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Bickerton (1984), BBS, 7, 173-221

Bickerton (1984), BBS, 7, 173-221

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THE BEHAVIORAL AND BRAIN SCIENCES (1984) 7, 173-221
Printed in
the United States of
America
The language bioprogramhypothesis
Derek Bickerton
Department of Linguistics, University of Hawaii at Manoa, Honolulu, Hawaii
96822
Abstract: It
is hypothesized that Creole languages are largely invented by children and show fundamental similarities, which derivefrom a biological program for language. The structures of Hawaiian Pidgin and Hawaiian Creole are contrasted, and evidence isprovided to show that the latter derived from the former in a single generation. A realistic model of the processes of Creole formationshows how several specific historical and demographic factors interacted to restrict, in varying degrees, the access of pidgin speakersto the dominant language, and hence the nature of input to the children of those speakers. It is shown that the resulting similarities ofCreole languages derive from a single grammar with a restricted list of categories and operations. However, grammars of individualCreoles will differ from this grammar to a varying extent: The degree of difference will correlate very closely with the quantity ofdominant-language input, which in turn is controlled by extralinguistic factors. Alternative explanations of the above phenomena aresurveyed, in particular, substratum theory and monogenesis: Both are found inadequate to account for the facts. Primary acquisitionis examined in light of the general hypothesis, and it is suggested that the bioprogram provides a skeletal model of language which thechild can then readily convert into the target language. Cases of systematic error and precocious learning provide indirect support forthe hypothesis. Some conjectures are made concerning the evolutionary origins of the bioprogram and what study of Creoles andrelated topics might reveal about language origins.
Keywords:
child language; Creole; evolution; glottogenesis; grammar; language; language acquisition; language origins; learnability;linguistic universals; pidgin; psycholinguistics
1.0 The basic hypothesis
A central issue with respect to human language, and onethat is far from resolved, concerns the extent and specific-ity of the mechanisms that underlie it. At one extreme liethe views of Chomsky [see "Rules and Representations,"
BBS
3(1) 1980] and his associates, who posit a "mentalorgan" that is as modular and as functionally specialized asthe human heart or lungs. At the other extreme lie thoseof many empiricists who hold that the human mind is ageneral-purpose problem-solving device, no particularportion of which is specifically devoted to language. Forthe past two decades at least, debate has ranged overfairly well known territory: the extent to which languageis like or unlike other objects of human learning, the roleof input in the normal acquisition of language by thechild, the ontological status of innate knowledge, and soforth. In the sections that follow, I examine evidence froma relatively little known area of human language whichclearly bears on this issue; I argue in favor of
a
languagebioprogram hypothesis (henceforth LBH) that suggeststhat the infrastructure of language is specified at least asnarrowly as Chomsky has claimed.The languages to be examined are known as Creoles,which in turn have derived from pidgin languages. Apidgin is an auxiliary language that arises when speakersof several mutually unintelligible languages are in closecontact; by definition, it has no native speakers. A Creolecomes into existence when children acquire a pidgin astheir native language; theoretically this process can occurat any stage in a pidgin's history, but for reasons that willbecome apparent, we shall be dealing only with Creolesthat have come into existence very early in the develop-ment of their antecedent pidgins. It has long been recog-nized by creolists that Creoles somehow "expand" andrender more complex the pidgin grammar that precedesthem (Hall 1966), but until recently there was no clearpicture of what constituted this expansion, and no indica-tion as to how the expansion was achieved. The LBHclaims that the innovative aspects of Creole grammar areinventions on the part of the first generation of childrenwho have a pidgin as their linguistic input, rather thanfeatures transmitted from preexisting languages. TheLBH claims, further, that such inventions show a degreeof similarity, across wide variations in linguistic back-ground, that is too great to be attributed to chance.Finally, the LBH claims that the most cogent explanationof this similarity is that it derives from the structure of
a
species-specific program for language, genetically codedand expressed, in ways still largely mysterious, in thestructures and modes of operation of the human brain.This general argument, at varying levels of specificityand detail, has been developed in previous publications(Bickerton 1974; 1977; 1979; and especially 1981). How-ever, since the appearance of these versions, there havebeen a number of developments that permit a moresharply focused and explicit presentation of the LBH.These developments include studies by Philip Baker on
© 7984
Cambridge University Press
0140-525X1841020173-49IS06.00
THE BEHAVIORAL AND BRAIN SCIENCES (1984) 7:2
173
 
Bickerton: Language bioprogram hypothesisthe origins of Mauritius Creole (Baker 1976; 1982; Baker& Come 1982), studies of Haitian syntax by ClaireLefebvre and her associates (Lefebvre, Magloire-Holly &Piou 1982), extensive fieldwork on Saramaccan syntax byFrank Byrne (Byrne 1982; forthcoming), and an ongoinglongitudinal study of the linguistic development of a blindtwo-year-old by Robert Wilson.
2.0 The arguments for invention
In order to support the LBH it is necessary to show thatall, or at least a substantial part, of the grammar of alanguage can be produced in the absence of the genera-tion-to-generation transmission of particular languagesthat is a normal characteristic of our species. Note thatalthough evidence for this point would still fall short ofdemonstrating the LBH as a whole, failure to find supportfor it would be fatal to the hypothesis. It is not necessary,however, to demonstrate that the LBH specifies the
only
means through which novel linguistic structures canarise, as some contributors to Hill's (1979) volume seemto have assumed.Creole languages arise where large numbers of peoplespeaking mutually unintelligible languages are forced toassociate on a permanent basis but have no preexistinglanguage in common. Such conditions were produced parexcellence by European colonialism in the period1500-1900, and were most recently satisfied in Hawaii inthe period 1876-1920. Hawaii is therefore the only placein the world where it is still possible to study the linguisticphenomena produced under these conditions by directexamination of surviving speakers from the relevantperiod.In evaluating the Hawaii evidence, one caveat must beborne in mind. This evidence is drawn from a study madeduring 1973-75, of speakers then in their seventies,eighties, or even (in a couple of
cases)
nineties. It can beinterpreted as evidence for what happened in the period1900-1920 only on the assumption that the speech ofindividuals does not change appreciably after adulthoodis reached. Since this assumption, although common-place in linguistics, may not obtain in the unusual condi-tions dealt with here, we need to see how it might fail andwhat the consequences of such failure might be.Take first the speech of pidgin speakers, which will beshown to be extremely rudimentary in structure. Intheory there are three possibilities: that their speech inthe period 1900-1920 was
more
rudimentary,
less
rudi-mentary, or
equally
rudimentary. For the present argu-ment, the first possibility constitutes even better evi-dence than the third - it would mean that the linguisticdeficit that had to be made up by first-generation Creolespeakers was even greater than will be suggested here.The second possibility is highly unlikely. The longerpeople interact, the more the quality of their linguisticinteraction improves. Deterioration of language skills canoccur only through extreme isolation or mental deteriora-tion. None of our subjects was a social isolate, however,and all, even the oldest, seemed in full possession of theirmental faculties. The second possibility may therefore bedisregarded.In the case of Creole speakers, there are two pos-sibilities. The structures that distinguish them frompidgin speakers were acquired either in childhood or inadulthood. If Creole speakers acquired the structures asadults, they must have done so by means of acquisitiona.processes equally available to pidgin speakers, who werealso adults. Yet we find structures that are shared by alllocally born (i.e. Creole) speakers and no immigrant (i.epidgin) speakers. Such structures can only have beenacquired by processes inaccessible to pidgin speakers.The only plausible candidates for such processes are theones peculiar to children, which, according to the so-called critical period hypothesis (Krashen 1973; Len-neberg 1967; Scovell 1981), are inaccessible to adults.Therefore, forms unique to locally born speakers musthave been acquired by them as children.Given that the present speech of pidgin speakers is asrudimentary as (or less rudimentary than) their speechshortly after arrival in Hawaii, we can illustrate the natureof 1900—1920 pidgin by examples drawn from speakerswho arrived in Hawaii during that period (in each case thespeaker's native language and date of arrival are given inparentheses). Even the lexicon of this pidgin was highlyunstable, as (l)-(3) show:1. kote, motete, awl frend giv, no? (Japanese, 1918).buy, take-back, all friend give, INTERROGATIVE."[They] buy [presents], take [them] back, and give[them] to all their friends, don't they?"
2.
insai lepo aen hanapa aen blaenket, pau (Visayan,1916).inside dirt and cover and blanket, finish"[They put the body] in the ground and cover [itwith a] blanket, that's all."
3.
mi onli chachi-chachi go palei, tarin gonon naegabisanis ani (Korean, 1916).I only church go pray, other things I business is-not"I just went to church to pray; other things were notmy business."(The non-English lexical items are Japanese in [1], Ha-waiian in [2] - a form of pidginized Hawaiian was the mostwidespread means of communication prior to 1900; seeBickerton & Wilson (1984) - and Korean in [3].Examples such as (l)-(3) have no recognizable syntax.What fragments of syntax can be recognized are heavilyinfluenced by native-language grammar; thus, in (4),objects precede verbs, as in Japanese, whereas in (5), theverb precedes the subject, as in Ilocano:
4.
mi kape bai, mi chaek meik (Japanese, 1907)me coffee buy, me check make"He bought my coffee; he made me out a check. "
5.
en den meri dis wan (Ilocano, 1918)and then marry this one"And then he got married."However, such influence is far from consistent: Thespeaker who produced (4) also produced (6):6. baimbai wi bai eka yo, 2,500 bai, foa eka bai, laend(Japanese, 1907).Later we buy acre EMPHASIS, 2,500 buy, fouracre buy, land"Later we bought four acres of land for $2,500. 'Indeed the restrictions on expression imposed by thegrammatical limitations of the pidgin can only be fully
174
THE BEHAVIORAL AND BRAIN SCIENCES (1984) 7:2
 
Bickerton: Language bioprogram hypothesisappreciated by more extended citation of some quitetypical utterances:7.bilding - hai pleis - wal pat - taim - nautaim - aenden
nau tempicha eri taim sho yu (Japanese,1913)"There was an electric sign high up on the wall ofthe building which showed you what time andtemperature it was."8. gud, dis wan. kaukau enikain dis wan. pilipin ailaenno gud. no mo mani (Ilocano, 1913)."It's better here then in the Philippines - here youcan get all kinds of food - but over there there isn'tany money [to buy food
with]."
Pidgin speakers lacked the resources that language nor-mally employs in the expression of complex propositions;as examples (l)-(8) suggest, they had no consistent meansof marking tense, aspect, or modality; no consistentsystem of anaphora (compare the zero subject anaphora of[4] with the stereotypic use of
dis wan
as an all-purposepronoun for
he, here,
and so on in [5] and [8]); no struc-ture more complex than the single clause (hence no em-bedding of one sentence within another, whether theembedded sentence be relative clause or sententialcomplement); and no systematic means for distinguishingcase relations. In consequence, parsing of pidgin hasto be based almost exclusively on semantics and pragma-tics.Language at this level of degeneracy must have con-stituted a major part of the input to children learninglanguage around 1900-1920. Bruner and Feldman (1982)are right in pointing out that input from a variety of fullydeveloped human languages was also potentially avail-able.However, as is shown later in this article, there is noevidence that children, in acquiring a pidgin natively, areable to use the latter kind of input, and much evidencethat they cannot, or perhaps do not need to.Input of the type of (l)-(8) presents children with twodistinct problems. The first arises from the variability ofthe data. One might suppose that variable word orderwould pose no greater problem than is presented by so-called nonconfigurational (free word order) languages(Hale 1978). However, such languages invariably havemechanisms (e.g., pre- or postpositions, case inflections,etc.) for unambiguous marking of case roles; Hawaiianpidgin had none of these.The second and more severe problem arises from thelack of models for complex structures. The examples thatfollow represent types of sentences produced by Hawai-ian creole speakers who grew up in the period 1900-1920(in each case the speaker's birth date is given in paren-theses). No examples of these sentence types have beenfound among the immigrant speakers who arrived duringthat period.9. dei gon get naif pok you (1896)"They will stab you with a knife."
10.
dei wawk fit go skul (1902)"They went to school on foot."Here, nouns in the Instrumental and Manner cases areintroduced by verbs
(get
and
walk
respectively) ratherthan by prepositions, as in English. The importance ofthis type of structure, known as verb serialization, willbecome apparent as we proceed further.
11.
dei kam in da mawning taim go skul (1902)"They came to school in the morning."
12.
dafrsjaepani keim ran awei framjaepan kam (1896)"The first Japanese who arrived ran away fromJapan to here."Note the use of verbs of motion:
go
to mark Locative Casein (11),
kam
("come") to serve as a directional adverbial("to here") in(12).These examples illustrate further typesof verb serialization.
13.
dei wen go ap dea in da mawning go plaen (1896)"They went up there in the morning to plant[things]."
14.
pipl no laik tekam fo go wok (1902)"People don't want to have him go to work [for
them]."
Examples (13) and (14) show, first, a systematic means forembedding sentential complements (by means of verbphrases following
go
and
fo)
and, second, a means ofdistinguishing between accomplished and unaccom-plished actions. The "planting" of (13), an action thatactually took place, as the context of the sentence makesclear, is marked by
go,
whereas the "going to work" of(14), an action that did not take place, is marked by
fo.
Neither process has any antecedent in the pidgin, and thesecond has no antecedent in English either.
15.
samtaim dei stei kam araun, polis (1900)"Sometimes the police used to come around."
16.
wan taim wen wi go horn inna nait dis ting stei flaiap (1902)"Once when we went home at night this thing wasflying about."Without
stei,
(15) would be self-contradictory - "Some-times the police came around once" - while (16) comesfrom a description of ball lightning, an inherently dura-tive phenomenon. Use of
stei
as a marker of nonpunctual(durative or iterative) aspect is another Creole innovation;no means of marking aspect of any kind exists in thepidgin.With one exception, examples (9)-(16) involve the useof full verbs (or forms derived from full verbs) to dischargefunctions that in English are discharged by prepositions,adverbs, complementizers, or auxiliaries. The exception
(fo
in [14] is closely related to a form that is shown belowto be fully verbal in Saramaccan, a Creole closer to thebioprogram than Hawaiian Creole. This use of verbsdiffers strikingly from the common pidgin strategy ofusing strings of mainly nominal constituents with few orno verbs (cf. [7] and [8]).
17.
sam filipino wok ohia dei wen kapl yiaz in filipinailaen (1896)"Some Filipinos who worked over here went backto the Philippines for a couple of years."
18.
wan dei haed pleni av dis mauntin fish kam daun(1897)"One day there were a lot of these fish from themountains that came down [the
river]."
Here we find fully developed relative clauses - a featureabsent from the pidgin of 1900-1920 - but clauses thatdiffer from their English equivalents in that (a) they lackrelative pronouns, which are nondeletable in the Englishequivalents, and (b) where the head noun of the clause isindefinite in reference ("Some Filipinos"), a pronoun
THE BEHAVIORAL AND BRAIN SCIENCES (1984) 7:2
175

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