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Bastard Tongues: A Trailblazing Linguist…

Bastard Tongues: A Trailblazing Linguist Finds Clues to Our Common…

by Derek Bickerton

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This book is GREAT! It's written in a quick-witted, casual style that is intelligent and doesn't simplify linguistic details too much for the sake of the lay-reader. It's an adventure story, a safari, a vacation, a dive into the linguistic 'bioprogram' we just may all have in our brains... ( )
  amaraduende | Mar 30, 2013 |
Derek Bickerton's story is fascinating for all of the things he never meant to do, all of the things he did on purpose, and the things he wanted to do but never did. He didn't set out to become a linguist, and once a linguist he didn't set out to debunk long-time linguistic theories. He did study Creole languages on purpose, but he never imagined that his studies would eventually lead him down the road that it did. After many years of study and scrutiny of Creoles across the continents, what he discovered diverged from all he had learned about language learning and language acquisition.

Bickerton's major theory rests on the assumption of a bioprogram for language. Rather than learning language strictly through the languages around you, bioprogramming provides language innately, a human condition. Studying Creoles, he found striking similarities among them that could not be fully explained by current theories of contact influence. Bioprogramming, however, could open the doors to a deeper understanding.

Children do learn languages from family and society, but what if family and society lack major underpinnings of grammar and syntax as they do when one people dominate or enslave another. Group A has a language, then group B comes in. Group A struggles to understand group B and vice versa. The language that arises from the merger of these two groups is pidgin and lacks many grammatical rules. However, the children of both group A and group B have a very different story. Their language is Creole, and this new language is full of grammatical rules, syntax, and structures that pidgin lacks.

How did these children create Creole? Bickerton suggests Creole is created through social vocabulary and bioprogramming. All humans are born with the ability and need to create a true language, not just a string of vocabulary words attempting to convey a message. Astoundingly, this need to communicate through the creation of Creole languages develops very similarly all over the world. Creole languages resemble each other in myriad ways with no direct influence of one on another. According to Bickerton, the only way this would happen is if it is innate in humans to do so.

The author is not only knowledgeable, but also witty and endearing. I almost gave up on this book because of the number of direct quote translations/interpretations, but I learned to appreciate his explanations and examples. His stories pushed me to read on and piqued my curiosity. I finished delighted to have learned all I had.
1 vote Carlie | Mar 8, 2010 |
Bickerton certainly knows language. His discussion (or crusade) on creoles and pidgins is enlightening. I only wish that he had separated out his personal experiences. I think that would make an excellent book; they were the parts that made me really interested in this one! He had me lost with a lot of the actual information about the creoles and pidgins he has studied. Some more discussion on those topics would be nice for a book that has an otherwise-approachable writing style. ( )
  juliayoung | Oct 23, 2008 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0809028174, Hardcover)

Why Do Isolated Creole Languages Tend to Have Similar Grammatical Structures?
Bastard Tongues is an exciting, firsthand story of scientific discovery in an area of research close to the heart of what it means to be human--what language is, how it works, and how it passes from generation to generation, even where historical accidents have made normal transmission almost impossible. The story focuses on languages so low in the pecking order that many people don't regard them as languages at all--Creole languages spoken by descendants of slaves and indentured laborers in plantation colonies all over the world. The story is told by Derek Bickerton, who has spent more than thirty years researching these languages on four continents and developing a controversial theory that explains why they are so similar to one another. A published novelist, Bickerton (once described as "part scholar, part swashbuckling man of action") does not present his findings in the usual dry academic manner. Instead, you become a companion on his journey of discovery. You learn things as he learned them, share his disappointments and triumphs, explore the exotic locales where he worked, and meet the colorful characters he encountered along the way. The result is a unique blend of memoir, travelogue, history, and linguistics primer, appealing to anyone who has ever wondered how languages grow or what it's like to search the world for new knowledge.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:19:29 -0400)

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