August 8, 2007
Pidgin to Creole
Huh — I didn’t know “pidgin” and “creole” were actually semi-technical linguistic terms. In reply to this question:
If we shipwrecked a boatload of babies on the Galapagos Islands — assuming they had all the food, water, and shelter they needed to survive — would they produce language in any form when they grew up?
We get, in part, this answer:
Nobody refers directly to the historical conversion of pidgin languages (protolanguages) into creoles (full languages). This change has happened many times in the past centuries, and Derek Bickerton established nicely that it was the children who converted Hawaiian pidgin into Hawaiian Creole. This feat was not accomplished in a nonlinguistic setting. The pidgin pre-existed the children, so these speakers were not like the lone infants on the Galapagos, nevertheless, the babbling of infants, the creation of the Nicaraguan sign language, and the conversion of Hawaiian English from pidgin to creole offers a pile of positive evidence that humans are born with more than a language-ready brain.
I think this means it’s only a matter of time ‘til we have to start compiling the Oxford Lolcats Dictionary.
Related: Check out the second paper here, about genetically-coded behaviors that still have to be sharpened by experience (e.g. nest-building in birds). I love the term “free-lunch learning.”