August 17th, 2011


Cum Grano Salis. (83)

Bastard Tongues by Derek Bickerton.

City of Flowers:
motorcycle diablos,
Commie sparrow teams.

Remember how much I liked Adam's Tongue? It just goes to show how terrible I am at predicting what books are actually my favorite-- Adam's Tongue was an "Honorable Mention" in my Best of 2009 round-up but clearly should have been in the top-most ranks. It came after Bastard Tongues & speculated on the origins of human language, & had a few fascinating tossed off comments about Bickerton's work with Creoles & his aborted attempt to have the ultimate "desert island" experiment made-- I knew I'd have to go back & find out more. & here we are, & I have! I think I perhaps enjoyed Adam's Tongue better, but then I have an anthropological background-- or at least enough of one to appreciate Derek Bickerton's arguments in context. I'm less of a linguist, so there is an element of faith here-- grit your teeth & dive in! The examples have less pop, less omph-- they are just less intuitively significant. Again, solely because of my own abilities; someone who was more of a linguaphile & less of an anthropologist would probably find the situation reversed. Bastard Tongues is as much a memoir of Bickerton's adventures researching as it is about the Creole & Pidgin research itself, but it still keeps its academic edge. It isn't a condescending piece of Pop Non-Fiction-- no one would accuse this of being an overblown Economist article.

The crux of Bickerton's argument is that there is a fundamental bioprogram for the acquisition of language, & Creoles reflect that better than anything else (110, 143). He makes a few stabs at "motherese" & Chomsky's "LAD" but really, those are just stabs at the same sort of neurolinguistic nuts & bolts (102, 110). He boils it down to:
  • Adults can't create a new language to save their lives.
  • Older children can create a new language, but not a full one.
  • Youger children can create a new language out of ??? (235).
Well, those question marks are tricky. He brings up feral wolf children & the culture of the dead in Nicuragua, as well as a list of historical isolation experiments, to that end (240, 231-236, 241-242). He brings up his own failed attempt to start an experiment on a desert island, & tries to think up alternative routes to an ethical experiment (115, 242-246). Clearly it all ties in with Pidgins, & the crucible of childhood-- but we'll just have to wait to see how, I guess. Besides this core thesis, the story rumbles all over the world-- "motorcycle diablos" & "sparrow teams," court record research that echoes Carlo Ginzberg's The Cheese & the Worms, all the Creoloes & know-- Haitian & Bajan & Réunion-- & oceans more besides. (146, 214, 155, 226, 148, 151). There is plenty here for me to mine for Oubliette-- Fort Creoles versus Plantation Creoles & plantation islands versus habitation islands are just the tip of it (146, 153, 228). Derek Bickerton: he's great!
black fist

Samerhead Hark.

Ugh, I've just been a scatter bug. Terra called me frazzle dazzle, & that just about fits. Speaking of Terra, on Monday we went to Friend of a Farmer for lunch-- or well, I heard "Friend of a Performer," but whatever. I had walked to & from Sunday's Oubliette game in the punishing rain, & the weather wasn't letting up, so Terra & I wanted comfort food. We split a shepherd's pie, some brussel's sprouts, & some latkes. After work I came home, fell down to the floor, put my head on a stack of towels, flipped on My Little Ponies: Friendship is Magic & just about fell asleep! I don't know, I was just exhausted. At work I am juggling my old job & my new job at the same time & it is hard to keep all of it flowing. You know that computer game, where you put down tiles of pipe pieces, & then the green goo starts flowing? So you have to look ahead, try not to waste pieces, but also move quickly & thus inevitably it becomes treacherous. Like that. I skipped the gym, & just ended up hanging out with Jenny, sort of a puddle. Blech. Tuesday lunch with with Jocelyn & Brian, Kat & Matt. Sushi was the order of the day; a nice little outing. Back at home, I had a much better evening; I went to the gym, for one thing. I know, I always marvel at what a difference it makes in how I feel, but it is so true. Endorphins are the best mood regulator. A strong work out, too-- & I overheard girls gossiping about the weight I do on the obliques-- 190 lbs, which is the max not counting the dial-- which was flattering. Got a whole mess of Chinese food, came home, watched Leverage with Jenny, & went to bed. A nice evening! I had nightmare though-- iphisol had parked her car on the lower level of a huge concrete garage, & there were trap doors & stuff, & it got very Silent Hill. Falling down pit traps, landing on dirt floors, flesh-eating grubs, lost in the dark, chased by Leatherfaces. There was a part where I was naked & I had to put on an apron made of human skin for clothes. One of those dreams where you are being turned into the serial killer, right? That is normal, everyone has those! Still, I woke up in a pretty good mood, had some poem spring right into mind: "As pale as summer's frost, as mean as winter's poesy, let this be the season of our discontent." Whatever you say, brain! Ate some leftover egg foo young & came out swinging! Lunch today was at Rye House with Sherene, Nicole, Tiffanie & special guest Lisa! Another nice little meal.