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Simplification of a complex part of grammar or not?

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Abstract

In this article I attempt to approach the question of what effect the incorporation of a large number of KiKoongo vocabulary items by the creole languages of Surinam had vis-a-vis notions of simplification or complexification. So, we have the situation of a language lacking an extensive noun-class system with number marking having to absorb many words possessing such a system. An examination of the KiKoongo borrowings belonging to three classes is performed: 3/4, 5/6, 7/8. Each class appears to display a different constellation of singular and plural prefixes. 3/4 appears to represent only singular forms, either with an explicit suffix, or with no suffix. 5/6, where the KiKoongo dialect which seems to be best represented in Surinam has no explicit prefix in the singular, has a large preponderance of plural prefix forms. 7/8 has mixed results, possibly indicating KiKoongo dialect mixture. Most items occur without a prefix – presumably representing singulars, while a smaller number have explicit singular or plural prefixes. A surprisingly large number of forms display the wrong prefix. The common prefixes /ma-/ (pl.cl. 6) and /mu-/ (sg.cl. 3) seem to be involved frequently. I hypothesize that KiKoongo speakers initially used the relevant prefix in words borrowed from KiKoongo. This is however redundant given that the definite article is marked for number. Fongbe speakers would not know the correct number agreement, but would be able to recognize KiKoongo morphemes because of word length. In class 5/6 the preferred option was for a prefixed form (plural). The next stage is the loss of knowledge that KiKoongo loans contain a prefix at all. The loss of number distinctions, then gender distinctions, then parsability into discrete morphemes takes place in the lack of any meaningful function for the prefixes. The number distinctions presumably initially encoded by KiKoongo speakers would be redundant in any case. Gender distinctions play no role in the larger Surinam Creole lexica. And meaningless prefixes cease to have any role. The complexity that is lost in this corner of the lexicon never played a significant role in the creoles.

References

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