post-creole continuum (dialects)

Glossary of Grammatical and Rhetorical Terms

post-creole continuum
The post-creole continuum (also known as the creole continuum).


In sociolinguistics, the post-creole continuum represents the range of dialectal variations found in many creole-speaking communities. Also known as the creole continuum.

On this continuum, the acrolect is closest to the standard form of a language, the basilect is the most distant from the standard form, and the mesolect is intermediate between the two.

The term post-creole continuum was coined by linguist David DeCamp ("Toward a Generative Analysis of a Post-Creole Speech Continuum" in Pidginization and Creolization of Languages, 1971).

See Examples and Observations below. Also see:


Examples and Observations

  • "Originally described (but not named) by [Hugo] Schuchardt (1883) . . ., a post-creole continuum is characterized by a cline of lexical, phonological, and grammatical features ranging from those closest to a standard form of the creole's lexifier [dominant] language (the acrolect) to those furthest from the lexifier language, and therefore most 'creole-like' (the basilect). Thus, there is a great deal of variation in the speech community and the point at which a form of speech is located along the continuum depends on the context as well as the social characteristics of the speaker. For example, the speech of the urban professional elite would be towards the acrolectal end whereas the speech of a poor rural villager would be towards the basilectal end. Intermediate or mesolectal varieties are also found in between."
    (Jeff Siegel, The Emergence of Pidgin and Creole Languages. Oxford University Press, 2008)

  • "In much writing about the creole continuum it is assumed that the mesolect is a product of decreolisation: i.e. mesolectal varieties arise as intermediaries when the prior-existing basilect and acrolect come into contact. On the basis of 19th-century Guyanese Creole texts [M.C.] Alleyne (1980), however, suggests that in the case of Atlantic creoles the full range may have existed from the beginnings of African-European contact. In this view decreolisation would involve the increase in use (rather than the creation) of already-existing mesolectal forms."
    (Rajend Mesthrie, English in Language Shift: The History, Structure and Sociolinguistics of South African Indian English. Cambridge University Press, 1992)

  • The Post-Creole Continuum in Jamaica: The Ladder of Lects
    "Writing of the continuum that exists in Jamaica, [David] DeCamp (1977, p. 29) has observed that particular speakers control a span of the spectrum, not just one discrete level within it. He says that the breadth of the span depends on the breadth of the speaker's social activities:
    A labor leader, for example, can command a greater span of varieties than can a sheltered housewife of suburban middle class. A housewife may make a limited adjustment downward on the continuum in order to communicate with a market woman, and the market woman may adjust upward when she talks to the housewife. Each of them may then believe that she is speaking the other's language, for the myth persists in Jamaica that there are only two varieties of language--standard English and 'the dialect'--but the fact is that the housewife's broadest dialect may be closer to the standard end of the spectrum than is the market woman's standard.
    What is particularly important here, though, is the additional observation that Jamaicans do not perceive the existence of a continuum. Instead, they perceive what they say and hear only in relation to the two ends and make any judgments and adjustments in terms of the two extremes, Standard English or 'the dialect,' 'patois,' or 'Quashie,' as it is sometimes referred to. . . . The idea of a simple continuum may therefore be little more than a neat theoretical concept, since the variation found in everyday language use requires taking into consideration many other explanatory factors."
    (Ronald Wardhaugh, An Introduction to Sociolinguistics, 6th ed. Wiley-Blackwell, 2010)