Focus Lecture FLC2018: Kofi Yakpo

The English Creoles of Africa and the Americas: contact, differentiation, expansion
Kofi Yakpo
The University of Hong Kong


The Afro-Caribbean English-lexifier Creoles (AECs) arose barely four hundred years ago. With over 100 million speakers in Africa and the Americas, they today constitute one of the largest linguistic groupings of the western hemisphere, and one of the largest groups of varieties of “English”.


In this talk, I present research into the linguistic evolution and differentiation of the English Creoles of Africa and the Americas. The analyses are based on first-hand data collected on twelve English-lexifier Creole languages spoken in Nigeria, Cameroon, Ghana, Sierra Leone, Equatorial Guinea, Suriname, Jamaica, Trinidad, Tobago, and Barbados. Although some of the smaller varieties covered have been studied quite well (e.g. Jamaican Creole), much less is known about the African Creole varieties although they number far more speakers (e.g. Nigerian Pidgin, with over 80 million speakers). I conduct a fine-grained typological analysis of hitherto undescribed and under-described features and functional domains, and propose that areal convergence along an “African” and a “European” typological pole function as push and pull factors in the differentiation of these languages. I also argue for the notional separation of the traditional creolist terms “superstrate”, “lexifier”, “substrate” and “adstrate”, and account for the linguistic-structural relevance of these distinctions.


The AECs show a great structural-typological diversity commensurate with the large linguistic and cultural heterogeneity of the ecologies they are spoken in. These ecologies are characterized by generalized individual and societal plurlingualism, tolerance for variation, elastic ethno-linguistic identities, and high degrees of geographic mobility. This study aims to contribute to our understanding of how and at what pace linguistic (sub-)families evolve in the absence of language engineering, standardization, normalized literacy, scolarization, monolingual ideologies and linguistic nationalism. Equally, it allows us to refine the methodology and terminology for the description and analysis of language change in typologically diverse, multilingual ecologies.


Studies like the present one are also important in view of a fixation in academia and popular science with the genesis of creole languages and their assumed difference from non-creoles. This study shifts the focus to how creoles have continued to evolve as the established languages of linguistic communities and nations numbering millions of speakers. Linguistics and the Sustainable Development Goals



Dr Kofi Yakpo is Assistant Professor of Linguistics in the School of Humanities. Previous occupations include Policy Adviser with the German Federal Parliament in Berlin, African Affairs Coordinator for the international human rights organization FIAN, and Postdoctoral Researcher at Radboud University Nijmegen.

He holds a Magister Artium in Linguistics, Social Anthropology and Political Science from the University of Cologne (Germany), an MBA from the University of Geneva (Switzerland) and a PhD in Linguistics from Radboud University Nijmegen (Netherlands)



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