Thursday, January 10, 2013
Atlantic English based Creoles - born in Cormantin
John H. McWhorter has in his book The Missing Spanish Creoles : Recovering the birth of planation contact languages argued what I put in the title of this essay: the Atlantic English based Creoles were born in Cormantin.
Why is this important?
First of all, the main theme of McWhorter himself is linguistics. Noam Chomsky thought that Creoles were remnants of Pidgins which reflect a Grammatical Rebuilding process after a Grammatical breakdown resulting from conflicting Grammars. And that is how he analyses Human Innate Grammar as essentially identic to Creole Grammar. McWhorter breaks this down by saying:
1) Atlantic English based Creoles are similar to each other but dissimilar to Pacific English based Creoles;
2) One creole can be seen as built on another - Jamaican Creole on Gullah and so on back to Sranan - corresponding to how slaves from one colony helped to build the next one and tracing back to St Kitts (or to St Kitts and to Barbados);
3) Atlantic English based Creoles share features with Portuguese based, French based, Dutch based ones - but not with Spanish based languages (except Papiamentu and Palenquero which are relexicalised from originally Portuguese based Creoles);
4) English, French, Portuguese and Dutch (at very short times Swedes and Danes too) had West African Colonies, but Spain had not;
5) Atlantic Creoles share features with West African languages;
6) West Africa was a place where natives learnt European languages, and just well enough to communicate, with obviously very conservative adhesion to native grammar - i e to West African grammars, like Igbo or Akan;
7) For English this was in Cormantin;
8) AEC are far likelier to have been born there than in Barbados, or Surinam (where Sranan is still English based, but which the English lost to the Dutch after only 17 years of possession).
I had actually misunderstood the word "castle slaves" in a previous reading of McWhorter's work. It was not a question of Cormantin being the castle of some African Kingdom, it was an English castle. I would have used the word "fortress" for something that was neither royal nor even feudal. But the English did use slaves from Cormantin castle to oversee the establishment of new colonies. Apart from that Cormantin slaves were only shipped over the Atlantic for grave faults, at least at first, around 1650.*
It is only one shipping of slaves from Cormantin which he deems responsible for the Creoles of St Kitts, Barbados, and all else. What begins as a Pidgin in Cormantin - and includes Portuguese words since the Africans have already used Portuguese Pidgins before the English arrived, among people speaking Akan, first in their communication with Englishmen and then in their communication with other Africans, becomes a Creole as it is shipped across the Ocean. The same one as is seen in any of the Atlantic ones, up to Bob Marley's use of Jamaican.
But yes, French and Dutch had similar castles and so had the Portuguese in Angola.
Spaniards had a revulsion from slavery, though they used slaves, and the lack of colonies in West Africa - Treaty of Tordesillas - helped keep Spanish conscience anti-slavery and Spanish use of slaves based much on hypocrisy, including the system of buying slaves from other Europeans, the asientos de negros being the trade treaties associated with such commerce.
Of course, all the while this slave holding was going on in Africa and over the Atlantic under European colonial rule, in England or Spain or Holland or Portugal themselves a man could not legally be held as a slave. And Colonial Empires were by 1800 either developing or getting exchanged from slavery to anti-slavery ones. France lost its older one in Napoleonic Wars and gained a new, strictly anti-slavery one from 1830 on. The English one was by 1800 slave trading and slave holding, by 1807 no longer slave trading, by 1833 and following years no longer slave holding. And how the English got their slaves to Cormantin, by trade, by slave hunt or by taxation of slaves, I do not know. My earlier misreading of McWhorter's book misled me to think Cormantin was an African Kingdom's castle, much like the Ashanti kingdoms, and that English only traded from there. Sorry, not the author's fault, but in Paris I read more on plenty of coffee than on good nights' sleeps.
But the funny thing is that the chapter where McWhorter sums up his best evidence and responds to all of his opponents is called "The Creationist at the Cocktail Party" - as if he was adamantly sure that creationism and geocentrism were hopelessly abandoned and very clearly refuted theories (a hint: Geocentrism does not need to be Ptolemaic rather than Tychonian, and the word does not mean that Earth is centre of the Solar System but that it is so of the entire Universe**). Much as I appreciate McWhorter's work, and much as I regret having read it wrong previously (when I was also tired, since on the street in Paris), I find this funny thing worth noting.
Bpi, Georges Pompidou
St William of Donjeon
Archbishop of Bourges
*Will check if the qualification is correct. Right now I am too tired.
**And this involved no megalomania. A globe the size of Earth itself still has a centre of one cubic millimetre, or as much tinier as you like to put it. That is about hos Ptolemy thought about the relative size of the Earth to the Universe. But I will leave readers to read about that one in an essay with added comments I wrote after looking at McWhorter's parallel:
HGL's F.B. writings : Creationism and Geocentrism are sometimes used as metaphors for "outdated because disproven inexact science"
Here is McWhorter's book on Amazon:
The Missing Spanish Creoles: Recovering the Birth of Plantation Contact
by John H. McWhorter