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"Intellectual infatuations," says Bickerton, are basically love affairs without sex.
So I must, as a postjudiced reader of Bickerton, admit that I look forward to reading ANYTHING written by him. His book, "Language and Species," caused this "intellectual infatuation." Make no mistake about it, "Language and Species" is not an easy read. In my own case, I had to go back again and again, but finally a "new world" opened before me. I understood stuff which I had never understood before.
And, if Bickerton were interested in becoming a millionaire (which I don't think he is, much) he could be working hand-in-glove with companies trying to develop artificial intelligence.
His new (for me) book, "Bastard Tongues," is endlessly fascinating. His amazing life journey kind of reminds me of my own. And all the time he was searching for answers to some extremely important questions about people and language.
One of his key insights here is that language is basically a miracle happening right under our noses, yet we take it for granted --- in fact, 99% of us never even think about it. We learn language and we don't remember how we learned it, because human memory only starts around age 2 years, by which time language is already in place. NOBODY remembers "how I learned language." And yet, language is completely automatic, like digestion, or hunger: we may worry about what to say to our boss, but we NEVER worry about whether a noun or a noun phrase would work better. It's just like an automatic transmission: press the pedal and you go.
I will go out on a limb here, and predict that the concepts of Bickerton will prove enduring (even immortal), while those of Chomsky will largely be tossed into the trash-can.
By the way, for anyone trying to make computers speak English (or another language) --- ignoring Derek Bickerton is a Fatal Mistake.
---- Edited review ------
In the original review, I failed to state Bickerton's main thesis, which I think is now almost universally accepted. A "pidgin" is the pseudo-language which arises among people who do not share a common language. We can also call it a "proto-language." ME TALKEE YOU LISTEN NOW SHUT UP might be a sample of a pidgin. "DAYS HOW MANY, ME YOU PAY?" might be another.
But that's all unimportant. What is completely fascinating (!) is that when two people speaking a pidgin get married and have children, their children turn that pidgin into a "real language," with a grammar and a syntax. It's no longer something that is spoken slowly, and with hesitation. It's a real language, and that language is called a "creole." The earlier Pidgin ME TALKEE YOU LISTEN NOW SHUT UP would be transformed into something like "me a talk an you a listen mo betta you a shutup." In this example, the word "a" is not something English at all, but an indicator of present, ongoing action.
The big question is: how could children do this? Aren't little kids supposed to learn language from their parents? In the pidgin/creole world, we can find children teaching their parents how to speak!!
Note: the Thai language, and apparently many other Asian languages, share (apparently) all the markers of creole languages. I suspect that this is NOT the result of plantations and slave labor, but that's just a suspicion. Another suspicion is that Asian languages are just "what comes naturally" --- but that raises the question of how highly-inflected languages (such as Greek and Latin) came into being.