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     A Linguistic History of the Caribbean:Origins, Development and Future

    A Research Paper Presented to

    The Academic Department

    Of the School of Social and Human Studies

    In Partial Fulfillment of the Requirements

    For the Degree of Masters in English Language.


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    Introduction: Purpose of the Topic.

    Definition- In this research paper the following definitions are offered for the terms:


    Related to language in general, but in the context bearing a direct relation to one or more of the languages spoken in the West Indies region. The term may also include established languages, which may be defined by the European power, which was present in the Caribbean, or it may also refer to a combination of various Creoles, dialects and other codes spoken in the region as well.

    History: The story or chronological narration of events, which are significant in view of the context of the study. In the context of the study, it may include major features or events, which are regarded as important enough as to provide commentary, which can relate to the topic under discussion.

    Caribbean: In the context of the study, the group of islands ranging from Guyana located in the South American Continent extending northwards to the Bahamas, the Turks and Caicos, and other islands occupied by any of the four major colonial powers thduring the 15 centuries and beyond. These powers are England, France, Holland and Spain.

    Origins: The starting point or point of commencement at which the linguistic history may be said to begin. Properly understood, it may also refer to the earliest recorded history or data of the native speakers of language I the region itself, and may also include Their relation to other groups who may have lived contemporaneously with them, whether emerging from the same area of land, or perhaps who may regard as foreigners.

    Development: The systematic progress of the language, which can be, measured in terms of a number of features and the uses- such as the phonological system, as well as its usefulness with respect to communication and other essential human needs. The term development ay be seen in the language acquiring a number of features which may be More Publications | Press Room AIU news | Testimonials | Home Page


    seen as foreign to it, or acquiring structures, that is, words, expressions, to grammatical structures which may show variance form he original language.

    Future- The predicted or expected fate of the languages of the region, especially in terms of new phenomena such as economic forces, social and other important factors which can impact the existence and the usefulness of the language itself.

    Rationale: A Linguistic History of the Caribbean:Origins, Development and Future is necessary to the linguistic development and knowledge to be provided on account of the study. The study examines the linguistic history of the earliest recorded inhabitants of the legion, traces its development over the centuries and culminates in a predictive result for the languages themselves. It will consider a number of features may affect the future of the languages themselves in the region.


Components and Their Relation to the Modern World

The research is divided in to the following components:

    A. Introduction: An overview of the linguistic situation in general and attempting to determine the factors which can impact of the use of a language or several languages over a period of years.

B.The Origins:

    . The Caribbean linguistic scenario- An examination of some of the factors, which relate to the linguistic history of the region- a discussion of the four main people:

i. The Tainos/Arawaks

    ii. The Caribs

    iv. The Europeans. -

C.Development and Associated Concerns: - This section will explore some of the

    factors, which must be considered in the development of the linguistic situation of the region generally. Some of the features to be addressed include:

     thi. Early Colonial Expansion: The early centuries 15h- 18 centuries

    ii The Roles of Governments, Inter-regional associations and Academics: iii. Modern Phenomena and Factors: The section will consider some of the significant

    modern factors, which have impacted the linguistic development in the region. More Publications | Press Room AIU news | Testimonials | Home Page


D.Predicted Fate or Future:

    a. Expcted result of the linguistic scenario of the languages

b. The Role of the Society.

c. The Role of the Government.

d. The Role of Inter-regional Bodies.

e. The Influence of the World.

    E. Recommendations: The usefulness of the study, measured or expressed in terms of a number of practical applications.

F.Conclusion-The terminal comments on the study.


    A Linguistic History of the Caribbean: Origins, Development and Future. is relevant

    for a number of reasons.

    1.The study can be useful as an academic or bonafide research assignment.

    2. It provides significant data into the linguistic history of the Caribbean.

    3. It provides significant detail into the social history of the region.

    4.It maybe used as a means of accounting for some of the differences between the various territories in the region.

    5.It can be used as a comparative study, that is, providing a framework or basis to make comparison of other territories such as smaller islands, which have undergone colonization.

    6.At the individual or insular level, it can help to provide valuable data on the relative differences between each Caribbean territory.

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    7. It may provide information on the relative linguistic differences between recognizes people groups whose presence may have impacted the region linguistically.

    8.It can be useful in interregional bodies such as CSME- The Caribbean Single Market and Economy.

    9.As a means of education, it can assist language planners and educators in the formulation of adequate strategies toward language use.

    10.It can contribute at the fundamental historical level-by providing insights into the relevant relationships between the various groups in the region.

    11.It can be used to demonstrate the multi-linguistic heritage of the region.

    12.It can have practical relevance to areas of significant human endeavour-such as education, law, medicine, economics and other concerns.

    13.It can be used to provide additional background information for which additional studies may be conducted.

    14.It can serve to unify the region, especially in the face of economic threats, which may be produced by large trading blocks in South America, and in North America.

    15.At the practical level, it can be of use to immigrants wishing to reside in the Caribbean region or conduct business generally.


Case Study


    Two different accounts of the linguistic history of the Caribbean are presented for discussion and analysis.

Problem Statement:

    There has been and continues to be various arguments put forward in relation to the linguistic accounts in the Caribbean region.


    To use the extracts in a representative fashion, in an attempt to portray the wide diversity of views in relation to the linguistic history of the Caribbean region. More Publications | Press Room AIU news | Testimonials | Home Page



    Both accounts are subjected to discussion, with adequate analysis being made of each perspective. The main arguments posited in favour of, or against each perspective are also highlighted.

Sample Selection:

    The selected extracts were chosen in that they represented the widest divergence of perspectives on the issue at hand. One view suggests that the linguistic history of the region is linked to and heavily dependent on the presence of African languages, which is manifested in Caribbean Creoles or dialects, having elements directly traceable to specific African languages. The second view suggests that the linguistic history of the region is largely dependent on the interaction of the early inhabitants and the colonizers, who essentially ‗educated ‗ the African slaves and the native dwellers of the islands. This process has resulted in the manifestation of several European standards nmaley-Englsih, French, Spanish, Danish, Dutch or some derivative of these standards.

Data Presentation and Analysis:

    The data was presented by means of tables and other diagrams to portray some of the respective features included in each perspective. The appendix shows other diagrams which wee considered useful in the study itself.

Discussion and Findings:

    The conclusions arising from the study validated the thesis statement. There is significant variation in the perspectives advanced on the issue of the linguistic history of the Caribbean. Both accounts contribute meaningful information with respect to the origin, and the development of the linguistic history of the region. The future remains largely uncertain, however current factors affecting the linguistic scenario may provide insights into the direction of the linguistic scenarios.


    In attempting to determine linguistic history of a nation it is necessary to take into account several of the factors, which can actually affect the specific history of that language. Also known as historical linguistics, Janedi (1994,p.358) l provide this definition on the importance of the subject:

    ‗Historical linguistics is concerned with language change. That is, what kinds of change occur (and why) and equally important, what kinds of changes don‘t occur and (why More Publications | Press Room AIU news | Testimonials | Home Page


    not)- how we might discover the changes that have occurred in a language‘s history, and the relationship of languages historically. The notion that similar languages are related and descended from an earlier common language (a proto-language) goes back to the late th century when Sir William Jones suggested that the linguistic similarities of Sanskrit 18

    to ancient Greek and Latin could best be accounted for by assuming that all three were descended from common ancestral language.‖

    On this point the Wilkipedia Encyclopedia offers the following commentary;

    Historical linguistics (also diachronic linguistics or comparative linguistics) is primarily the study of the ways in which languages change over time. It is opposed to descriptive (synchronic) linguistics, which studies the state of a language at a certain point. The main tools of historical linguistics are the analysis of historical records, and the comparison of internal features vocabulary, word formation, and syntax of current

    and extinct languages. The goal is to trace the development and genetic affiliations of the world languages, and understand the process of language evolution. A classification of all languages into family trees is both a major result and a necessary tool of this effort.

    Modern historical linguistics grew out of the earlier discipline of philology, the Modern historical linguistics grew out of the earlier discipline of philology, the study of ancient texts and documents. In its early years, historical linguistics focused on the well-known Indo-European languages; but since then, significant comparative linguistic work has been done on the Uralic languages, Austronesian languages and various families of Native American languages, among many others.‖

    The study of historical linguisitcs will include a study of many of the factors which involve the change of language over the years.:

    The exact cause of language change will never be known , however several possibilities have been advanced which have been posited in th attemtp to explain the changes which languages undergo.

Fromkin and Rodman (1994,p.353) note:

    ― All living languages change regularly through time.Evidence of linguisitic change is foiund in the history of individual languages and in the regular correspondances that More Publications | Press Room AIU news | Testimonials | Home Page


    exist between different languags and dialects.Genetically -related languages descend form a commmon ‗parent‘ language through linguisitic change.An early stage in the hisrtory of related languages is that they are dialects of the same parent. All parts of the grammar may change.That is, phonological, morphological, syntactic, lexical and semanctic changes occur.Words, morphemes , phonemes and rules of all types may be added , lost, or altered.The meaning of words and morphemes may expand, narrow or shift.‘

    The actual reasons for the change in language are explained below by the authors( 1994, p.353):

    ‗ No one knows all the causes of linguisitic change.Basically, change comes about through the restructuring of the grammar by childen learning the language.Grammars are both simplified and elaborated;the elaborations may arise to counter the simplifications that could lead to unclarity and ambiguity.

    Some sound changes may result from physiological, assimilative processes.Others like the Great Vowel Shift, are more difficult to explain.Grammatical changes may be explained in part, as analogic changes, which are simplifications or

    generalizations.External borrowings from other languages also affects the grammar.‘

    Given the type of changes which can occur in lanaguagesover a period of centuries or millenia, it is not surprising to note tht some languages may appear to be extinct owing to a number of factors which may have been listed above. Yet it is possible for languages to have all but disappeared , owing to other factors such as colonizationand the decimation of the natve inhabitiants by the colonial powers who may have invaded their lands and reduced their populations:

Mintz( 1966.p.485) observes:

    ; The early extirpation or genetic assimilation of aboriginal populations is yet another important background factor in the social history of the Antillean area.In the Caribbean, everyone but the native Indians was a newcomer.Thought the general significance of this fact has been noted in comparisions between the coatal lowlands of Latin America and the highlands of dense aboriginal concentration,(Service 1955), its particular meanngin thr cse of thrr Caribbean islands has received too little attention.In other world areas, the cases most likely to come to mind are thse of Australia-where essentially only one European migrant population ebventualy settles-and the Mascarene Islands, including Mauritius, with which some of the useful comparisons with the Caribbean may be made.

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Mintz ( 1966,p.485)contiunues:

    In effect, the Europeans conquerors of the Antilles scourged thse lands of their native inhabitiants, creating vacuums within which European, African( and laterAsian) migrant populations could be accommodated.One is reminded of Mannoni‘s image of the European conqueror as one motivated by the ‗lure of a world without men;.Mannoni (1964:101) had Madagascar in mind, but the Caribbean islands would have fitted his argument far better.‘

    From the analysis of the foregoing, it follows that the language of the Caribbean have undergone tremendous change with the arrival of the Europeans. Unless historical data records the information surrounding the earliest point of contact as well as the languages which were spken in the encpounter, the result of trying to accuratlely describe the two languages spoken will be futile.

    Jannedi presents information on the importantce of these languages in contact, known essentially as creoles.The authors( 1994, p.359) assertt:

    ― The kernel of truth in the traditional defintion of creoliztion is that all creoles do saeem

    to be languages that were intially not native to any group of speakerts, but which were adopted as first languages by soime speech community.The problem with the traditional definition is that it presumes a predecessor pidgin language for every creole language.However, in most of the classic creole languages, there is no attesed evidence for a prior pidgin.In fact, among the creole languages spoken in the Caribbean whuch are the traditional prototype creoles,there is reason to sispect that the predecessor languages were not pidgins, but pre-pidgin jargons..A jargon is an extremely rudimentary and variable type of language formed in contact situations..

‗Various researchers have suggested that the social context found in multilingual

    plantation settings is unique in human history.On plantations there was a radical break in linguistic traditions.Children rarely learned the native language of their parents because it was of little or no value to them on the plantation.The only acessible variety of language of significant usefulness in plantation settings was the unstable , highly variable jargon used by their parents and the other slaves.‘

    An inportant point which has been emphasized by the authors( 1994.p.359) relates to the primary language used by the parents in such contexts:

    ―Furthermore, these prepidgin jargons were bthe primary language of the adults as well, since thry were the best means of communicating woith others from such varied linguistic backgrounds.Thus these greatly simplified, extremely rudimentary, shifting More Publications | Press Room AIU news | Testimonials | Home Page


    jargons became the primary language of the adult slves and their children.There was no time for leisurely crystallization and development of thee jargons before they became the native language of the entire plantation community.The common social context is shared by nearly all of the Craibbean creole communities and a few others besides e.g( Hawaiian Creole‘

    The interaction of the earliest inhabitants of the West Indies, and those from European consequently would have resulted in major linguistic changes .The nature of these changes and the respective consequences for the inabitiants and the languages themselves will bow be explored.


    Much speculation abounds concerning the exact data at which the first Eurpean explorers came into contact with the native inhabitants of the West Indies .The year 1492 has generally been accepted by researchers investigation the issue. Howver, to determine the origin of the arrival of the first group of person to the region, known as the Tainos is a matter involved in some degree of difficulty. One perspective in the issue is cited below: In an article entitled Caribbean Indigenous People, the following entry is cited;

    It is very difficult to know exactly when did the people that Christopher Columbus saw in 1492 migrated to the area now known as the Caribbean. The Archaeological findings suggest that human beings have migrated to the American continent between 6000 and 10.000 BC. These dates are different from those suggested by the findings in the Caribbean region. Apparently the migration to the Caribbean Island was not done primarily but secondarily after settling on the main land in North America, Central America and the Northern region of South America. Archaeological carbon dating placed the arrival of the first human in the Caribbean region between 3.500 and 4000 BC. The best clues we have to find out where the Karibe/Tainos came from is in the links between their culture and that of other people from the mainland. Those links are in the Karibe/Tainos mythology and culture.

    Modern research into the early dwellers of the West Indies or the Caribbean region points to at least four different categories of inhabitants whooccupiedhe region. The groups which are identified include; a. The Tainos (b) The Islabd Caribs ? The Guanahaabeys.

    The Wilkipedia Encyclopedia posits the following entry with respect to the Tainos:

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