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Bastard Tongues: A Trailblazing Linguist Finds Clues to Our Common Humanity in the World's Lowliest Languages [Kindle Edition]

Derek Bickerton
5.0 von 5 Sternen  Alle Rezensionen anzeigen (1 Kundenrezension)

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“One of the field’s old lions, he has spent the last four decades studying pidgins and Creoles and writing a few novels on the side. A self-described macho “street linguist” for whom fieldwork is part pub crawl, Bickerton has a penchant for big ideas and a “total lack of respect for the respectable” that, judging from his new memoir, has put him at odds with bureaucrats and colleagues. “Bastard Tongues” is gossipy, vain and pugilistic—in other words, all the juicy things an academic memoir should be but too rarely is.” —The New York Times Book Review
“Bickerton has made transformative discoveries about the way we acquire language… The book is part memoir, part intellectual detective story and part linguistics primer. Bickerton is a spirited, clever writer, and the tripartite nature of the narrative suits him.” —The Los Angeles Times
“His intellectual enthusiasm is so contagious that many readers will find themselves sharing his indignation…the rebel in you can’t help but warm to him.” —New Scientist
“Derek Bickerton is anything but your average P.hD.-toting scholar. His new book, Bastard Tongues, is anything but the typical work of academic non-fiction. Much too personal to be a strictly scholarly enterprise and steeped in theoretical jargon unusual for the quintessential memoir, Bastard Tongues is as uniquely brilliant as the mind that created it…. a fun and enjoyable read that can enrich your mind as well as fulfill your hunger for excitement and adventure.” —The Daily Texan
“Advancing a radical new linguistic theory, Bickerton detects in creoles not the dynamics of language transmission but rather the wellspring of language creation…. Bickerton’s account of his travels fuses the excitement of travel literature with the substance of groundbreaking linguistics. A bold new perspective on human speech.” —Booklist

“Bickerton writes appealingly about his immersion into trying to figure out the initially baffling phrases scavenged from the various languages that contributed to the creoles he worked on.” —The Chronicle of Higher Education


“An intellectual journey.” —The Honolulu Star


“Passionate. . . Part memoir, part detective story and part adventure, this book is a journey into Derek Bickerton’s life work studying creole languages spoken by descendants of slaves and indentured laborers in plantation colonies.” —The Post & Courier (Charleston)

“Derek Bickerton turns the tale of his life’s work—the study of Creole languages—into a gripping adventure story. Language lovers will exult in his linguistic insights, but everyone will delight in the surprising twists and turns of his global quest for the answer to why Creoles are all so much alike.” —Deborah Tannen, author of You Just Don’t Understand: Women and Men in Conversation and You’re Wearing THAT?: Understanding Mothers and Daughters in Conversation
“Bickerton bar-hops through some of the world’s most exotic locations and languages, and somehow along the way he manages to crack one of the deepest mysteries of language itself. A fantastic and frank account of research in the real world.” —Christine Kenneally, author of The First Word: The Search for the Origins of Language
“Derek Bickerton is one of the great modern contributors to our understanding of language, and Bastard Tongues combines an intellectual detective story, a disarmingly frank autobiography, and a tale of adventures in exotic places. If you’re curious about the origins of pidgins, Creoles, or indeed language itself, start here. If you already know Bickerton’s ideas and want to know where they came from, this book is for you, too.” —Melvin Konner, author of The Tangled Wing: Biological Constraints on the Human Spirit, revised edition
“Open the book at almost any page and you’ll be drawn in by the exotic places, the interesting people, and the unfolding detective story about how a new language gets started. There is nothing dry about linguistics when Derek is telling the story. It’s a delight to read.”—William H. Calvin, author of Global Fever: How to Treat Climate Change
“A fascinating memoir from one of the most innovative and literate linguists of our age.” —Steven Pinker, author of The Language Instinct: How Mind Creates Language and The Stuff of Thought: Language as a Window into Human Nature


Why Do Isolated Creole Languages Tend to Have Similar Grammatical Structures?
Bastard Tongues is an exciting, firsthand story of scientific discovery in an area of research close to the heart of what it means to be human--what language is, how it works, and how it passes from generation to generation, even where historical accidents have made normal transmission almost impossible. The story focuses on languages so low in the pecking order that many people don't regard them as languages at all--Creole languages spoken by descendants of slaves and indentured laborers in plantation colonies all over the world. The story is told by Derek Bickerton, who has spent more than thirty years researching these languages on four continents and developing a controversial theory that explains why they are so similar to one another. A published novelist, Bickerton (once described as "part scholar, part swashbuckling man of action") does not present his findings in the usual dry academic manner. Instead, you become a companion on his journey of discovery. You learn things as he learned them, share his disappointments and triumphs, explore the exotic locales where he worked, and meet the colorful characters he encountered along the way. The result is a unique blend of memoir, travelogue, history, and linguistics primer, appealing to anyone who has ever wondered how languages grow or what it's like to search the world for new knowledge.



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5.0 von 5 Sternen Another offspring of imperialism 24. Juli 2008
Format:Gebundene Ausgabe
The word "creole" carries many connotations. Along the US Gulf Coast, it's a language, a people and a music form - not to mention a cuisine. To Derek Bickerton, the first category is the important one, even if this is the one place he failed to investigate in his research. A fascinating account of personal history and intense research, this book examines the roots and meaning of Creole languages. The Oxford Dictionary offers four definitions, but language is the last one: a mother tongue formed from the contact of a European language with another language, especially an African language. In this account it is this "mother tongue" that Bickerton wishes to trace and define. He does so in a manner that would leave most academic linguists shuddering, visiting bars, poverty-stricken communities and remote villages in the bush.

The places are where the forces of empire have trod, bringing in imported labour to work plantations, mostly sugar. The names evoke exotic locales - Guyana, Suriname, Caribbean Islands and Hawaii. The imported workforces were from many points of origin - many of them African where separation of a few kilometres meant "neighbours" were unintelligible to each other. All the newcomers had to communicate with each other and with the masters. This is a key point in Bickerton's account. "Pidgin" is the first language arising from two people of a single language each attempting to communicate. It has no particular form nor vocabulary. "Creole", on the other hand evolves from pidgin to emerge as a fully-fledged operating language. Form and structure are essential aspects carrying the language through time, and sometimes space.
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Die hilfreichsten Kundenrezensionen auf (beta) 5.0 von 5 Sternen  10 Rezensionen
17 von 18 Kunden fanden die folgende Rezension hilfreich
5.0 von 5 Sternen "To really get to the heart of something, you can't have too little training." 14. März 2008
Von Found Highways - Veröffentlicht auf
Format:Gebundene Ausgabe
This is the most interesting intellectual biography I've read. Bickerton's motto above helped him to wander into linguistics when he was teaching English literature in Africa, and then become one of the first scientists to discover how creole languages work.

Bickerton investigates the creole languages invented by the descendents of West Africans enslaved by European powers - - the English, French, Portuguese, Spanish, and Dutch. He doesn't have the "Sitzfleisch" for library research, so he spends time in bars with the "unrighteous working class" in Columbia, Brazil, Barbados, Hawaii, Mauritius, and a dozen other places.

Bastard Tongues is a linguistic detective story. It takes Bickerton almost twenty years to find the answer to his mystery - - how creoles develop into full-fledged languages (just as complex as French or English) from the simpler contact languages (pidgins) that slaves used to communicate with their European overseers.

One of the most interesting of Bickerton's discoveries is how creoles exist on a continuum from "deeper" (almost incomprehensible to someone not a native speaker) to a level closer to the European language.

Bickerton goes into detail about how "the infernal machine" of a slave economy worked and shows how it was the nature of the slave economies in the "New World" that determined the evolution of their languages. Bickerton did as much for the field of history as linguistics. His analysis of the "expansion" and "establishment" phases of the American slave economies, and his investigation of the "maroons" - - escaped slaves, from the Spanish "cimarron," ("wild" or "runaway") is as interesting as the creole grammar.

His explanation of the TMA systems (tense, modality, aspect) in creoles will satisfy anybody who wants to get deep into interesting grammars without the academic jargon in some linguistics books. ("The difference between people and linguists is that people are interested in words and linguists are interested in grammar.")

Even if you're not overly interested in linguistics, but are interested in Hawaiin history, this book is fascinating. Sarah Roberts, one of Bickerton's students at the University of Hawaii, thought to look at court records rather than more literary sources for Hawaiin creole (or "Pidgin" with a capital P as it's called).

When Bickerton started in linguistics, there were three main theories about the origin of creoles: monogenesis (there was one ur-creole that influenced all the others), the superstrate theory (the creole mostly comes from the dominant language, say French or Portuguese), and the substrate theory (the creole mostly comes from the native language of the creole speakers (for instance, an indigenous West African language).

I never thought I'd say this in a review of a linguistics book, but SPOILER AHEAD.

Derek Bickerton showed that creole languages follow the same bioprogram that all human beings use to invent language, and that the reason creoles in the Pacific and South America resemble each other in basic grammar is because their users have the same mental equipment.

It looks like Bickerton's real intellectual leap wasn't so much in assuming creole-speaker-creators would use the same process as other kinds of language users, it was in NOTICING IN THE FIRST PLACE that the grammars of unrelated creoles were very much alike in very basic ways.
Bickerton's comparison of Saramaccan (a creole spoken in Surinam, with primarily English vocabulary) and Fa d'Ambu (the language of an island off West Central Africa with primarily Portuguese vocabulary) proves it.

Obviously, this owes something to Noam Chomsky's Universal Grammar (or Steven Pinker's "language instinct"), but Bickerton doesn't get involved in nature vs. nurture or biology vs. culture arguments. One thing I like about books by British and Australian linguists is that they don't feel the need to affirm or refute Chomsky's ideas. They take what works and leave what doesn't.

Bickerton also writes about Nicaraguan Sign Language, since deaf children create the same kind of full-bodied language that speaking children do, only using the mode of gesture instead of speech. Signed languages are just as complex as spoken ones. (Anyone who's read this far in this review will enjoy Talking Hands: What Sign Language Reveals About the Mind by Margalit Fox.)

More controversially, Bickerton proposes what linguists historically have called "The Forbidden Experiment," and which the National Science Foundation once approved for him, then cancelled. There are stories of rulers and "scientists" who supposedly isolated children without a language to see what would happen. (Fox's book Talking Hands goes into this subject as well, since that's the situation for deaf children who find themselves in a community of other deaf children, in which case they will create a basic pidgin in sign. When deaf children find themselves with others who have a basic sign language, they grammaticalize the pidgin and create a creole, a fully-formed signed language.)

I'm not as sure as Bickerton that the experiment he's proposing is a good idea, but like a lot in this book, it makes you think.
15 von 16 Kunden fanden die folgende Rezension hilfreich
5.0 von 5 Sternen Washington Post review got it wrong 26. April 2008
Von Justin Thyme - Veröffentlicht auf
Format:Gebundene Ausgabe
This book was reviewed in the NY Times, LA times and Washington Post all on the same day. For some reason, Amazon only posts the Washington Post review and not the other ones, which I think were much more accurate.

The last sentence of the Washington Post review leaves the impression that the book may be a slog for non-linguists - but I have to say the opposite is true. I know next to nothing about linguistics, but found the linguistic parts to be very understandable and informative. Most of the book is about characters, situations and little known bits of intriguing history, woven together in a compelling way. It's not often that you want to read a non-fiction book all in one go, but this book was impossible to put down.

The writer's love of travel and ideas and his genuine interest in the people and world he encounters is positively infectious. Reading the book made me want to dump my job and go back to school to start a new vocation - something Derek Bickerton himself did. Just take a look at the LookInside pages and see for yourself.
10 von 10 Kunden fanden die folgende Rezension hilfreich
5.0 von 5 Sternen Studies Abroad 25. Mai 2008
Von F. Scott Key - Veröffentlicht auf
Format:Gebundene Ausgabe
We all love a mystery, especially a big one, and the mystery of the origins of language is still a big one. Language is our most human invention. We start to talk before we start to walk. It seems so natural within the human experience that we look for it in other species and build it into our machines. Language allows us, not only to communicate but, to refine our thoughts before we even speak and in the process change the way we think. We see language as another indicator of how intelligent we really are; but is language our own clever invention or is it the result of a biological template we all possess that makes talking trash as natural as walking tall?

"Bastard Tongues" by Derek Bickerton proposes an answer to this provocative question in a charming and funny memoir of his studies abroad. That rare academic with a preference for field work, Bickerton, with his trusty tape recorder by his side, has parked himself in the middle of things all over the world to hear those "funny" languages spoken by the people who use them every day. In the process he makes you regret whatever career choice you may have made and wish that you had been smart enough to have chosen linguistics. Bickerton has spent his life answering opportunity's knock to study creole languages everywhere and the consequence of this lifetime of research is a fascinating theory that changes the way we view ourselves and the tool we use so often that we rarely give it any thought at all.

In "Bastard Tongues", Bickerton uses creole to illustrate how fundamental language really is. Children invent it. Creole languages exist all over the world using different root languages but essentially all recognizably creole and related by grammar and structure, not the language of the individual words used. Creole languages evolved wherever two or more different cultures were forced to agree on a pidgin form of their languages, simply to communicate, and their children took that skeleton and fleshed it out with all the richness and complexity of creole in just one generation. According to Bickerton's theory, the worldwide existence of creole languages demonstrates clearly that humans possess a bio-program for language. He presents all of this in a delightfully entertaining new book.

Bickerton shares with us this fascinating journey of discovery as it takes him from the jungles of South America to the halls of academia, providing all of the humor and historical perspective necessary to thoroughly enjoy his astounding adventure. We all love a mystery and the mystery of language and what it can tell us about mankind is only now being revealed by talented people like Derek Bickerton. "Bastard Tongues" is a true story that convincingly argues the importance of the study of linguistics. Bickerton's gift is to leave you wanting more.
7 von 8 Kunden fanden die folgende Rezension hilfreich
5.0 von 5 Sternen Bastard Tongues: A Trailblazing Linguist Finds Clues to Our Common Humanity in the World's Lowliest Languages 29. April 2008
Von James McIntosh - Veröffentlicht auf
Format:Gebundene Ausgabe
When I picked up Derek Bickerton's latest book, "Bastard Tongues", I expected to find a scholarly treatise on the origins and journeys of the so-called low languages, and I wasn't disappointed. What I had not expected was to be entertained, intrigued and delighted to be taken on a magical journey, with a master story-teller as my guide.

Bickerton does a masterly job of tracing the roots (and routes) of pidgin languages from such diverse origins as West Africa and Northern South America, the Seychelles and Hawaii, and asking the question - why they produce so many words and phrases in common, without any known previous contact.

But it's Derek Bickerton's own fact-finding journey that provides the entertainment in this book. Part scholarly tome, part travelogue, part autobiography, "Bastard Tongues" is a plain-spoken and frequently disrepectful memoir, replete with hilarious tales of the tribulations of a language detective. Whether slogging through the bush in Guyana, carousing with the creoles in Columbian bars, or careening across deserts in the most precarious forms of transportation in search of a thread to link the most basic forms of communication, Bickerton keeps one entertained and delighted from beginning to end. I couldn't put it down.
4 von 4 Kunden fanden die folgende Rezension hilfreich
5.0 von 5 Sternen Best intro to the value of linguistics I have ever read 8. Juli 2008
Von Bohdan - Veröffentlicht auf
Format:Gebundene Ausgabe
Derek Bickerton's Bastard Tongues full title, Bastard Tongues: A Trail-Blazing Linguist Finds Clues to Our Common Humanity in the World's Lowliest Languages, really is the thesis of this magnificent work.

The book is not a general introduction to linguistics, thank God, nor is it a primer on Creole languages. I took away 3 very important things from this book, and I bet I have missed a few more.

First, Creoles are full fledged languages formed in the awful context of sugar plantation colonial era slavery. They are not dialects of either the colonizer's language, be it Dutch, English, Portugese, etc, nor are they a masked over grammar of the slave's various African native languages. They are languages that are developed by the young children in a given region, whose innate language acquistion brain circuits, found in all normal children, regardless of economic circumstance, add a grammar to a pidgin that developes when adults speaking a polyglot of languages are forced into dire circumstances where they have to communicate and quickly.

On his own point of reference, Derek Bickerton somewhere in the book partially describes himself with this phrase: "...the Populist in me...", and this book is a tribute to that point of view. Bickerton goes out and interviews real speakers, does first-hand research into court transcripts of now lost dialects, and uses his common sense to see for himself, hear for himself, and think for himself, only to discover that what ideas get formed in an academic setting usually miss the mark and underestimate the innate abilities of every man, woman and child. By having the courage to trust the humble speakers of Creole languages, above his own theoretical musings and that of other experts, Bickerton arrives at one of the great world views: we are, in fact, perfectly designed to thrive in this world, on our own, thank you.

Third, The book is a tribute to the wonderful mystery of our own existence and capabilities as humans. For if slaves and their children, facing hardship, violence, starvation and a terribly shortened life-span and life opportunities, in a foriegn place, far from their homes and families, can, in a short amount of time, produce a full blown language, than is it really so hard for the rest of us to just observe with our eyes and listen with our ears to what other wonders are out there in this world?

And the author and his family carry on a blast of a lifestyle we can all envy, too!
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