Sunday, April 06, 2008

Creoles and Pidgins

This is a topic I have not yet mentioned on this blog.

First, here is a definition of pidgins and Creoles, as offered in this review of Bastard Languages by Derek Bickerton, who sounds like an interesting man who has written what promises to be a fascinating book.

“Pidgins are contact languages invented by people who don’t share a language to use. Pidgin speakers, Bickerton explains, will “use words from your language if they know them; if not, they’ll use words from their own, and hope you know them, and failing that, words from any other language that might happen to be around.” Some pidgins, like Chinese Pidgin English (once spoken along China’s coast) or the Chinook jargon of the American Northwest, originated in voluntary trade contexts. Others arose from the slave trade and plantation economies.

Compared with pidgins, Creoles have bigger vocabularies and more grammar; the conventional view is that they are pidgins that became someone’s native language (though some linguists disagree). Many Creoles — like Saramaccan, an English/Portuguese Creole spoken in Suriname, and Seselwa, a French Creole spoken in the Seychelles — have more features in common (like their verbs) than you’d expect from languages that have never been in contact. Is this because they were created when English, French or Portuguese words were laid onto the same bed of grammar as African languages? Or because later generations learned both the pidgin and their parents’ languages, mingling the two? Or because a pidgin was created once, perhaps in a West African slave trade outpost or by sailors, and then transmitted elsewhere?

Bickerton swats down all these theories and explains how he arrived at his own solution, the language bioprogram hypothesis, which he elaborated in the book “Roots of Language” (1981). According to this idea, a pidgin becomes a Creole when children learn it, filling in the grammatical gaps with patterns and words that come not from any specific language but from some universal language template they all carry in their heads. This was an extension of Noam Chomsky’s influential claim for an innate universal grammar possessed uniquely by humans.”

Next, here is an interesting article on Sranan Tongo, one of the languages in Suriname.

Finally, this website offers information and many useful resources for teaching and researching about Creoles and pidgins. I couldn’t find anything on this website about translation, however, and it seems that if a language is translated to, that gives it more legitimacy in some ways. Perhaps that is an area for future research.

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