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The Development of Pidgins and Creoles

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The Development of Pidgins and Creoles

Post by Hush on Thu Apr 16, 2009 3:56 am

A particularly interesting and provocative explanation for the development and characteristics of creoles has been offered by Bickerton (1974, 1977, 1979, 1981, 1984a). Bickerton argues (1984, p. 173; emphasis added) ‘in favor of a language bioprogram hypothesis (henceforth LBH) that suggests that the infrastructure of language is specified at least as narrowly as Chomsky has claimed’. The arguments for LBH are drawn from Bickerton’s observations about the way in which a creole language develops from a pidgin which is in an early stage of development (ibid.):

The LBH claims that the innovative aspects of creole grammar are inventions on the part of the first generation of children who have a pidgin as their linguistic input, rather than features transmitted from preexisting languages. The LBH claims, further, that such innovations show a degree of similarity, across wide variety in linguistic background, that is too great to be attributed to chance. Finally, the LBH claims that the most cogent
explanation of this similarity is that it derives from the structure of a species-specific program for language, genetically coded and expressed, in ways still largely mysterious, in the structures and modes of operation of the human brain.

The data Bickerton uses to support his hypothesis shows early-stage pidgin to lack any
consistent means of marking tense, aspect, and modality, to have no consistent system of
anaphora, no complex sentences, no systematic way of distinguishing case relations, and
variable word order (1984a, p. 175). Children faced with this type of input impose ways
of realizing the missing features, but they do not borrow these realizations from the
language which is dominant in their environment, nor from the substrate language(s), and
Bickerton concludes that ‘the LBH or some variant thereof seems inescapable…[and] the
LBH carries profound implications for the study of language in general, and for the study
of language acquisition and language origins in particular’ (1984a, p. 184).

Bickerton claims (p. 178) that the evidence he cites shows the similarities in creoles to
arise from ‘a single substantive grammar consisting of a very restricted set of categories
and processes, which…constitute part, or all, of the human species-specific capacity for
syntax’. He leans towards the view that the single, substantive grammar does, in fact,
constitute all of universal grammar, and he thinks that this view is supported by Slobin’s
(1977, 1982, 1984b) notion of a basic child grammar, a grammar which is generated by a set of innate operating principles which children use to analyse linguistic input (compare LANGUAGE ACQUISITION). But Bickerton (1984a, p. 185) claims that these operating procedures ‘fall out from the bioprogram grammar’: a child receiving only pidgin input will simply not have enough data for the operating principles alone to work on. In addition, Slobin’s work shows that young children consistently violate the rules of their input language, and these violations are consistent with the rules Bickerton proposes for the bioprogram and with surface forms found in creoles (ibid.).

Many commentators have argued against innateness as the only, or even the most
useful, explanation for the kind of phenomena which Bickerton (and Chomsky and his
followers) have observed (see LANGUAGE ACQUISITION). In this entry, I shall concentrate on the arguments of commentators who dispute the reliability of Bickerton’s data.

Goodman (1984, p. 193) points out that Bickerton bases his argument entirely on data
provided by a number of elderly Japanese, Korean, and Filipino immigrants who arrived
in Hawaii between 1907 and 1930. At this time, however, it is probable that a pidgin had
already developed for use between English seamen and native Hawaiians (Clark, 1979).
This pidgin was historically linked both to other Pacific pidgin Englishes and to Chinese
Pidgin English, with which it shared certain vocabulary and grammatical features.
Consequently, it cannot be assumed that ‘the pidgin as spoken by 20th-century
immigrants from Japan, Korea and the Philippines is in any way characteristic of the
incipient stage of Hawaiian Creole English’ (Goodman, 1984, p. 193).

Goodman (p. 194) argues that ‘many widespread features of creole languages can be
accounted for on the basis of similar structures in either the target or the substratal
languages coupled with certain universal processes of selection in the context of language
contact’. In his response to these arguments, however, Bickerton (1984b) questions the
data which Goodman draws on in suggesting that a pidgin already existed in Hawaii
when the subjects of Bickerton’s study arrived there.

Maratsos (1984, p. 200) suggests that, judging from Bickerton’s data, the input the
creole speakers were presented with was too impoverished for them to have developed
the creole. The creole, he notices, contains features of English vocabulary and syntax not
found in the pidgin, so the creole speakers must have had access to linguistic sources
other than the pidgin, and some relexification is likely to have been involved. Again,
Bickerton (1984b, p. 215) counter-questions Maratsos’ data.

Lightfoot (1984, p. 198) and Woolford (1984, p. 211) both point out that it is, in fact,
extremely difficult to establish exactly what input creole speakers in the past may have
had from their pidgin and from other sources, and what grammars they arrived at.
Furthermore, comparable evidence from early stages of the formation of other pidgins
and creoles would be required in order to evaluate Bickerton’s claims for Hawaii Creole
English, but little evidence of this nature is available (Romaine, 1988, p. 309).
Nevertheless, because of the implications for linguistics of Bickerton’s hypothesis, if it is
correct, his work has had a profound effect on the study of creoles (Holm, 1988, p. 65).

As mentioned above, the creoles that concern Bickerton have arisen from pidgins
which are at an early stage of development. The idea of developmental stages through
which pidgins and creoles pass—a kind of life-cycle of pidgins and creoles—was present
in Schuchardt’s work, but found prominence in Hall (1962), (Romaine, 1988, p. 115). It
has been developed by Todd (1974, pp. 53–69) who distinguishes four phases of the creolization process: (1) marginal contact; (2) period of nativization; (3) influence from
the dominant language; (4) the post-creole continuum.

Mühlhäusler (1980, p. 22) points out that there are, in fact, two factors involved in the
development of, and changes in, pidgins and creoles: (1) development or expansion
from jargon, through stabilized pidgin and expanded pidgin, to creole, and (2)
restructuring of either a stabilized pidgin or a creole, through post pidgin or post creole,
to superimposed language. Restructuring occurs as a result of contact with other
languages and does not affect the overall power of the linguistic system; therefore the
varieties on this continuum are roughly equal in terms of linguistic complexity. On the
developmental continuum, however, the varieties differ in terms of linguistic complexity
and in terms of overall referential and non-referential power. He depicts the contrast as
shown in Figure 1 (1986, p. 11).

The notion of a continuum was first borrowed from traditional dialectology (see
DIALECTOLOGY) and applied to the gradation of varieties between creole and standard
English in the Caribbean by DeCamp (1961), (Holm, 1988, p. 55). These varieties are
known as mesolects The languages on the left of the mesolects in Figure 1 are called basilects and their related standard lexifier languages are called acrolects.


Developmental dimension jargon
l stable-pidgin
l
l expanded-pidgin post-pidgin continuum lexifier language
l
l
l creole post-creole continuum
l
Restructuring ------------------------------------------------------------------->


The early jargon phase is characterized by great variation in different speakers’
versions of the jargon, a simple sound system, one- or two-word sentences and a very
limited vocabulary (Romaine, 1988, p. 117), with some simple grammar to allow for
longer utterances added later (Mühlhäusler, 1986, p. 52). The jargon is used only in
restricted contexts such as trade and recruitment of labour.

In a stable-pidgin stage, speakers have arrived at a shared system of rules governing
linguistic correctness, so that individual variation is diminished. The process of
stabilization of a pidgin is generally characterized by grammaticalization, whereby
stabilization stage in the pidgin or creole lifecycle is particularly important, because it is
at this stage that the future shape of the language is determined.

An expanded pidgin has a complex grammar and a developing word-formation
component, and the new constructions are added to the existing simpler grammar in an
orderly fashion (Mühlhäusler, 1986, p. 177). It is spoken faster than its precursor, and is
used in almost all areas of life (Romaine, 1988, p. 138). Expanded pidgins only arise in
linguistically highly heterogeneous areas and typically accompany increased geographic
mobility and intertribal contact due to colonial policies. Examples include West African
Pidgin English, Tok Pisin (which also exists in creolized varieties), and recent varieties of
Hiri Motu, Bislama, Solomon Island Pidgin, Sango, and some varieties of Torres Straits
Broken (Mühlhäusler, 1986, p. 177):

The importance of expanded pidgins to linguistic research is twofold. First, they illustrate the capacity of adults to drastically restructure existing linguistic systems; secondly, they call into question such dichotomies as first and second, primary and secondary, native and nonnative language.

A creole may arise from a jargon, a stable pidgin, or an expanded pidgin. Since these
differ in the respects broadly outlined above, the degree of repair needed before they can
function as adequate first languages for their speakers is also different. A creolized
jargon
will have undergone repair at all the linguistic levels, to bring about natural
phonological, syntactic, semantic, and pragmatic systems. In the case of a creolized
stable pidgin
, pragmatic rules will have been arrived at, and the systems already at play
in the stable pidgin will have been developed. A creolized extended pidgin differs from
its basilect mainly in its stylistic and pragmatic potential (Romaine, 1988, p. 155).

According to Foley (1988), Tok Pisin has undergone two kinds of creolization: urban
and rural. An urban environment in Papua New Guinea is highly diverse linguistically, so
that the only language an urban child will typically have in common with its peers tends
to be Tok Pisin. In rural parts of Papua New Guinea, particularly in the Sepik region, Tok
Pisin has been perceived as a high-prestige language offering access to the outside world
since at least as long ago as the 1930s (Mead, 1931), and parents are therefore very eager that their children, particularly boys, should use it. Foley (1988) suggests that this
parental encouragement of the use of Tok Pisin, together with the fact that the native
languages of many communities have very complex morphologies so that bilingual
children find it easier to use Tok Pisin, has led to complete creolization of Tok Pisin and
the disappearance of a number of the vernaculars.

Once a creole is in existence, it may, according to DeCamp (1971b) (1) continue
almost without change, as appears to be the case for Haitian Creole; (2) become extinct;
(3) evolve further into a normal language; (4) gradually merge with its acrolect through a
process known as decreolization. During this process, a creole continuum of varieties
between the creole and acrolect will emerge (Holm, 1988, p. 52):

A creole continuum can evolve in situations in which a creole coexists with its lexical source language and there is social motivation for creolespeakers to acquire the standard, so that the speech of individuals takes on features of the latter—or avoids features of the former —to varying degrees. These varieties can be seen as forming a continuum from those farthest from the standard to those closest to it.

Mühlhäusler (1986, p. 237) defines a post-pidgin or post-creole variety as ‘a pidgin or
creole which, after a period of relative linguistic independence, has come under renewed
vigorous influence from its original lexifier language, involving the restructuring and/or
replacement of earlier lexicon and grammar in favour of patterns from the superimposed
‘target’ language’. American Black English is often considered a post-creole variety.
Romaine (1988, p. 188) points to the fact that, in Britain, many young Blacks of West
Indian descent who spoke standard English in early childhood make a conscious effort to
‘talk Black’ when they reach their teens. She refers to this phenomenon as recreolization.
K.M.

SUGGESTIONS FOR FURTHER READING


Holm, J.A. (1988), Pidgins and Creoles, vol. I: Theory and Structure, Cambridge, Cambridge
University Press.
Mühlhäusler, P. (1986), Pidgin and Creole Linguistics, Oxford, Basil Blackwell.
Romaine, S. (1988), Pidgin and Creole Languages, London and New York, Longman.


Taken from The Linguistic Encyclopedia edited by Kirsten Malmkjær 2006 autonomous words become grammatical markers. According to Mühlhäusler (1981), the
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Hush

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