Animacy, Respect and Salience in Surinamese Creole Grammar

Submitted by: Matthew Bronson

December 15, 1995

to: Prof. John McWhorter for Surinamese Creoles Class

Department of Linguistics

U.C. Berkeley

I Introduction: animacy as a universal "strange attractor".

The animacy hierarchy can not be reduced to any single parameter, including animacy itself in any literal sense, but rather reflects a natural human human interaction among several parameters which include animacy in its strictest sense, but also definiteness, ...and various means of making an entity more individuated--such as giving it a name of its own, and thereby making it also more likely as a topic of conversation...the overall pattern is of a complex intertwining rather than of a single, linear hierarchy." (Comrie 1981: 199)

Comrie’s comprehensive treatment of animacy from a cross-linguistic universal perspective presents a convincing case for animacy as--at the very least--a universal "tendency" that has a wide range of manifestations in language structure. Indeed, this chapter is unique in Comrie’s typologically oriented work owing to the fact that ".. the unifying theme extra-linguistic conceptual property, namely animacy, and we will be drawing together a range of formally quite different ways that animacy manifests itself in the structure of different languages."

One of the more remarkable aspects of the study of animacy is precisely that it shows up as various "distortions" or "emergent properties" in grammatical sub-systems in a way that defies categorization by the strict logical sensibilities of the formally--or typologically oriented--linguist.

The pattern in Comrie’s data suggests more of a "family resemblance" in the Wittgensteinian sense for the structure of the category called "animacy" rather than a formal category defined by necessary and sufficient conditions (Lakoff , 1987:123). Animacy is more of a "force" than a feature; it "distorts" grammars like a "strange attractor" (Dery 1993: 189), licensing expansion in complexity against the rule of "least effort". While the particulars of the "skewing" of the grammatical system toward a universal structural pattern is not atttested (only heuristic tendencies), the general willingness of speakers to make and retain such adjustments to express animacy --largely at the expense of "logical" or paradigmatic consistency--is apparent, even in the present data to be considered. The thesis of this paper is that a preponderance of anomalies, points of expansion or "splits" mentioned in the literature on Surinames creole grammars has some direct association with animacy-- indicating the centrality of animacy as a constituting principle of SC grammar rather than a peripheral phenomenon. Moreover, preservation of animacy distinctions is given a high priority in selecting which grammatical features are transferred from the African substrate

It is as if speech communities all over the planet have periodically gathered and said to each other:: "Well we can keep the grammar simple or we can show how important people are to us and make it more complex...what do you all think?". The data would lead us to believe that people in many speech communities do "vote" for complexity when given this choice--preferring to recognize animacy even over highly salient perceptual features such as plurality.

We can not predict how and when animacy effects will manifest in any given language--(the case of the slavonic genitive accusative --anomalous in Indo-European is canonical in the regard) (Comrie 1981: 189)1 That it clearly is manifest in the Surinamese creoles (Scs: Ndjuka "ND", Saramaccan "SM":, and Sranaan "SR") is one of the major focuses of this paper.

Animacy, as understood by Comrie and others, refers to linguistic manifestations of a hierarchy human < animate < inanimate. It is understood primarily at the lexical level and as an "inherent property of noun phrases." (Comrie 1981:186). Examples of animacy effects in Surinamese creoles as presented in this paper can extend the legitimacy of the concept as an "emergent" rather than necessarily constitutive element of universal grammar. Further, "animacy" is as applicable to "speech acts" and "verbs" as to "noun phrases" if this analysis is correct. The efficacy of the concept in motivating a number of otherwise anomalous developments in SC grammar suggests that it deserves sustained attention from creolists as a potentially critical focal point for "explaining" the development and distribution of other structural features in the languages.

In summary, the following data demonstrate that the inherent salience of animacy seems to skew an otherwise remarkably "sleepy" creole grammar ( morphology in particular) toward expansion of forms associated with those who deserve more "respect" (i.e. are more "animate"--more on this later). Animacy is also heavily implicated in the selective transfer of grammatical elements from the West African substrate to SC grammar.

II Methodology/Overview of Study

This study consists of three parts: in part one I will follow (McWhorter, 1995) in attempting to confirm substrate transfer effects on several animacy-related phenomena (after Comrie 1981) in SC grammar. Part two consists of a more extended discussion of the role of animacy in Ndjuka reduplication (Huttar & Huttar date?). Part three suggests the re-framing of the notion of animacy in terms of a more general concept of "respect" as a way of accounting for the data from the Surinamese creoles (Scs). This reframing can also provide a more global account of Comrie’s cross-linguistic data on animacy.

Among the more robust cross-linguistic manifestations of animacy, (Comrie) lists the following:

proper names more animate than common noun phrases

animacy is an inherent property of noun phrases

animacy interacts in a complex fashion with other parameters, e.g., post-position "ko" in Hindi (which also depends on definiteness and topicality)

verb agreement and disambiguation of grammatical relations based on animacy hierarchy

agreement preferential with benefactive rather than indirect object

distinction between singular and plural preferential for highly animate noun-phrases

dative associated with animates and locative with inanimates (particularly) in anti-passive instructions.

associated with development of and differentiation of accusative case

(Comrie 186-191)

These have been selected from his more comprehensive list as those that might show potential manifestations in Scs. and somewhat constrain our search from the outset. Mulhauser: contributes a hierarchy that apparently governs the expansion of creole grammar. The higher a structure falls on this hierarchy, i.e. the more consonant it is with the substrate, the superstrate or "universal tendencies" the more likely it will be incorporated into the creole:

i.) superstratum and universal tendencies

ii) substratum and universal tendencies

iii) substratum and superstratum

iv) a combination of all these factors (possibly the case for some phenomena)

(Mulhauser : 34)

Comrie’s "universal tendencies" for animacy are exactly those I would like to investigate in Mulhauser’s and McWhorter’s frameworks with the SC data as the corpus.

III Substrate Effects in animacy?

Dative ordering

Per Comrie (1981) some of the more typical manifestations of animacy effects include special agreement and ordering rules associated with the indirect object--an inherently very animate grammatical slot-- in the role of "dative".

1. Dative ordering

Standard English offers both a syntactic role (first NP after the verb) or post-position (to+ NP postposed) as markers of the dative, and Portuguese preposed pronouns to appear in IO O order while nominal indirect objects are generally marked prepositionally with "a" or "para"). By contrast, Saramaccan--based on our admittedly limited corpus--uses only the syntactic option. Thus, the dative (with one potentially phonologically conditioned exception) preserves a strict ordering convention which might emanate from a substrate.

(SM) (Byrne 1987: 185-194)

The most typical dative construction in SM is:

a da di mii di moni
he give money the child
he gave the child the money

a deen di moni
he give-him money

mi a o-da I di pinda

I neg fut.-give you the peanuts
I won’t give you the peanuts (>McWhorter field notes 12/2/92)

*a da di moni en. * a da di moni f(u)/na di miii
he gave the money (to) him.

where the indirect object role (closest to the verb) is always filled by the dative=animate NP. The prepositional strategy appears to have been rejected. The only exception to this overall order found in the corpus is

a deen tata.
he give-it (to) father.

owing to the now lexicalized fusion of da+en=deen, this single structural exception seems phonologically conditioned.

The data from Sranaan give us a single example of a dative in a post-posed prepositional phrase:

(SR) I e skrifi wan brifi na I sisa.
You prog.-write letter to you(r )sister
You are writing a letter to your sister
(Adamson and Smith: 1994: 227)

Note that "skrifi" is not as prototypically bi-transitive as "da" and that Sranaan has had much more infuence from the Dutch and English superstrates--this could account for the apparent contrast in treatment of dative in SR and SM.

Are there any analogous ordering principles at work in substrate languages? Indeed, Kikongo--already implicated as a large contributor of lexical material to the SC grammars (McWhorter 1995:14) maintains a very strict animacy hierarchy in dative ordering. Data from Kikuyu is exemplary of this pan-Bantu phenomena (Lynette Navannagh, personal communication)

Ne ma-he-ire Rwamba ibuku
FP-they give-past Rwamba book
They gave Rwamba the book
*Ne-ma-he-ire ibuku Rwamba
(Navannagh 1995: 6)

Additional support for the robustness of the animacy distinction in governing substrate transfer comes to us by way of Navannagh’s exploration of the structure in Kenyan English. The indirect object can only occur before the direct object, regardless of how "funny" it sounds to the standard English ear: Please explain Mr Kibui the procedure. (Navannagh 1995:8)

Conclusion: while the data are not conclusive, there is some evidence for animacy effects in dative ordering in SC grammar. Since the use of prepositions in general is not a highly articulated strategy in Scs, this may add additional weight to the preference for the syntactic coding of this semantic role. Significantly, Byrne devoted an entire chapter to this subject and found no examples of datives marked as PP.

In the one case where syntactic ambiguity might (only theoretically) intrude, a deen tata--which could theoretically mean "he gave him to father" (--certainly a problematic statement in a maroon community!) the animacy hierarchy makes a clear disambiguation that overrides the syntactic ordering information. Many languages don’t even allow animates as the direct object of bi-transitives like "give" (cf., Chukchi examples, (Comrie 1981: 192)) Wintun doesn’t even allow animates as direct objects. One must say the equivalent of "I went with the child to the shaman" rather than "I took the child to the shaman". (Hinton 1993: 86). Further study needs to focus on the dative in the other substrates as well.

2. The "respect"/emphasis particle -o

In consonance with a general West African lexical current (McWhorter, class 12/5/95), the particle -o means in SM generally, respect, heartiness and warmth toward the associated NP or a kind of emphasis if used as a sentence final particle. It is employed in what seems rather like a vocative function in expressions like:

Oh man
(> bible comic book--sorry don’t know the name of the author)

and as an emphatic particle

Jejeta, Jejeta, da mi so pinda-o!
Jejeta, Jejeta, give me some peanuts-emph.
(>McWhorter field notes 12/2/92)

While my ability to investigate the exact particulars of all potential substrate effects was limited, I did find one intriguing analog with a near exact correspondence. Moreover, the example raises an intriguing connection between respect and animacy to be discussed more fully in the conclusion. In these examples, the meaning of increased "animacy", ( i,.e, respect ) associated with the -o postposition is indistinguishable from, "emphasis" in purely formal terms. This confirms Comrie’s contention that animacy is intimately associated with general salience. Emphasis is the grammatical means of encoding salience and seems to belong naturally along side topicality in the family portrait of features associated with "animacy".


O Manwele o Kedi usaminwini vo---..
the the past-me-tell saying
Manuel Kedi (respectfully) told me that (Bentley, 1887:546) Dictionary/Grammar of Kongo

Bentley (1887: 546) offers a key to the relation of animacy and respect in the observation immediately following this in his dictionary:

o diewa umbakidi
the jaguar him-catch
the jaguar(+animate) caught him
o ngo ovovele vo...
the leopard said that

These forms "personify" the animals, expressing the speaker’s intention to see them as animate, purposeful agents by marking them with a "1st class" (animate) determiner rather than the determiner for "common class" nouns (which is all we would ever expect if animacy were merely an "inherent property of the noun phrase".). The -o particle seems to act like an "amplifier" of animacy with respect to noun phrases in Kikongo, elevating merely animate proper nouns to a "hyper-animate" or "respect" position. By contrast, animals who are starting out a notch under people in the animacy hierarchy get bumped up to the "people" slot, grammatically--and conceptually-- speaking, when the o determiner is used.

An additional nuance which may indicate a convergence of problematic origin in the Portuguese superstrate comes from examples of the following type from modern Brazilian Portuguese;

esta aqui-o! (pointing)
It’s right here.
esta ai-o! (pointing)
It’s right there

As I have not had the opportunity to research the history of this construction in BP, I can not say definitively whether it is in any way related to the SM data. The convergence is an intriguing one, since emphasis and pointing are really linguistic and gestural reflections of each other. Only additional cross-linguistic and historical data will allow us to disconfirm a contact effect. Pending the outcome of such further study, this phenomenon could be very high on Mulhauser’s hierarchy and a prime candidate for transfer (as being attested in substrate, superstrate and universal equation of animacy and emphasis).

Conclusion: while we can not demonstrate conclusively here that Kikongo was the source for -o in SM, the initial search for substrate influence in Kikongo was encouraging and suggested as a bonus, a potentially useful association between animacy and "respect". The status of post-sentential deictic -o in superstrate BP was left open as a potentially related development.

5. -man and -wan, personal nominalizer suffixes

Animacy effects can motivate structures that are extremely marked in terms of the overall global strategy of the SC grammars. Radically simplified morphology, for example, is a diagnostic feature of creoles generally, to the extent that derivation is almost non-existent. In this context, the fact that one of the only examples of true derivation in the corpus is driven by animacy is highly suggestive.

maN + verb, adjective or noun



pregnant woman
sick one

waN +verbs adjectives or locative nominals

lobi-waN tranga-waN baka-waN
loved one strong one the one behind
(>Adamson & Smith, 222)

The suffix -wan seems to be more "stative" and less definite than -man. Both structures are clearly formed through a process of compounding that has become grammaticalized.

A cursory investigation of the substrate yields an exactly analogous structure in Akan. This occurs in a similarly impoverished morphological environment. In fact, of the three derivational strategies mentioned in Welmers (1990:188-189) as an exhaustive list, two are associated with animacy: a suffix isomorphic with the SM construction above and another suffix -num with plural meaning that applies only to kinship terms.



perform ritual-men


Conclusion: On first pass, this is a strong candidate as a transfer structure given that this is virtually the only derivation in the two languages. The existence of superstrate -man and -er in Dutch and English are attested as analogous structures in use at the time SM was formed. What is not clear is the status of this structure in universal grammar. It will be a matter of subsequent research to determine whether languages with relatively simple morphologies tend to add the personal nominalizer "first" as their grammars expand over time or whether this is a randomly conditioned occurrence more peculiar to Akan and Saramaccan than grammar generally.

The outcome of that inquiry directly constrains our ability to come to terms with whether this is indeed a transfer from Akan to Saramaccan. We do find initially positive confirmation of UG status for the structure as it is noted against a similarly "sleepy" morphological backdrop as one of two derivational suffixes in Bislama creole (Crowley 1984: "guvman", "draivman"). Only a more careful look at the Pacific substrate and other languages of the West African substrate will provide a definitive answer to this issue

6. Nationality conventionalized into its own slot in NP (Rountree 1972 318)

In SM, the noun phrase can be expanded with any number of optional elements: in this order: NP n --> hii, num., oto, Adj,*, det. nationality, N, de, so tuu, LOC.

sikisi olaansi womi *olaansi sikisi womi
sixty dutch men

The fact that SM grammar has dedicated a whole slot in the expansion of the pre-head noun phrase is an undeniable reflection of the salience of this category owing to animacy. Similar cryptotypal ordering occurs in English but this is outside the scope of the present study.

Unfortunately, confirmation of similar ordering in the African substrate is also still missing.

We note simply in passing that the fixing of the det. nationality slot as a sub-type of adjective reflects a very understandable need to conventionalize what needs to be said often. I can’t imagine anything more salient to the Saramaccans than national origin in their precarious position vis a vis the outside world, so once again, "animacy" converges with general salience. As a matter of cultural interest, it would be nice to know if they used the det. nationality slot for tribal, clan or village affiliations.

Reduplication and "topic salient" vs. "agent-salient" predicates

The animacy hierarchy helps disambiguate sentences and assign case roles in Surinamese creoles generally as in SM:

di pingo suti
the pig was shot

di womi suti di pingo
the man shot the pig
(Bakker 1991:1)

The relative multi-functionality of words requires the animacy hierarchy to help people interpret sentences like these consistently and correctly. Basically, it makes sense from the point of view of image schema theory as well as common sense. If "suti" evokes the "shooting" image schema generally, then, it’s easy for us to conventionalize the pig in the place of the P without extra trouble.

The "principle of least effort " applies uniformly for predicates in base level simple sentences, (NP V) but a much more complex paradigmatic differentiation emerges under reduplication. When attribution and presence or absence of copula are factored into the picture with careful attention to nuances in meaning, animacy emerges as the key element driving the expansion of complexity in this part of the grammar. The meaning of each of these structures in each context can be predicted based on the "topic salience" and "agent salience" of the structure. This is also a matter of interpretation in some ambiguous cases as we will discuss in closing

(Data from ND, Huttar & Huttar :14)

a pampila piiti. "the paper is torn" animacy hierarchy +equisalient pred.=passive, stative reading.

* a pampila de piiti. blocked owing to "verbal" i.e. "piiti" not intrinsically state-salient. (i.e., not very A-like vs. "siki" as in "Mi de siki.")

a pampila piitipiiti. (paper was all torn up, not purposeful)

a piiti pampila ("the torn paper" -purposeful

a piitipiiti pampila (the torn paper, not puposefully)

a pampila de piitipiiti. (the paper was torn (purposefully). (Huttar & Huttar: 14)

With equisalients, reduplication takes a perfective meaning as a simple predicate, i.e., the meaning of the reduplication is absorbed entirely by the state of the topic without any agent being implicated. By contrast, the introduction of "de" introduces a purposeful reading by displacing the concern with the state of the topic, allowing a separate sense of the intentionality of the act from the state of the patient (to use a functionalist argument).

In contrast to the equisalient predicates, there is a notable group of agent salient ("V-type predicates) which require reduplication in the attributive slot and the copula in the predicate slot with passive reading:

a boto lai. "the boat was loaded". (animacy hierarchy + agent-salient.=passive, stative)

*a boto lai-lai. "the boat was loaded". (redup. elevates agency to hyper salience resulting in potential topic confusion--or redup. selectively nominalizes "highly transitive" verbs)

a boto de lailai. "the boat was loaded". (copula tips back toward stative reading for topic, agency rendered latent uless explicitly mentioned in (f)u clause)

a lailai boto. "the loaded boat" (attributive slot selects stative reading

* a lai boto. "the loaded boat." ("lai" too verbal i.e., agent-salient to fit in attribute . slot unmodified, must be demoted in transitivity by redup.)

The evidence is that verbs like lai, koti, etc. are inherently imbued with a telic meaning. All such "group 1" verbs bear the taint of a latent agent who competes with the cognitive topic in the role of patient when the patient is in subject position. The telic meaning can be understood grammatically as that which elevates these verbs in the transitivity hierarchy such that they begin acting like "classic Chomskyan passives" when reduplicated , i.e. requiring an intervening copula in predicate position. Animacy is implicated directly in grammaticalization here..

Additionally, the attribute slot is inherently state-salient in SM which is incompatible with the highly transitive nature (agent-salience) of thse verbs such that they must be reduplicated in this position in contrast to their more flexible equisalient counterparts. With the less-transitive verbs like "piiti" in contrast, there is no animate agent looming in the background, so the same structures that are required for agent salient verbs (copula+ redup., redup. in attribution position) can be recruited for other useful distinctions, i.e, completion, purposefulness rather than resolving any possible competition between cognitive and linguistic topics.

Huttar’s evidence shows conclusively that this is not merely a case of lexical conditioning.

udu nyannyan. "the wood was all eaten up (by worms, termites, etc.)"
wood eaten.

vs. *alisi nyannyan. "the rice was eaten." (blocked by incongruence between animacy hierarchy and topic focus on rice.)

People are evoked as conventional participants so their absence must be marked to allow a passive reading. Similarly, a lebilebi dagu can mean either "reddish dog" or "reddened dog" according to whether an agent salient reading is introuced for the reduplicative form or the approximative reading. The multi-functionality of "lebi" (and "lontu) allows both these readings in this position precisely because the language has two competing salience shemas and some predicates can be taken either in their more sative or more active, telic readings according to the context. The decision on which reading is appropriate and intended happens only at the speech act level.

At the highest end of the transitivity salience continuum is the sub-class of verbs for whipping, hitting, etc. These verbs have all the features of Group 1 verbs like lai with the added feature that they can take a special passivizer "fende" in SM "feni".

Thus: (SM)

Mi feni wipiwipi
a feni wipi u me
mi feni fonfon.

Once again, a new sub-system based on an animacy distinction has emerged as a significant feature in Surinamese creoles. In this instance, we have to ask ourselves, why did speakers decide to single out this class of meanings as worthy of special treatment? If we continue with our agent/topic salience model, whipping, beating, etc. adds the additional feature of high salience for the animate patient. The association of animacy with the emergence of an accusative case (the grammatical role prototypically encoding the patient role) has already been noted as one of Comrie’s "universal tendencies". Perhaps it is exactly cognizance of the state of the animate patient that recruits a verb like "feni" in the role of auxiliary. "Feni" means as one of its primary meanings "to receive" and thus implicitly raises the state of the subject into sharp topical focus against any competing salience from the implicit agentivity looming in the very transitive verb.

From a universal grammar perspective, analogs of this form are found in Reunion, Mauritius, Seychelles, Rodrigues and with "get" as aux in Barbados, Trinidad, Jamaica. (Bakker 1991:3). The extreme salience of the beating experience and, indeed, the close association of "find" and "whip" in so many creoles suggests that certain scenes of violence may serve as a kind of prototype for transitivity in the "creole mind". A more complete treatment of possible substrate effects in this expansion of the verbal paradigm will have to wait for another day.

Conclusion: Animacy hierarchy vs. state/agent valence determines the articulation of the verbal/adjectival paradigm in Ndjuka and other Surinamese creoles. While no inherent association between animacy and the reduplicated forms is yet attested in the substrate, the systematicity of the phenomena begs us on to complete this cycle of inquiry. For the record, it needs to be decided empirically whether this is another distinction that has been "recruited" by the animacy strange attractor-- resulting in an autonomous innovation in SM, or whether the animacy effects were incorporated along with the reduplication strategy from the substrate. Careful assessment of the motivating factors in the African substrate (Akan?) will elucidate this very answerable question.

In sum, predicates are arranged in "fuzzy categories" with more or less "topic salience" and "agent salience" (with "feni" passives, patient salience emerges at one extreme of the scale.)

bun (state salient, not transitivized)
dee, siki (state-salient, can be easily transitiivized if agent in topic slot)
piiti, booko (equisalient)
nyan (agent favored, equisalient)
koti,lai (agent salient)
wipi, fon (patient salient = "feni" passive)

"Juice" and indirect/direct discourse (Gloc 1986)

(Glock) adds an additional piece to the whole discussion of animacy with her insightful article on Saramaccan stylistics in narrative. She shows that the switch from indirect to direct dicourse as in:

...hen tata Anasi taki deen taa: mi ko a I aki

then father Anasi said to him, saying "I will come to you"

(Glock 1991: 36)

signals heightened "animacy" or "juice" in the sense of relative dominance to other participants in a story. This facet of Saramaccan stylistics reflects a general concern with "foregrounding","backgrounding" and the maintenance of "story lines" which is a key attribute in African grammar generally. (Longacre 1990). In attestation of possible substrate influences, many African languages, Ewe, for example, put non-focal actions into a less differentiated tense mode, perhaps affixing a perfective particle (Longacre 1990: 154-155); other language groups (Bantu) use a consecutive tense `in the same function.

The specific association of the direct/indirect distinction with social dominance could very well represent the spontaneous appropriation of a stylistic variation by that "strange attractor" animacy. From another point of view, it is precisely "animacy" that the African story lines encapsulate in the extended sense being developed here, thus Glock’s stylistic variation in SM represents a "transfer" rather than an "innovation".


This was a very ambitious paper full of more promises than deliveries. While loose ends abound, we do stand in a position to assess animacy as an explanatory concept in the grammar of Surinamese creoles. We can reflect back as well on what we have learned about animacy by way of refining Comrie’s original formulation. On the first point, I think a relatively compelling case can be made that animacy is a key factor in the articulation of Surinamese Creole grammar. This observation becomes non-trivial in the ways that "articulation" is specified, on the careful assessment of potential inputs from cultural and cognitive sources as well as the investigation of intrinsically grammatical properties. The sheer sweep of the effect of animacy , from its participation in tone sandhi to its major role in the morphology and syntax of Surinamese creoles suggests that it merits much further attention on its own terms.

My own humble contribution in this regard is to focus on animacy within a more general context of "respect" as a special kind of culturally determined saliency hierarchy. As a result, many of Comrie’s conundrums with respect to animacy are resolvable. For example, the preferential order 2nd person, 1st person, 3rd person, typical in Algonquin is not in the least mysterious. when animacy is understood in this extended sense.

Algonquin cultures generally emphasize the attitude of respect towards others--one defers automatically to others as the default cultural attitude (D. Moonhawk Alford, personal communication). This cultural attitude is propped up in and in turn reinforces the grammar. While "I" and "you" as referents are no more or less animate than each other, the associated cultural model skews the grammar toward a recognition of higher animacy, i.e, "respect". for the second person.

Comrie’s real problem may lie--as it so often does--in the definition of his terms. In choosing to look at animacy as primarily an inherent property of noun phrases, he misses the way that speakers actively categorize entities according to their intentions in context (as in the jaguar and leopard in Kikongo). Speakers indicate their shifting assessment of animacy through the alternation of direct and indirect discourse in SM. Similarly D. Alford relates the case of a story in Cheyenne where a comb "comes alive", i.e., acts grammatically animate as it warns a girl of an impending war party and then reverts to its previous inanimate status. The referent has not changed, the speaker’s attitude changes as reflected at the speech act level. In looking to biology for extra-linguistic validity of the category, Comrie skipped anthropology. Linguistics, like it or not, is fundamentally much more about how people choose to construct social realities than a reflection of some empirically verifiable reality. The hermeneutic circle can still be grounded, it just makes sense to ground it in social praxis, rather than "physical reality" (itself a problematic concept--but that is another story)

Similarly, a verb like "koti" in SM is highly "animate" in the sense that its high telicity is in focus--having been marked as such it is treated differently by the grammar from other less transitive verbs. This is not an attribute of an NP unless the NP in question is somehow implicit in the verb. Thus, I am proposing that the category animacy as defined by Comrie be stretched in two ways: to include "respect" as an additional component of the animacy hierarchy (respect< human <animal <inanimate), admitting thereby the intrusion of cultural models as potential "extra-linguistic" influences) and opening up the term to apply potentially to any level of the language including such constructs as honorifics. What we lose in specificity, we more than gain in explanatory power as in our enhanced ability to motivate the data from the Surinamese creoles. Creolists and grammatical theorists alike can benefit from this expanded --and more accurate--concept of animacy.

Animacy also bears on the more general question of transfers of structures from the linguistic substrate based on a hierarchy of saliency. For example, ideophones--an important feature of all the West African substrates (Welmers 1990) are prominent in the Surinamese creoles as well precisely because they are extremely salient perceptually---and obviously very useful for creole speakers in a way that "prepositions" and "morphological endings" aren’t.

Ideophones "demonstrate" their meaning through iconic repetition and onomatopoeia and their expressive phonology has become a defining element in the character of these languages. For example, the conjunction "tee" in SM is often given a lengthened pronunciation to iconically suggest duration of the previous clause although it doen’t look phonologically like an ideophone. Ideophones modulate meanings of process and intensity--these same features are shared with a general prototype of animacy (as in the intense process of whipping noted above). A careful assessment of animacy within a more general salience hierarchy in substrate transfer promises to transform this neglected category from a curiosity to a point of wide-ranging theoretical significance.

Loose Ends

In addition to the phenomena looked at in more detail above, two other animacy-related anomalies in creole grammar deserve mention:

Mi da bun "I am good" vs. "I am well" is a substrate effect per McWhorter

Akan "ko" ingressive marker is exact match with SM "ko":

Akan: okoda
he come sleep
he comes and slept

vs. "be" go

he go sleep
he goes and sleeps

Animacy as nascent category in Bislama

Ol man oli/*i kam.
Pl man pl-3S came
Ol Haos I /*oli foldaon.
Pl house 3S fall down.
Ol more associated with animacy than plural


1. cf., Russian: malychik gatof "boy is ready" vs. ja vidyil malchika. I saw the boy (gen.) maty gatova "mother is ready " ja vyidyil maty. "I saw mother". *ja vyidyil materi. Ya vidyil matyerei. I saw the mothers (gen. plural) ja vidyil krovaty/krovatyi I saw the bed/beds (accusative feminine sing./plural) dy, ty, ly, vy are palatalized. (Return to text)


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