Definite determiners in two English-based creoles

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It has been repeatedly observed in the literature that unlike their European lexifiers, creoles do not mark definiteness categorically. The question addressed here is whether the distribution of overt definite determiners and bare definite NPs in two Atlantic English-based creoles, Jamaican and Sranan, can be accounted for in terms of the specificity constraint that underlies the determiner use in Gbe, one of their most important substrate languages. The data examined shows that definite determiners in the two creoles tend to follow the definiteness-based pattern. This suggests that English rather than Gbe played the most crucial role in the formation of the discourse-semantic and distributional properties of Jamaican and Sranan definite determiners. Bare definite NPs in the two creoles may occur when the referent is either unimportant or self-evident. Thus, determiner use in Jamaican and Sranan is sensitive not only to language-specific grammar rules but also to universally prominent pragmatic factors.


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