported is without present reference. This is evident in the following example, which refers to a market-vendor of Callaloo now dead or retired:
In the next example, taken from Jennings and Pfänder (to appear), the highlighted té belongs to a sentence outside the story, but it describes an action that took place after the primary school event.
In the same corpus (Jennings and Pfänder to appear), another story Nearly Drowned focuses on a boat trip home from a friend’s place. The narrator sets the scene by providing background information. To indicate that the journey to the friend’s place lies outside the main narrative, the speaker marks verbs with té (in bold below).
The results from the corpus data demonstrating this variation in usage are confirmed by the results of an elicitation task carried out for both mac and fgc. While Martiniquan informants translated the French pluperfect with té, the Guianese informants translated the pluperfect with Ø. For example:
In the second line (pa té gen…) of the extract above (19), té is necessary, as otherwise it would be unclear whether the speaker is talking about the present situation or a past event as both interpretations would be possible with Ø. If such ambiguity is excluded, for example due to surrounding discourse explicitly recounting past events, té does not appear.
At the beginning of this scene, the event with té was situated in the speaker’s childhood in the 1930s. Throughout the story, té is only used twice; this initial setting of the scene then again at the end to mark the situation in time. Note how the lexeme meaning ‘five o’clock’ can be verbalised.
Comments on the narrative té wè bagaj are expressed using the particle té:
If té ka is attested, it has a past imperfective meaning:
In mac, the imperfective marker ka mostly expresses habitual or iterative meaning (Damoiseau 1984: 23).
Since the earliest attestations, ka in fgc has been used mainly for progressive aspect; in the majority of examples this marker refers to events that take place in the very moment of speech:
This is still true today, as the following two examples illustrate. Whereas in (25), the speaker D asks for some kind of processual understanding, the use of the zero marker in (26) asks for a perfective understanding of what has been exposed so far. Note that the forms of the answers in the examples above and in (27) below corroborate this interpretation:
An additional yet related difference between mac and fgc is that ka is mainly used with present reference in mac, but can well have past reference in fgc; in mac, this is only possible once the speaker has established that the context of the narrative is not in the present, then té may be deleted and té ka becomes ka.
Stative verbs in mac rarely combine with ka, and do so only to express inchoative (e.g. getting angry) or habitual meaning (e.g. usually being angry). The core meaning of imperfective aspect, i.e. progressivity, is blocked with stative verbs.
In fgc all verbs can be combined with the imperfective marker. If so-called stative verbs are combined with ka, the default meaning is progressivity.
One of the prototypes of progressive meaning is an event that happens at the moment of speaking; before the speaker’s or listener’s eyes, as it were. In fgc examples can be found in which somebody observes other people drinking (dynamic verb), or being scared, angry or happy (stative verbs).
The main function of ka found in fgc data is, as we said, demonstrating the progressivity of an action, which is preceded by a perfective verb of perception (typically visual), as can be seen in the example below:
Even the last statement with the stative, de-nominal verb kolè (<la colère ‘anger’) is used with the imperfective particle. It is not intended as iteration or habituality, but as progressivity (‘Why are you being so angry?’).
In some cases, the verb of perception is mentioned early in the context of the example. In the first example, the mother sees her children being ill.
The fact that such different meanings come together in a single form is made clearer in the following examples from Pfänder (2000a: 96):
In example 38 above, the context emphasises that being sad is normal for the little boy, it is a part of his personality, so to speak. From a textual point of view, sadness is something new on first mention, whereas this is already known on the second; the thematic element is in the imperfective aspect. In example 39 the parrot considers this to be a type of illness and not the boy’s fate, and it is therefore temporary (or accidental). This means, however, that it does not relate to a glimpse from afar, but to a present and ongoing view from which the parrot observes the individual stages of sadness as he watches the child every day (Lohier 1960: 196).
Expressing being in a certain state is not only relevant for human beings, but also for non-human and even inanimate objects. Verbs based on adjectives denoting the provenance of objects (dry, full, white, fat, bloated) can be combined with the imperfective marker ka and then express inchoative meanings, e.g. slowly becoming dry, full, white, fat or bloated. In the following example, a process is also the target; the process of drying something:
In the next example, which refers to the preparation of manioc, blan (‘to be white’) is combined with ka as a process:
A similar example (43) is the use of plen (‘to be full’) in one of Tchang’s (1988: 154.1) annotated fairy-tales:
Here we have a purse that has the rather nice characteristic (essence) of always being full (see toutan i plen ‘it is always full’). It appears with ka on the second line to indicate the process of filling ‘it fills itself back up again’, then on the last line it is again full (essence).
Progressivity in fgc is thus clearly not limited to dynamic verbs, but is productive for all kinds of verbs. Even seemingly objective facts like a tree that is high or a house that is far away can be combined with the imperfective marker if the tree is seemingly getting higher while you climb it or the house seems to be getting further away while you walk towards it. The following examples should clearly be interpreted progressively:
This is obviously more processual: The higher the hero climbs (amizu ti boug-a ka monté), the higher the tree grows (ka rot – ‘grows in height’; literally highs) (Tchang 1988: 54.2).
In (45a) the distance (lwen) is given without referring to the context, while in (45b) it is as if the action is emphasised. We could paraphrase this as follows: In (45a), the speaker might be making an objective comment about two distant points on a map. In (45b) the distance is subjective: you have to walk for a long time to get from the speaker's location to Francine's place.
Modern fgc usually employs ka or ké to express future actions, although Ø is sometimes used. The case is similar in Martinique, although variants for ké also need to be reckoned with (kèy, kay).
In fgc, ké expresses a so-called certain future and is best translated by ‘is (or are) going to X’. ka, on the other hand, expresses a less certain future and is best translated by ‘he (or they) will X’.
One of the main characteristics of the imperfective (progressive) aspect is that it does not provide any information about the beginning or the endpoint of an activity or event. It has been claimed that the lack of information particularly about the endpoint of an activity invites an affinity of the imperfective aspect to non-assertive meanings, following the rationale that we cannot really be sure that an activity or an event took place if we do not know if, when or how it was completed. This may explain why ka in fgc is both progressive and non-assertive, whereas in mac it can express both the present tense and an assertive future. In this case activities that express present tense relevance are thought of as already happening and thus contribute to the expectation that they will indeed take place.
4.3 Evidence for the Founder Principle in fgc Emergence
A linguistic evaluation of our sociolinguistic analysis of the earliest years of contact in French Guiana confirms a greater influence of Arawak, Portuguese and Ewe in French Guianese Creole than in the otherwise closely related Antillean Creoles (Martinique), and is corroborated by the linguistic facts. Our investigation of the Herrenhut Mission revealed that Arawak was a language of communication in the first years of the colony and it is therefore not surprising to find elements of very rudimentary exchange, such as the “it is” presentative construction, as borrowings from Arawak.
Portuguese is the second contact language which has been neglected in most studies of fgc thus far. We learn from the sources, however, that lexico-grammatical elements may have entered the Creole via the slaves that were part of the founding generation even after the Portuguese settlers had left.
The influence of Ewe is more probable in fgc than other French lexifier Creoles, for example Martinique Creole, as it was spoken by the founder population without the competition of other African languages. fgc indeed seems to be more similar to Ewe than mac, in that every lexeme can be used as a verb and express even the most prototypical meanings of verbs such as progressivity/processuality. In the early years most speakers spoke Ewe. In terms of contact-induced language change, we can therefore expect a greater similarity between fgc and Ewe than mac and Ewe. This expectation is corroborated by our comparison between the fgc and mac tma systems.
Taking these results we can hypothesise two types of category transfer: the first concerns a stronger aspectual system in both fgc and Ewe, the second a weaker part of speech specialisation (all lexemes can be verbs) in fgc and Ewe. The elements which are used for aspectual systems are mostly refunctionalised elements of French. By refunctionalisation we refer to the emerging new use of elements that were already functional, but with a slightly different, often more restricted meaning than in the source language. For the early years of fgc we have to add another mechanism: functionalisation, which refers to the emerging grammatical use of a formerly lexical element of the source language in the target language.
A closer look at the early years of fgc seems to strengthen the hypothesis put forward in Jennings (1999), that this Creole is a good candidate for transfer from Ewe. Further research is needed though, as the early years of contact and linguistic repercussions thereof have been reconstructed relying on scarce sources from the first century and necessary recourse to indirect resources posterior to the time of Creole formation.
In general, the Founder Principle emerges as a major explanatory factor for the structure of fgc in the early years.
5 Concluding Remarks
On evaluation of our sociolinguistic findings on the earliest years of contact in Cayenne, the expectation that Arawak, Portuguese and Ewe have a greater influence in French Guianese Creole than in the otherwise closely related Antillean Creoles is corroborated by the linguistic facts. The fine-grained corpus-based comparison of fgc and mac reveals differences between these two otherwise very similar creoles, which may be due to differences in the sociohistorical context of the early years. Research in progress is expected to add weight to this hypothesis.
This article has shown that Arawak was used for communication in the first years of the colony and therefore the likely origin of the presentative construction in fgc. The article has also examined the early importance of Portuguese and shown that lexico-grammatical elements from the language might have come into fgc via the slaves who were part of the founding generation even after the Portuguese settlers had left. As shown in our study of tma, the influence of Gbe languages such as Ewe is more probable in fgc than in other French lexifier Creoles.
As for French, our sociolinguistic evidence does not reveal anything novel; it strengthens the claim that the linguistic knowledge of French was quite variable among the slaves in the earliest years of contact and beyond.
In a broader sense, when we look beyond the Cayenne case study, our findings reinforce the idea that “a language can have grammatical elements from a variety of sources” (Siegel 2008b: 79). Whether this is especially true for the early years of creolisation requires further investigation. Our findings also remind us of another point very much related to the early years of creolisation: the often-neglected fact—at least in French lexifier creolistics—that speakers were multilingual and therefore had simple communication strategies already in place that were shaped by social interaction.
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