The genesis of creole languages is important to the field of linguistics for at least two reasons. As newly emerging languages, creoles provide a unique window on the human language faculty and on the development of language generally (Veenstra 2008). They also offer insight into what are arguably universal linguistic structures. Two opposing theories have been in contention in the literature with respect to creole genesis: (1) that creoles owe their origin to the lexifier and substrate languages of their speech community and to other environmental influences (McWhorter 1997); and alternatively, (2) that universal innate linguistic structures or principles are the generative source of creole grammar (Bickerton 1981). Both theories have a claim to at least partial correctness. This thesis adds new evidence in support of the universalist/innatist argument. This thesis examines five written creole languages and two signed creole languages of geographic and historical diversity and focuses on the grammatical system of case, word order, and agreement of these languages as one axis along which to investigate the issue of creole genesis and universality. The signed languages in particular offer unique data, especially the data from Nicaraguan Sign Language, where there was an absence of significant lexifier and substrate influences. Patterns of what are termed core indispensable features in these seven language systems are uncovered, examined and compared. Further comparison is made with the case, word order, and agreement features of the world's languages generally and of creole languages as a subset of the world's languages, based on data in the World Atlas of Language Structures (Dryer & Haspelmath 2009) and in the Atlas of Pidgin and Creole Language Structures (Michaelis et al. 2013b), respectively. The findings and contributions to the field made possible from the data in this thesis are that there are commonalities in the case, word order, and agreement systems of the subject creole languages that qualify as core indispensable features and that these features are generated by universal innate linguistic expectations. These commonalities are: (1) that morphological case inflection is not a core indispensable feature; (2) that SVO word order is a core indispensable feature; and (3) that agreement as a feature, seen only when word order is apparently verb final, occurs only in the signed creole languages and is more accurately interpreted as topicalization incorporated into SVO word order rather than as an independent core feature. Nicaraguan Sign Language presents especially compelling evidence for these conclusions.



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Humanities; Linguistics and English Language



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case, word order, agreement, creole genesis, universality, innatism, signed languages

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Linguistics Commons