Creole exceptionalism and complexity: Case studies from Singapore
 Tamisha Tan
(University of Cambridge)
Friday (April 21st), 11:30-11:55
Lipsius 147

Modern Creole Studies has embraced synchronic and empirical approaches, rejecting its 19th Century Eurocentric origins and roots in Race Theory. However, Creole Exceptionalism (DeGraff, 2005) is rife within contemporary Linguistics, where post-colonial biases prevent us from identifying the limitations and problematic assumptions inherent in classifiying creoles as an exceptional typological group, neglecting the influence of diachronic socio-historical factors. In this paper, we dispute universalist approaches like McWhorter’s (2005) Creole Prototype Hypothesis and demonstrate the difficulties in diagnosing creoles through synchronic linguistic criteria. Colloquial Singapore English (CSE) will be used to disprove assumptions of creoles’ ‘simplicity’ through several morpho-syntactic phenomena: productive reduplication, aspectual marking, serial verb chaining, and tonality in particles, hence problematizing McWhorter’s prototypical criteria of creoles (1) lacking inflectional morphology, (2) lacking tone, and (3) lacking semantically-opaque word-formation. This paper will conclude that CSE is no less complex than its superstrate, a fact obscured by both Linguistic issues and Foucauldian post-colonial power-knowledge relations and discourses (both within and beyond Singapore). This paper will additionally discuss the complex linguistic ecology of Singapore and its history, drawing parallels to creoles like Bazaar Malay which used to be commonplace in the Straits, and other languages around the world.