Sunday, 6 July 2008

Language creation

Last week I was on vacation on the north coast. During that time I finished reading Derek Bickerton's book "bastard toungues" about his research into Creoles, ie synthetic contact languages such as those created by the former slave populations in Surinam.

The book's an entertaining read - part linguistics, part autobiography - but in it he let slip he's tried once to get funding for an experiment for studying creole creation by putting together a group of people from disparate backgrounds without a common language in an isolation experiment.

The experiment never got funded primarily for ethical reasons. At the end of his book Bickerton hypothesises that you might see a 'found' version of the experiment in day care centres and schools where there are migrant kids from all over - like in the east end of London where there are primary schools where kids speak eighty different languages.

Actually I don't think you'd find such a found experiment as the kids are bathed in a dominant language - English - encouraged to speak it and go home to parents who want to learn English, even if in some cases for cultural reasons mum stays at home and never really learns it.

What is interesting though is the slang of disaffected youth such as in the housing projects around Paris where this argot of French, Arabic, Berber, Lingala and the rest has become a badge of defiance. Does this have the characteristics of a creole or is it something else?

I suspect it's probably fairly creole like but I'm not enough of a linguist to do more than wave my hands and make vaguely sensible comments ...

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