A Sociolinguistic Study of Bilingualism in the Rio Grande Valley--Hiroko Nakamura and Jimmy Battaglia SpecGram Vol CXLVIII, No 3 Contents Toward a Universal Typology of Noun Phrases--Cynthia Polarczik


Tim Pulju
Rice University

Since the publication of Norris' (1991) article demonstrating a clear genetic relationship between Kiowa and Chinese, there has been considerable confusion in the once well-established field of comparative Franco-Sino-Indonesian linguistcs (cf. Pulju [1990]). While Norris' linguistic data cannot be explained away, many scholars have taken issue with his conclusion that Kiowa and Chinese originally formed a linguistic grouping separate from Franco-Indonesian, and that resemblances between Chinese and Franco-Indonesian are due rather to early contact than to genetic relationship. To explain the lack of resemblance between Kiowa and Franco-Indonesian, Norris argues that the proto-Kiowans migrated from South America prior to the period of contact with the proto-Franco-Indonesians.

Compelling though Norris' linguistic data are, it must be admitted that they allow for several possible reconstructions of the cultural and historical facts, as was made clear at the 1995 Rice University Symposium on "Kiowa, Chinese, and Franco-Indonesian." Many attendees at the conference voiced the opinion that, without further evidence, it would be impossible to reach any firm conclusions on the question at hand. That opinion may or may not have been valid. However, as the present paper will show, the opinion is now moot, precisely because this paper presents new and crucial evidence for our understanding of the early relationships among these languages.

It is an axiom of comparative linguistics that some of the best evidence for genetic relatedness of languages is to be found in inflectional or pronominal paradigms, since these are among the elements of language least likely to be borrowed. It is particularly important to search for resemblances in word-initial positions, since word-initial position is least subject to phonetic erosion over time. Thus, for example, the lack of any word-initial similarity in the pronoun systems of French and English is clear evidence of the absence of any deep relationship between the languages.

je I   nous we
tu you vous you
il, elle he, she, it ils, elles they

Pronouns are particularly important for comparing Chinese to other languages, since Chinese completely lacks inflectional morphology. We are therefore doubly impressed when we note the strong traces of the original identity of the Chinese and English pronominal systems, as in:

wo(men)1 we   ta(men) they

To these, we can add evident similarities in other core vocabulary, as seen below:

Chin. shi (pronounced [šr]) 'yeah (used as a response to questions)'
Eng. sure (pronounced [šr]) 'yeah (used as a response to questions)'

Chin. baba 'dad' Chin. ni hao ma 'how are you?' Chin. chi 'eat'
Eng. papa 'dad' Eng. how are you 'how are you?' Eng. chew 'chew'

Evidence for an original relationship between English and Kiowa, on the other hand, is much harder to come by. And, as mentioned previously, English is plainly unrelated to both French and Indonesian (similarities between French and English are the result of fairly recent contact between the languages).

When comparing the connections of Chinese and Kiowa, on the one hand, with those of Chinese and English, on the other, we are struck by the fact that the Kiowa-Chinese relationship is manifested almost entirely in the lexicon, while the Chinese-English relationship shows up most strongly in pronouns and other grammatical elements. Chinese, moreover, has long been noted for the extreme simplicity of its grammatical system.2 All of this leads us to the obvious conclusion that Chinese was in fact originally a pidgin, a trade language developed for use between superordinate Kiowa merchants and subordinate natives who spoke English. That such a situation should have developed prehistorically is no surprise, since recent archaeological research has demonstrated that the Kiowa possessed a much more highly developed culture than the proto-English speakers who also inhabited the North American continent. In later years, of course, the English-speaking culture became dominant, and spread not only over North America, but even overseas.3 However, the situation seven or eight thousand years ago was plainly quite different.

This hypothesis allows us to make sense of some of the most troubling aspects of Norris' thesis. The Kiowa affirm that they have occupied their present territory since time immemorial, and we have no good reason to disbelieve them. It therefore seems plain that the Kiowa did not migrate from South America to North America, but rather, that the proto-Chinese population which grew up in between Kiowa- and English-speaking regions eventually migrated to South America. At least, some of them did; others presumably remained in North America, but the Kiowa civilization declined, the flourishing trade cities in the Kiowa-English interzone collapsed, and the creole language of the inhabitants dwindled along with them. Meanwhile, the Sinitic population in South America fell under the yoke of Franco-Indonesian speakers, as well-documented in Norris' research, and remained oppressed for centuries before they finally escaped to East Asia.4

The archaeological support for the above hypothesis is exceptionally strong. In particular, we might mention the continual development of pottery from the Interzonal though the Shang Dynasty periods. Lower Mississippian pottery of the Interzonal period itself represents a combination of Kiowan techniques with native English artistic motifs. The intrusion of this pottery type into the Amazon basin, and its further development there under Franco-Indonesian influence, is well-documented (see Vargas [1954] for details). Likewise, the arrival of the new type in Chinese coastal regions is well-known, as is its later merger with native Asian forms, a merger finally completed in the 2nd millennium BC. From that point on, the development of Chinese language and culture is strictly an East Asian matter. But the archaeological evidence confirms what the linguistic data have already revealed, that the Chinese language originated in North America as a Kiowa-English creole. In other words, Norris was mistaken as to the specific nature of the Sino-Kiowa connection, but he was fundamentally correct in his analysis of the Sino-Franco-Indonesian relationship.


1All Chinese examples will be cited without tone markings, since Slater (1997) has conclusively demonstrated that tone is not phonemic in Chinese. The morpheme -men in Chinese women and tamen is parenthesized because it is clearly suffixal.

2This observation goes back as far as Jespersen, and is certainly true. However, some scholars have mistakenly reached the Whorfian conclusion that Chinese are correspondingly simple-minded. Having recently engaged in a game of chess with a Chinese monolingual, I can assure the reader that Chinese people are not simple-minded. I just wish I hadn't agreed to play for money.

3A certain number of historians of English have consistently maintained that the English language originated, not in North America, but in Great Britain. It need hardly be stated that all the evidence is against such a hypothesis. In the first place, the great majority of English speakers today live in North America. We also know from historical records that English was not spoken in the British Isles two thousand years ago. In fact, even today, a few Celtic speakers remain in some of the more inaccessible regions of the United Kingdom and Ireland. Not just historical data, but linguistic fact, shows that the English-speaking populations of the British Isles, South Africa, Australia, and New Zealand are descendants of native non-English speaking populations. Particularly noteworthy is the inability of these populations to pronounce word-initial /h/ and post-vocalic /r/, clear evidence of substratum interference which has now become an irremovable part of the local dialects.

4However, we should not, as Norris does, blame their stay in South America for what Norris describes as a state of being "completely free of inflection, agreement, etc., but, as luck would have it, terribly afflicted with word-order." On the contrary, this is exactly what we would expect in a creole language in its early stages. Likewise, the lack of tone in Chinese (see note 1 above) is what we would expect of a creole derived from a tonal superstrate and a non-tonal substrate.


Mead, David, ed. 1996. Quel grand gâchis. Proceedings of the 8th Biennial Rice Linguistics Symposium. Philadelphia: John Benjamins.

Norris, Robert. 1991. Progress in South American protolinguistics. World of Language: The Journal of the Linguistic Society of South-Central New Caledonia Vol. I.2, p. 4.

Pulju, Tim. 1990. The Phonology of Proto-Franco-Sino-Indonesian. The Hague: Mouton.

[See also: Pulju, Tim. 1989. Reconstructed Proto-Franco-Sino-Indonesian: Eleven Examples, Ps. Q. Vol XVI, No 3.--Eds.]

Slater, Keith. 1997. They're Making it Up. Taipei: Academica Sinica.

Vargas, Getúlio. 1954. Pots, Pans, and a Sea of Mud. São Borja, Brazil: Estado Novo.

A Sociolinguistic Study of Bilingualism in the Rio Grande Valley--Hiroko Nakamura and Jimmy Battaglia
Toward a Universal Typology of Noun Phrases--Cynthia Polarczik
SpecGram Vol CXLVIII, No 3 Contents