Representing Variation in Creole Continua: A Folk Linguistic View of Language Variation in Trinidad

Gerald Stell

Research output: Journal article publicationJournal articleAcademic researchpeer-review

9 Citations (Scopus)


The issue of linguistic distinctions in creole continua has been extensively debated. Are creole continua comprised of just an “acrolect” and a “basilect,” or do they also comprise additional varieties? Studies of variation in creole continua have been typically based on directly observed linguistic data. This study argues that perceived sociolinguistic distinctions can offer one point of departure for establishing what linguistic components constitute creole continua. Following a protocol developed within “Perceptual Dialectology” (see, e.g., Preston 1999) this study describes perceived sociolinguistic distinctions via folk linguistic descriptors elicited by means of linguistic map-drawing and labeling tasks. The aim of this study is to investigate perceived language variation in the Caribbean island of Trinidad, where Standard English historically co-exists as an official language with creolized varieties of English, which the literature generally refers to as “Trinidadian Creole English.” The main finding of this study is that Standard English has a strong perceptual association with Trinidad’s historic urban centers, while non-standard varieties collectively referred to as “dialect” or “creole” are associated with the rest of the island. The study discusses indications that linguistic boundaries—largely parallel to ethnoracial boundaries—are perceived within the standard and non-standard part of the Trinidadian continuum. One major perceived linguistic criterion for differentiation within the non-standard part of the continuum is the presence or absence of Standard English elements. The saliency of “mixed” varieties suggests that a variety located halfway between Standard English and Trinidadian Creole English could be emerging. The study concludes that the urban-rural divide and ethnoracial distinctions constitute two salient social fault lines that future studies of language variation in Trinidad should take account of while searching the Trinidadian continuum for objectively verifiable linguistic boundaries.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)113-139
Number of pages27
JournalJournal of English Linguistics
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jun 2018


  • Caribbean
  • creole
  • Perceptual Dialectology
  • Trinidad

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Language and Linguistics
  • Linguistics and Language


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