Sunday, August 19, 2018

Bilingual suppletion comes from selection conflicts: Supporting evidence from Pichi

Azeb Amha recently directed my attention to a very interesting passage in Kofi Yakpo's grammar of Pichi, the English-based creole spoken in Equatorial Guinea. In this language, English-based numerals are used up to seven (and known in theory by some speakers up to ten), while Spanish numerals are familiar to all speakers and are used consistently above seven. The English numerals are followed by singulars (plural marking in Pichi is handled with postposed dɛ̀n, and occasionally the suffix -s):
‘So I have three nationalities in this world.’ [fr03ft 102]
When Spanish numerals are used, however (p. 545), we get "bilingual suppletion" (Matras 2012) - i.e., a grammatical rule of one language that seems to require switching into another one:
The attributive use of Spanish numerals goes along with the insertion of Spanish head nouns – there is no instance of a mixed combination of a Spanish numeral and a Pichi noun:
‘Leave her, let her reach [the age of] fifteen years.’ [ab03ay 138]

In Spanish, of course, numerals other than 1 select for plural nouns.

Now I would prefer to see a wider range of examples before reaching any firm conclusions, because counters like "years" are inherently more likely to cause borrowing of numeral+noun units. But, as described, this language precisely fits the explanation proposed for bilingual suppletion in Souag & Kherbache (2016), based on Myers-Scotton's Embedded Language Island Hypothesis:

[W]here bilingual suppletion in numeral+noun combinations emerges, it will occur only following borrowed numerals whose noun selectional requirements in the source language differ from those in the recipient language.
I was, of course, unaware that Pichi displayed bilingual suppletion when I proposed this generalization, so I take this as corroborating evidence. I would be interested to hear of any further examples.


Hans said...

Is this the only example in the entire grammar? Then I also wouldn't want to build too much on it. Additionally to what you noted, this is actually loaning an entire phrase from Spanish ("a los quinze años" - are "a" as a preposition and use of the Spanish article otherwise attested in Pichi?), and the age in itself, 15 years, is culturally significant for girls in at least parts of the Spanish-speaking world (the Quinceañera), so this may even be a set phrase.

Hans said...

(Seeing that an entire phrase is involved, this may also be a case of code switching.)

Lameen Souag الأمين سواق said...

There are several other examples, of which the best seems to be:

Dì ɔda man tɛl mi se dɛ̀ n dɔn bay veinte sacos
The other man told me that they had bought twenty bags

The others all seem to involve time measures:
À tink we è se è dɔn dè go rich gɛt treinta y ocho años naw
Ɛ̀f yù gɛt fɔ̀ baja diez veces
Yù jɔs gɛt wan diecisiete años

Hans said...

Yes, those examples are much better.