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A Few Points on Verbs in Mauritian Kreol and in Creole Languages


LALIT has requested permission from LPT to translate their Kreol language article on verbs in Kreol into English, and to publish it. Given the opacity of the theoretical linguists to the layman, the article is an important bridge between linguist and layman. With the Akademi Kreol Morisyen having come back from the brink of destruction at the end of last year, it is important to know that LPT is quite capable of continuing some of the work together with other associations, should the Akademi be brought down by some of its opposers. It seems as though the Akademi is fortunately still on course.

Here is the LPT article:

A Few Points on Verbs in Mauritian Kreol and in Creole Languages
Our article intends to provide you with a few arguments to use in response to people who until today continue with the insane point of view that Kreol “has no grammar”. Theoretical linguistics is a science in the sense that it is not based on impressions, but on objective observation. And just as we can have the impression that the sun is rising in the morning and then crossing the sky to set in the evening, objective science informs us that this is simply not true. In fact, of course, the inverse is true, that is to say, our earth goes around the sun.

We all know how to speak our own language proficiently, and this comes to us quite naturally. We are thus completely oblivious to our mother tongue having any “grammar”. We are totally unaware that we are observing very strict syntactic rules, and that these rules are extremely hard to learn consciously as an adult. This is what contributes to people today persisting with their “impression” that Kreol is not a language in that it has no syntax or grammar. But scientific research proves the opposite and has done so for some 60 years now. Here is a glimpse of some of the research.

“Kreol is not a Language”
All linguists today know that Kreol is a language in its own right. The definition that Prof. Derek Bickerton (1) gives to distinguish a language from a pidgin, is that it can be transmitted from one generation to another as a mother tongue. The illusion that Kreol is not a language has persisted, however, from colonial times when the ruling class needed to justify a system which needed to maintain the grotesque lie that slaves are not entirely “people”. From this it flowed naturally that the language they spoke was not entirely a language. This is simply race prejudice of the worst ilk.

Kreol has neither structure nor syntax
Often people say that there are not precise rules in Kreol. However, Prof. Derek Bickerton (2) shows how we can analyse syntax scientifically, and he was amongst the early linguists to rehabilitate the Creole languages from all over the world. He gives one simple example that makes it evident that Kreol is full of all sorts of very strict rules that we know, if unconsciously: He says take the following phrase:

“Anu pran enn fraz an Kreol ki kontenir dis mo.”
[Let’s take a sentence in Kreol that contains ten words.]

He then wittily shows how this sentence, itself, contains 10 words. However, these mere 10 words could be arranged in many different orders. In fact there are 3.5 million ways to order them. Or to be even more precise, there are exactly 3,628, 800 different possible orders in which they could be strung together. But only one order is the correct one. This shows that Kreol, like any other language, has very rigid syntactical rules.

“Kreol has no conjugation therefore it is not a language”
Another finding of Derek Bickerton’s, later developed for Mauritian Kreol by Prof. Dany Adone (3) (University of Cologne, Germany), is that all verbs in Creole languages all over the world function along the same lines to express different “times” in which an action took place. They all express tense (past, present, future) through TMA markers (Tense, Modality, Aspect).

Tense: A tense indicates that the action is taking place while we are talking or happened before (if do not place a tense marker in front of the verb, this means it is happening at the same time as we are speaking, and if we put the marker “ti” in front of it, this means it already taken place); Modality: Modality indicates the nature of something that has not yet happened in the sense that it will in fact happen or it may possibly happen (realist = pu, irrealist = ava); Aspect: Aspect tells us the time of action in the sense of whether it is still going on or whether it is already over (pe, ape v/s inn, finn, ’nn).

Possible combinations
In all cases, the markers follow a very specific order of T then M then A (You can’t say, “Mo finn pu ti marse”) The verb can go together with T on its own, M on its own or A on its own. Or with both T and M, or with both T and A, or with both M and A, or finally all three T, M and A. (5) (See table below).

So, there are some 18 tenses, or ways of expression an action in Kreol. This shows that you cannot say that because Kreol has no “conjugation” it is not a language. Its tenses follow strict rules.

“Kreol is a simplified form of French”
Fabiola Henri (4) who presented her PhD thesis in 2010 shows how, though Mauritian Kreol does not have the same changes that French has in verbs (mange, manges, mangeons, mangez etc.), it does have two different verb forms, the Long Form and the Short Form (manze – manz) and the rules for their use is very complex. Usually they work as follows:
Mo pe koze (Long Form with a final -e)
Mo pe koz ar Zan (Short Form without a final -e)
However, when Fabiola Henri did research on the predictability of verb sorms, she found that it is easier to predict the form in French conjugation once you know its verb group than to know whether to conjugate into the Long Form or Short Form in Mauritian Kreol. In french, once you know how to conuugate verbs that end in “-er”, it is easy to reproduce the pattern for all verbs ending “-er”. Ahowever, it is not so easy to distinguish when to use a Long Form or a Short Form verb in Kreol. A few examples follow of verbs that end in “-e”:
“vande” in its short form becomes “vann”,
“balye” remians “balye”
“briye” can remain “briye” or shorten to “briy” (depending on its meaning)
“tonbe” becomes “tom”
“fimle” must remain “fimle”

And this is not counting the additional difficulty of “verum focus”. Sometimes a verb keeps ins Long Form even when there is something following it as in “mo pe koze ar Zan”, because its meaning is different, and it implies that you should stop making a noise or be a bit more patient. In her thesis, Fabiola Henri studies a further complex linguistic phenomenon that exist in certain Creole language: verb duplication.

Zan pe marse lor laplaz.
Zan pe mars-marse lor laplaz.

Mauritian Kreol has the capacity to create a new verb, a verb with a new meaning, by repeating the verb. This duplicated form becomes a verb in its own right. But not all verbs can do this. You have to learn which ones can take doubling. It is not easy. For example, you cannot say “devini-devini”, “ne-ne” or “ariv-arive”. And then certain verbs when they duplicate themselves, use a Short Form that does not exist in its Short Form in other instances.

You have to say “Li ronfle for” (Long Form) not “Li ronf for” (Short Form does not exist). However, curiously, we all know that we say “Li ronf-ronfle”, when we duplicate.
We have to use the Long Form in “Li tranble for”, and can’t use “Li tranb for”. But we all agree that we say “Li tranm-tranble”.

In addition, when we say in Mauritian Kreol that he is mars-marse, this means he is more-or-less walking about, something much less defined than actual walking. And this is in turn not the same in meaning as “li marse marse”. If we say “Mo finn marse marse”, we mean that he walked a long way, further and maybe more determinedly than just marse, and quite different from mars marse.

To make it even more difficult, when we say “Tiginn marse li finn marse pu gayn enn kamarad ti-kalite kumsa”, the first use of the word “marse” is something that is something else, in grammatical terms. It is not an ordinary verb at all, because, for a start, we can met a word like “tiginn” before it, which usually signifies that it is a noun.

LPT is launching our new “2011 Study Group” on Kreol grammar. Joining is easy. Just contact LPT.

Jean-Yves Dick, Alain Ah-Vee, Lindsey Collen
for Ledikasyon pu Travayer, January, 2011

(1) Bickerton, Derek (2008). Bastard Tongues. Hill and Wang.
(2) Bickerton, Derek (1990). Language and Species. University of Chicago Press.
(3) Adone, Dany. (1990). "The Acquisition of TMA Markers in Mauritian Creole." Linguistische Berichte Supplement
(4) Henri, Fabiola (2010), A constraint-based approach to verbal constructions in mauritian: morphological, syntactic and discourse-based aspects (Dissertation for Doctorat in Linguistics, University of Mauritius and Universite Paris Diderot-Paris 7)
Tenns (0/ti) + V
Mo marse
Mo ti marse
Modalite(pu/ava) + V
Mo pu marse,
Mo ava marse
Aspek (pe/inn) + V
Mo pe marse,
Mo finn marse
Tenns (0/ti) + Modalite(pu/ava) + V
Mo ti pu marse
Mo ti ava marse
Tenns (0/ti) + Aspek (pe/inn)+ V
Mo ti pe marse
Mo ti finn marse
Modalite(pu/ava) + Aspek (pe/inn) + V
Mo pu pe marse
Mo pu finn marse
Mo ava pe marse
Mo ava finn marse
Tenns (0/ti) + Modalite(pu/ava) + + Aspek (pe/inn) + V
Mo ti pu pe marse
Mo ti pu finn marse
Mo ti ava pe marse
Mo ti ava finn marse