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Colloquium on Derek Bickerton’s
contribution to creolistics and related fields

Salikoko S. Mufwene: “The development of creoles in Hawai‘i and the Caribbean: How similar were the ecologies?”
John Schumann: “Language evolution”
John Victor Singler: “The Language Bioprogram Hypothesis and history”


Bickerton and lectal dynamics

Genevieve Escure
University of Minnesota

Dynamics of a Creole Grammar (Bickerton 1975) has undoubtedly identified creolistics as a separate subfield within the discipline of linguistics. His discussion of basilectal, mesolectal, and acrolectal linguistic features has had a lasting impact on our understanding of the creole continuum—beyond those creoles that have an English lexical base, such as Guyanese and Belizean.

Bickerton’s work on lectal shifts has definitely inspired my work in Belizean Creole. I will discuss the challenge of establishing lectal boundaries in creole continua, and defining native speakers’ repertoires, comparing Bickerton’s findings and those I derived from my observations of Belizean variation in the Stann Creek District of Belize.
It is interesting that the consensus in creole studies is now that creoles are structurally no different from other natural languages. In fact, Bickerton said so, too:

… a number of what might seem to be characteristically creole forms are found elsewhere within pan-English – in non-standard dialects, in maturational development, and in types of performance error to which any speaker of English might on occasion be liable. (Bickerton 1975: 22)

So, what have we learned about the creole continuum in the last thirty years? This discussion will endeavor to review this issue in the light of various studies of linguistic variability in Creole communities— all characterized in terms of their relatively recent history of traumatic social contacts.


The development of creoles in Hawai‘i and the Caribbean:
How similar were the ecologies?

Salikoko S. Mufwene
University of Chicago

The following two assumptions about the development of creoles have been almost universally accepted: 1) The contact ecologies that produced them are very similar, if they are not identical, especially regarding the kind of linguistic heterogeneity that made it critical to develop a “medium of interethnic communication”; 2) creoles have developed according to the same evolutionary master plan, regardless of whether or not we factor in “decreolization” and/or Derek Bickerton’s “pidginization index” (1984), which account for variation among those that share the same lexifier. Both assumptions have virtually survived the ongoing debate about whether creoles really developed from erstwhile pidgins.

Hawai’i has figured prominently in Bickerton’s arguments for the pidgin-to-creole evolutionary trajectory and in support of the discontinuity hypothesis relative to the lexifier. In this paper, I invoke data from the socio-economic history of the colonization of this archipelago by Europeans, especially at the time of the introduction of sugar cane cultivation, the main catalyst industry in almost all cases associated with the development of creoles. I compare these facts with what we know about the Caribbean. I also capitalize on my observation in Mufwene (2000) that “creolization” is a sociohistorical, not a structural diachronic, process; and I take into account the differential fates of the substrate languages in the Caribbean and in Hawai’i. I then address the following question: Can one easily generalize from the Caribbean to Hawai’i or vice versa?

Re-examining recent publications by Hirokuni Masuda and Sarah Roberts, I address the following other questions: 1) Did Hawaiian Pidgin English (HPE) and Hawaiian Creole English (HCE) develop in exactly the same settings? 2) Did HCE really develop from HPE? 3) Were there counterparts of HPE in the Caribbean, or should we rather look for counterparts of Pidgin Hawaiian in the Caribbean? 4) What role did Hawaian Pidgin play in the development of either HPE or HCE? 5) And what role are Caribbean “baragouins” (as the French labeled those varieties that developed from Europeans’ interactions with Native Americans) likely to have played in the development of Caribbean creoles?

Finally, I will address the following evaluative question about the contribution that creolistics can justifiably be expected make to general linguistics: Can creolists have been prevented from learning informative lessons about the role of socio-economic ecology in an otherwise normal differential language evolution anywhere by the following factors among a host of others: 1) too much eagerness to treat creoles as interesting deviations from “normal” language evolution; 2) precocious zeal to account uniformly for developments that have really varied from one setting to another; and 3) disregard for the complex history of population movements and for the kinds of interactions among the relocated populations when the nature of the research on the development of creoles militates that such factors be incorporated in our analyses?


Language evolution

John Schumann
University of California at Los Angeles

This paper will discuss several issues raised in Derek Bickerton's theory of language evolution: 1) the source of grammatical structure in fully-fledged language, 2) the reasons for lack of structure in protolanguage, 3) the nature of what evolved in language evolution, 4) the problem of composed language, 5) the structure of sentences and the structure of conversation, 6) neurobiological prerequisites for language, 7) emergentism and Baldwin effects, 7) changes in the brain to accommodate language and changes in language to fit the brain, 8) what pidgin languages, signed languages, and second language acquisition may be able to contribute to our understanding of language evolution.



The Language Bioprogram Hypothesis and history

John Victor Singler
New York University

I will assess the place of the Language Bioprogram Hypothesis (LBH) in the history of creole studies, and then assess the place of history, specifically social history, in the LBH.

The place of the LBH in the history of creole studies. From the nineteenth century onward, Two Questions have shaped creole studies:
a) How does a creole language come into being?, and
b) Why do creole languages share so many fundamental properties regardless of a given creole’s lexifier and substrate languages?
In modern efforts to answer the Two Questions, Derek Bickerton has been creole studies’ most prominent scholar and the LBH the pivotal concept, from its initial formulations in the 1974 Working Papers in Linguistics article through Roots of Language to the 1984 formulation and ultimately the 1988 reformulation. Certainly Bickerton’s ideas grew out of previous creole scholarship, e.g. the work of Douglas Taylor. However, what Bickerton did in the LBH that had not been done before—and this remains his central contribution to the field—was to locate his answer in the architecture of the brain rather than in, for example, the social circumstances in which creole genesis took place.

The place of history in the LBH. Despite the widespread attention to the LBH outside of creole studies, creolists—the scholars who ought to be best able to appraise the LBH—have largely rejected it, at least in its most complete form (cf. Arends, Muysken, & Smith 1995). The bulk of the present paper is devoted to assessing one strain of creolists’ criticism of the LBH, namely the version of history that underlies it.

As part of the LBH, Bickerton distinguishes between those languages that are created catastrophically (creoles) and those that are created gradually (all other first languages). For the distinction between the two types to hold, the two must arise in drastically different social circumstances. Thus, even though Bickerton has argued that it is not the social setting of creole genesis that makes creole languages what they are, he has had to posit a particular social setting for them that apparently holds only for them.
It is true that, if there is a difference of type in language genesis as Bickerton asserts, a difference in social circumstance is necessary. However, as I have argued elsewhere (along with Arends and others), evidence from a range of disciplines—history, demography, and anthropology—makes clear that the cultural matrix of the relevant instances of creolization could not have been what Bickerton and the LBH require it to be. Further, evidence from contact linguistics undermines Bickerton’s claim that creoles are sui generis. Taken together, these types of evidence falsify not only the history component of the LBH but also Bickerton’s claim that creole grammar is linked more transparently to brain structure than is the grammar of other languages.


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Last modified Tuesday, July 15, 2003