Talk:Monogenetic theory of pidgins

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Questionable objections[edit]

The article says:

However, monogenesis and relexification have a number of problems. First, as Todd admits, pidgins, by "shedding linguistic redundancies" such as syntactic complexity, have removed the features that allow linguists to identify relatedness.

Huh? What is meant by "syntactic complexity"? How about serial verb constructions, for example? These sure are instances of "syntactic complexity" as I understand it.

Relexification assumes that, in learning a second language, people can learn vocabulary and grammar separately and that they will learn the latter but replace the former.

No, that's not what relexification assumes. In fact, relexification involves the opposite: keeping the grammar (i. e., morphosyntax) as well as idioms, pragmatics etc. – and replacing the lexicon. Or do people who learn English-based (English-lexified) pidgins as a second language learn English grammar but keep their lexicon? That would result in something very different.

In addition, pidgin languages are inherently unstructured,

That's a very daring claim to make! Pidgin does not say that pidgins are unstructured, quite the opposite. If they have grammatical structures, how can they be unstructured?

so relexification does not account for how the syntactic structure of a creole could emerge from the languages that lack such structure.

Given that the premise is already blatantly wrong, the conclusion can only be dismissed.

Bickerton also points out that relexification postulates too many improbabilities

As compared to his own hypothesis, which rests on a lot of unproven, questionable and frankly improbable assumptions, I suppose.

and that it is unlikely that a language "could be disseminated round the entire tropical zone, to peoples of widely differing language background, and still preserve a virtually complete identity in its grammatical structure wherever it took root, despite considerable changes in its phonology and virtually complete changes in its lexicon."

That's an argument from incredulity. There are many known instances of linguistic convergence, where languages whose speakers are in close contact become virtually identical in their grammatical structure, despite being considerably different in phonology and virtually completely different in lexicon.

That said, Bickerton's theory depends on a liberal amount of circularity, especially with regard to what he accepts as a "real" pidgin language and what not, as well as unproven assumptions such as that the languages in question are really virtually completely identical in their grammatical structure.

It has often been pointed out that the languages involved in the creation of "typical" creoles – languages of West Africa, Southeast and East Asia, as well as Melanesia and Oceania, with Fon and other Gbe languages, Akan, and Tolai/Kuanua being especially important – are generally very analytic and often classified as isolating, with serial verb constructions, nominal classifiers and an exclusive/inclusive distinction in pronouns, and even the European lexifier languages such as Portuguese, Spanish, French, Dutch and especially English are analytic. Therefore, it seems unnecessary to attribute typological features which are typical of these creoles and pidgins to mysterious bioprogram defaults, when they can be explained straightforwardly by postulating an origin in a register of Fon or some other Gbe language that was relexified with Portuguese and later Spanish, French, Dutch or English lexicon. Bickerton has a very slanted idea of what a probable or plausible explanation is; it's him who makes a number of unnecessary and questionable assumptions, not the monogenetic theory. --Florian Blaschke (talk) 01:33, 4 January 2013 (UTC)

  1. As pidgin puts forth, pidgins commonly lack things like embedded clauses, clear tense systems, or syntactic movement. I have heard the case made that pidgins and creoles carry grammatical features from West African substrate languages, though the evidence I've seen seems spurious and, by mixing in creoles, doesn't rule out Derek Bickerton's argument that creoles tap into some sort of innate first-draft grammar. I haven't heard that serial verb constructions are common across pidgins and am skeptical of this notion, since pidgins don't normally mark tense with a complex morphological conjugation system.
  2. I'd take a second look at what you said regarding what relexification assumes. The article says that people "will learn the latter [grammar] but replace the former [vocabulary]" and you said relexification involves "keeping the grammar (i. e., morphosyntax) as well as idioms, pragmatics etc. – and replacing the lexicon." Those are the same thing. Maybe you meant something else, but I don't see how it's untoward to point out that this is a strange assumption given the normal ways that people learn language.
  3. Pidgins are "unstructured" in that the grammar used is often heavily influenced by the native grammar of the speaker, rather than by some broader pattern across speakers, so that a native Japanese speaker will produce Hawaiian pidgin utterances that reflect Japanese grammar (e.g. word order, phonology) while a Portuguese speaker will produce utterances of the same pidgin that reflect Portuguese grammar. There may be a better way to express this in the article.
  4. Creole languages have some things that pidgins do not, such as embeddedness and a regular syntactic rules and phonological rules, as well as (in a number of cases) speaker variation based on social position, rather than influence from other languages. Relexification does indeed fail to account for this discrepancy.
  5. An argument from incredulity is a fallacious appeal to one's own personal inability to believe something irrespective of the information. I have not read Bickerton (1977), but it sounds a lot like you have not either and are assuming that his quote does not come with some sort of justification. The improbabilities of relexification have been outlined, what are the improbabilities of Bickerton's hypothesis? — Ƶ§œš¹ [ãːɱ ˈfɹ̠ˤʷɪ̃ə̃nlɪ] 16:13, 12 January 2013 (UTC)
How is it strange to assume that people learn lexicon first when they learn a new language in an undirected manner? In fact I submit that's exactly what happens in fact. Even in directed language learning, it is impossible to learn grammar without learning at least some lexicon first, and better lots of it. Grammar without lexicon is useless, lexicon without (or almost without) grammar on the other hand is often sufficient to make oneself understood. You know Mbugu? You know Kupwar? There you have examples where a second language is essentially only a divergent lexical register. I've been told that multilingualism in the Caucasus (especially Dagestan) typically works exactly like that: You have different lexicons (associated with different languages) for different purposes and subjects.
See Siberian Pidgins for an instructive example contradicting your claim that pidgins are unstructured even in the sense of following the native language only.
Bickerton is a follower of Chomsky and tries to use pidgins as evidence for the innateness of grammar postulated by this school. However, the Language Acquisition Device/Universal grammar is a highly controversial idea for which no unambiguous evidence exists (at least in the strong sense, which postulates highly language-specific adaptations in the human brain, rather than more generalised cognitive abilities that have been repurposed for language, linguistic structures simply mirroring general cognitive structures). Relexification is a much, much, much more naturalistic and obvious explanation. --Florian Blaschke (talk) 01:13, 1 September 2013 (UTC)