The semantics of Englishes and Creoles: Pacific and Australian perspectives

Carsten Levisen, Carol Priestley, Sophie Nicholls, Yonatan Goldshtein

    Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter


    This chapter provides a lexical-semantic comparison of a selection of Englishes and English-related creoles in the Australia-Pacific area. Faced with the conundrum in sociolinguistic classificatory practice and its contested categories: “language”, “creole”, “dialect”, “variety”, and “English(es)”, we will attempt to circumvent the problematic of metavocabulary by taking a new, two-pronged approach. Firstly, we rely on semantic primes, simple words meanings such as I, you, people, body, big, small, know, think, see, hear as our comparandum, and compare and contrast the lexicalizations of these basic meanings across our sample. Secondly, we utilize phylogenetic networks for visualizing our results and as a tool for forming new hypotheses. Our results provide counter-evidence to the claim that Melanesian and Australian creoles are “varieties of English”. In our sample, we find three basic types of relations. “Shared-core” types (Australian English v. New Zealand English); “closely related core” types (Hawai’i Creole v. Anglo Englishes); and “distantly related core” types (Tok Pisin v. Anglo English, Kriol v. Anglo English, or Yumplatok v. Anglo English). We measure our results against Scandinavian languages in order to explore the language-dialect question, and against Trinidadian – a Caribbean creole, in order to explore the extent of lexical-semantic areality. We conclude that current sociolinguistic metavocabulary is inadequate for representing the complexity of the new ways of speaking in the Australia-Pacific region, and we suggest a principled areal-semantic investigation of words based on semantic principles.
    Original languageEnglish
    Title of host publicationCreole Studies - Phylogenetic Approaches
    Editors Peter Bakker, Finn Borchsenius, Carsten Levisen & Eeva Sippola
    Place of PublicationOnline
    PublisherJohn Benjamins Publishing Company
    ISBN (Print)9789027212498
    Publication statusPublished - 2017


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