Creoles & language evolution process

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Creoles & language evolution process

Creoles have generally been considered to have more complex formation processes than pidgins, which lie at an earlier stage in the language evolution process (Culpeper, 1997). The processes that drive the development of creoles and pidgins have been the subject of interest and debate to linguists for many decades. Some have hypothesized that the development of these forms has been driven by variables similar to those that drive the creation of languages.

Some of these hypotheses have included biological approaches to creole and pidgin evolution, while others have posited synchronic methods (Adone & Vainikka, 1999; Bickerton, 1999). Many of these synchronic and biological ideas are compelling highly challenging in their plausibility, employing ideas related to Universal Grammar as a means of illuminating creole and pidgin development. The development of pidgins has been considered to be less difficult to understand than that of creoles, mainly because of the precise phenomenon that pidgins describe.

As a language form that develops from the mixing of two distinct languages, many have simply considered it to occur as a result of the mixing of two (or more) people groups that possess distinct languages. Yet, some complexity exists in the different scales to which pidgins might develop (Adone & Vainikka, 1999). Furthermore, it is interesting to note that when the languages of a bilingual child develop, even at an early age, that child generally distinguishes between the two perfectly without mixing them (Culpeper, 1997).

When languages exist together on larger scales could be when pidgins are more likely to develop, and this appears to stem from the likelihood that the multiplicity of languages is intelligible by a wider range of persons. When this is the case, it creates no real need for any one speaker to make the effort distinguish between them for purposes of being understood. Despite the fact that pidgins and creoles are distinct language forms, many consider pidgins as a form that occurs on the way to the formation of a creole.

In fact, the definition of creolization given by Adone and Vainikka is “the process by which pidgins develop into creole languages” (1999, p. 76). Discussions regarding the relationship that creolization bears to language acquisition processes and language development have led to two distinct schools of thought. One has viewed creolizaiton as being an extended process that takes several generations to mature. Indeed, this process never ends but continues to develop alongside the development of the particular culture in which it occurs.

The other school of thought has viewed the process of creolization as on that has the potential to occur suddenly, within only one generation (1999). The gradual development of creoles appears to be more consistent with the prevailing theories of language development. If creoles are viewed according to the definition above (as a product of pidgin development) then it would appear that such a fast development of the language would be very difficult. Such speedy development would afford little time for the creation of the pidgin itself before its further evolution into a fully developed creole.

The mixing of more than one language appears to be a phenomenon that would take quite some time, as this would involve a certain degree of standardization concerning which parts of each language should be included in this pidgin. In addition, it would appear that more than one generation would be needed to allow the general spread of this understanding among the population. However, it would also seem that geographical and population-density concerns would have a bearing on the ability of the creole to develop and suffuse an entire region.

It may also depend on the demographic of the individuals who act as the agents of this development. Those theorists who believe that creolization has the potential to develop within one generation have cited young children as being the agents of such change (Bickerton, 1991, cited in Adone & Vainikka, 1999). This researcher argues that this form of “radical creole” develops through a Bioprogram that operates very closely with the theory of Universal Grammar.

Such a development, therefore, is based on humans’ innate understanding of language, which is to some degree distinct from the language that is learned in any given cultural context. Because this theory posits humans as having a relationship to grammar that transcends the grammar rules of any given language, the development of a particular radical creole would be based on the similarity of the language variation put forth by each child despite the fact that they may not grow up in close proximity to each other (1991; 1999).

This particular view of creolization is based on language evolution theories that take a biological or even genetic approach to language change (Mufwene, 2001; 2006). In the creole form used in Mauritius, for instance, the children have been found to make fewer “mistakes” that represent a non-conformity to the language than those found in many standardized, non-creole language (Adone & Vainikka, 1999; Bickerton, 1999).

Bickerton writes, “Children acquiring English and other noncreole languages make a number of “mistakes,” a very high percentage of which would be fully grammatical utterances if the children were acquiring a creole language” (1999, p. 66). The opposite of this does not appear to be true—children acquiring creole languages do not make as many mistakes that would be considered grammatical in a noncreole language such as English or French (1999). It would seem therefore that creole might be considered a more naturally occurring form of a given language as distilled through the human’s biological propensity toward language expression.

However, while this supports the idea of Universal Grammar, it does not appear to offer much support of radical creolization, as the Mauritian Creole has been evolving for many generations. Creoles and pidgins are interesting in that they offer insight into the earlier stages of language development. Many ideas exist concerning the classification of these language forms. Theories also exist concerning how such forms are developed, as well as the relationship they have to each other and to the languages on which they are based.

Biological and synchronic approaches have both pointed toward the idea of Universal Grammar as having a bearing on the development of these forms of language, and intriguing (yet inconclusive) discussions have come about as a result of research done in that direction. . References Adone, D. & A. Vainikka. (1999). “Acquisition of Wh-questions in Mauritian creole. ” Language creation and language change: creolization, diachrony, and development. Boston: MIT Press. p. 75-95. Bickerton, D. (1999).

“How to acquire language without positive evidence: what acquisitionists can learn from creoles. Language creation and language change: creolization, diachrony, and development. Boston: MIT Press. p. 49-75. Bickerton, D. (1991). “Haunted by the specter of creole genesis. ” Behavioral and Brain Sciences. 14: 364-366. Culpeper, J. (1997). History of English. Oxford: Routledge. Mufwene, S. S. (2001). The Ecology of Language Evolution. Cambridge: Cambridge UP. Mufwene, S. S. (2006). Language evolution : the population genetics way. Marges linguistiques, 11, 243-260.


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  • University/College: University of California

  • Type of paper: Thesis/Dissertation Chapter

  • Date: 28 August 2016

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