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  • So let’s talk about meetings. When we cross into different worlds, and deal with different

  • cultures, amazing things can happen. All of us are changed by the people that we encounter,

  • and the same goes for languages. But when we need to speak with someone who doesn’t

  • speak the same language, that's when the real magic happens. I’m Moti Lieberman, and

  • this is the Ling Space.

  • People really get around. Maybe they have stuff they want to buy and sell, or important

  • places they want to visit. Maybe theyre seeking refuge from a war

  • or disaster, or maybe theyre a conquering army on the search for new territory.

  • Or maybe they just want to see what’s beyond the horizon, find some fantasy land to live

  • in. But the odds are, when you go somewhere new, youre going to find other

  • people there. Were almost unbelievably good at populating places, even if theyre

  • really cold, really hot, or really hard to find.

  • So what happens when you arrive somewhere and you meet a group of people who haven’t

  • even heard of your language, let alone speak it? If you want to stick around for a while,

  • youre going to have to find some way to talk to each other.

  • But where do you even start, when you don’t have any words in common? It’s not like

  • you have magic spells to ease communications.

  • Well, maybe youll start with simple gestures, or learn a few of each other’s words

  • for things. But soon enough, if you have a community that

  • springs up without a shared language, youll get a way of talking that’s woven together from the

  • different strands that make it up. This kind of system is called a pidgin, and

  • weve been creating them in these pressure-filled conditions for centuries, at least.

  • The amazing thing is, no matter what languages go into a pidgin, there are some

  • characteristics that they all tend to have. Because it’s got to be simple, you lose

  • a lot of the more complicated, unusual properties of the languages that go into it. Like, think

  • about the phonology, the sound system. Pidgins usually get the most common and straightforward

  • set of sounds, the ones most likely to be acceptable in the different languages.

  • So for vowels, that’s a five-vowel inventory: a, i, u, e, and o.

  • And you want really simple syllables, so you try to avoid consonants bunching together,

  • or letting consonants hang out after the vowel. And, although a lot of pidgins include content

  • from tonal Asian or West African languages, they usually lose any of the tone the original languages

  • might have had. So for a word like Brakebills, you’d change

  • the second vowel, break up the [bɹ] and [kb] bunches, chuck the consonant at the end, and

  • get bareki bili. Nice! Your syntax and morphology get affected, too.

  • Pidgins usually have a subject-verb-object word order, even if the languages they

  • draw from don’t. And, you won’t mark for things like number or

  • gender or case, or put tense on your verbs. For example, instead of past tense and future tense,

  • like hunted - hunt - will hunt, instead you get something like hunt yesterday, hunt,

  • hunt tomorrow. Here, ‘yesterdaydoesn't actually mean

  • yesterday, it just means that something happened in the past.

  • But you don’t only shrink things down when youre crunching together a pidgin.

  • A lot of the time, you add in a process called reduplication, which exists in languages around the

  • world, like Khmer, Maltese, and Warlpiri, but is not common in the languages that are

  • being combined. It's used as a plural, like in Warlpiri, where child

  • is kurdu, and children is kurdukurdu. Or it can be a superlative, like in Maltese, where homor

  • is red, and homor homor is totally red.

  • A pidgin isn’t anyone’s first language; it’s a system adult speakers stick together

  • so that they can communicate, so at most, it's a second language. I mean,

  • they may not even be languages at all. At least, not natural ones. In their favour,

  • pidgins do have a set of norms about how you should use them, and differing levels of proficiency.

  • But even though a whole community will usually learn to speak the pidgin, there’s

  • more variability from speaker and speaker or time and time than there is in a natural language.

  • And we just saw that pidgins aren’t complete grammars, either.

  • They lack a lot of the complex patterns of syntax, sound, and meaning that we

  • find in the world’s natural languages. So in a way, pidgins aren’t really languages in

  • the way weve been talking about them. In fact, maybe the closest parallel we can draw

  • is constructed languages. If you think back to our episode on constructed

  • languages, we concluded that most of them probably aren’t languages in the strictest

  • sense of the word. Even if you put a ton of effort into your

  • new language, unless youre a real wizard, it's probably not going to follow all the rules and

  • parameters of Universal Grammar. And the same goes for pidgins.

  • After all, in a way, pidgins are constructed languages - there might not be a single mind

  • shepherding the language together, but it still does get crafted.

  • Most of the pidgins we know today came into being in colonial situations.

  • Historically, some of the most notable centers for the development of pidgins have been Pacific

  • trade routes and Caribbean plantations. In both cases, you get exactly the right formula

  • for linguistic innovation: people from multiple language groups who don’t understand each

  • other but need to work together. The colonizing language - usually European -

  • lends a lot of vocabulary to the pidgin, and the rest comes together through necessity.

  • But even if there have been a lot of them, pidgins tend not to last for very long. They

  • need a specific set of conditions to thrive, so if you take away the situation of contact,

  • or you get one language becoming more popular than the others, the needs

  • for a hybrid means of communication disappear.

  • But sometimes, pidgins evolve. It is really cool that people come up with these ways

  • to speak with each other. But even more amazing is what happens when new generations

  • of kids grow up where the pidgins are spoken.

  • Weve already said that babies are linguistic geniuses - they come hardwired to learn language,

  • and whatever input they get, they use it to set up their mental grammars,

  • according to Universal Grammar, or UG. So what happens when babies are exposed to a

  • pidgin? They regularize patterns, fill out more of

  • the grammar, and force the pidgin to follow all the UG rules that they have.

  • This transformative process of a pidgin becoming something new is called creolization, and

  • the languages that come out the other side are known as creoles. And unlike pidgins,

  • creoles are full-fledged natural languages.

  • Let’s take the example of one of the most well-known creoles out there, Tok Pisin,

  • spoken in Papua New Guinea. Tok Pisin started off as a pidgin. The

  • name even meanstalk pidgin”, orpidgin language”.

  • It arose from the intermixing of different Pacific Islander communities

  • working on plantations in Australia and elsewhere.

  • The main prestige language of the plantation owners was English, so English was the raw

  • material that the original pidgin drew from. But you also have German, Portuguese, and

  • Malay, as well as all the Austronesian languages that the workers already knew.

  • And over the past few decades, people who learned Tok Pisin as a pidgin have been raising

  • families using it at home.

  • Given that Papua New Guinea alone has over 800 different language communities,

  • having a pidgin really came in handy.

  • So as kids have picked up Tok Pisin as their first language, it’s undergone creolization.

  • Now, Tok Pisin has about 120,000 native speakers, as well as 4 million second language speakers.

  • Because Tok Pisin has been documented before, during, and after its creolization, we can use it to

  • examine some of the differences between a pidgin and a creole. So one of the traits

  • of a pidgin is that it doesn't have embedded clauses.

  • In older versions of Tok Pisin, if you didn't know that somebody

  • had built a house, you might say this: “Mi no save. Ol i wokim dispela haus.”

  • Like two separate sentences: I didn’t know. They had built this house.

  • But today, part of the creolization of Tok Pisin involved syntactic embedding,

  • where you put one clause and you put it inside of another. “Mi no save olsem ol i wokim dispela haus”.

  • So now you have the wordolsemacting a bit likethatin I didn’t know that

  • they had built this house.

  • Or, if you look at the intonation patterns of pidgins, they often have a very even, flat

  • melody to them, without much going up and down in the pitch, or lengthening or shortening of syllables.

  • So in Tok Pisin, you used to say "we usually build houses like this" by expressing the "usually"

  • using the verbsave”. So: “Mipela save wokim haus olsem”.

  • But now, that verb has been reduced into the shorter formse”, like: “Mipela se wokim

  • haus olsem“. This short form just tacks onto the main verb of the sentence, “wokim”,

  • and it doesn’t get stress on it, so you start

  • getting sentences that sound more fluent and melodious.

  • You also get things that used to be whole phrases getting boiled down into words

  • or morphemes. Before, to express the future, you used to use the phrasebaimbai”, from the

  • English "by and by". Now, it's been reduced to the wordbai”, as inbai mi kam

  • long haus“, or "I will come to the house."

  • The discussion of creoles would not be complete without talking about Nicaraguan

  • Sign Language. Sign languages are a rich and complex topic, and we will be returning

  • to talk about them in much more detail. But for this particular case, the first thing that you need

  • to know is that there wasn’t really a Deaf community in Nicaragua until the latter half

  • of the 20th century. So when a school for deaf children was

  • opened in the 80s, no formal sign language was taught - just lipreading and spoken Spanish.

  • The thing is, that school had a bunch of people who didn't

  • share a signed language, and who were spending a lot of time together. And they were as

  • keen on communicating as you could imagine a school full of kids would be.

  • Each of them brought in some signs and structures that they used at home, and before long, the

  • students of this Nicaraguan school had developed a fluent signed pidgin between them.

  • But getting a pidgin going wasn’t the end of the story. Within a few years, as the older

  • students started teaching their system to the younger ones, their language developed into

  • a full-on creole, with a more complex grammar and extensive vocabulary.

  • The younger children passed this input through the filter of Universal Grammar, without even

  • trying or knowing anything about linguistics, and another pidgin blossomed into a complete

  • language. There are now over 3000 native signers of

  • Nicaraguan Sign Language, and that number just keeps rising as graduates from the school spread

  • the creole around the country.

  • So the systems that we make when two languages crash into each other are already really interesting.

  • We use the same kinds of strategies, simplifying our communication in the same sorts of ways,

  • whatever the original languages are. But when kids get their brains working on the new system,

  • whole new languages can appear, melded from the old ones. And that’s something magical.

  • So, weve reached the end of the Ling Space for this week.

  • If you regularized my grammatical structures, you learned that pidgins are created when

  • different cultures with different languages meet up and need to communicate;

  • that pidgins are simplified versions of language, with a lot of similarities in how they get

  • boiled down; that when children acquire a pidgin as their

  • first language, they turn it into a more complex system, a creole;

  • and that creoles show all the hallmarks of a regular, natural, UG-compliant language.

  • The Ling Space is produced by me, Moti Lieberman. It’s directed by Adèle-Elise Prévost,

  • and it’s written by both of us. Our editor is Georges Coulombe, our production

  • assistant is Stephan Hurtubise, our music is by Shane Turner, and our graphics team

  • is atelierMUSE. Were down in the comments below, or you can bring the discussion back

  • to our website, where well have some extra material on this topic. Check us out

  • on Tumblr, Twitter, and Facebook, and if you want to keep expanding your own personal Ling

  • Space, please subscribe. And, well see you next Wednesday. Na wè!

So let’s talk about meetings. When we cross into different worlds, and deal with different

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B1 INT language creole ling hunt grammar sign language

Pidgins and Creoles

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    Lu Monya   posted on 2017/05/06
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