Bastard Tongues

Michael Erard in the New York Times Book Review:

Screenhunter_01_mar_29_1230The book opens with Bickerton wading ashore on a remote Pacific island. If we discount bar stools, little of the subsequent action takes place in chairs. In fact, Bickerton always seems to be leaping out of them. After finishing his doctorate, he writes, he’d gotten all the nonsense out of the way and “could now get on with the serious business of life. Which is, of course, finding out stuff.” With this same irresistibly headlong tone, he describes jetting off to Guyana, Hawaii, Mauritius, Suriname and elsewhere to explore his ideas about languages without pedigrees.

Pidgins are contact languages invented by people who don’t share a language to use. Pidgin speakers, Bickerton explains, will “use words from your language if they know them; if not, they’ll use words from their own, and hope you know them, and failing that, words from any other language that might happen to be around.” Some pidgins, like Chinese Pidgin English (once spoken along China’s coast) or the Chinook jargon of the American Northwest, originated in voluntary trade contexts. Others arose from the slave trade and plantation economies.

More here.