A principled distinction between error and conventionalized innovation in African Englishes

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A distinction between error and conventionalized innovation is essential to understanding if and how New Varieties of English develop new conventions. This chapter proposes two criteria, grammatical stability and acceptability, to identify conventionalized innovations. It draws on the distinction drawn by Croft (2000) between the narrow process of creating new forms (innovation in the narrow sense) and the subsequent diffusion thereof, which are characterized as individual/psycholinguistic and social respectively. Three features from African Englishes are examined: the so-called extension of the progressive aspect to stative verbs and the use of “can be able to” in Black South African English, as well as the complementation of “enable” with bare infinitive clauses in East African English. The analyses indicate that while these features may have originated as errors due to analogy or overextension of existing patterns, which may also happen in the process of acquiring English as a foreign Language, the context of New Varieties of English is such that stabilization and conventionalization of these innovations may occur. Genuine new linguistic conventions emerge from forms that may have started out as errors.


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