VIRTUAL REALISM: Constraints on Validity in Textual Evidence of Caribbean Language History

LALLA, Barbara. (OP No.32, Apr 2005).

Abstract: Complementary to theorising the creolisation process is the documentation of this process by reconstruction of stages in the historical development of the language(s) involved. However, textual reconstruction of linguistic history in the Caribbean must take into account conflicting impulses of representation. This paper explores the question of whether some index of precision may be derived for evaluating textual evidence of Creole language change.

A dialectic of what narratologists term legibility and of accuracy governs the precision with which Creole speech is represented in written texts. Accuracy is essentially a function of writer profile in relation to general text profile, while legibility is mainly a function of audience profile (or write perceptions of audience) in relation to text profile. The play between accuracy and legibility influences coverage of Creole—in nature, extent and dimensions of coverage. Moreover, evolving language attitudes which affect writer and/or audience profiles influence boundary maintenance (between codes) in written text and, so, further impact on representation. While these factors by no means negate the value of textual material for linguistic history, they constrain the precision with which evidence of Creole structure can be derived from scribal evidence.

About the Author

BARBARA LALLA is Professor of Language and Literature in the Department of Liberal Arts at The University of the West Indies, St. Augustine . Her research areas are Caribbean language history, medieval studies, and literary discourse. She is also committed to her creative writing. Professor Lalla is former President of the SCL.

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