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On the relevance of pidgins and creoles in the debate on the origins of language

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Abstract

In the literature on the origins and the evolution of language, the general assumption is that language started as a restricted code, referred to as &#8220;protolanguage.&#8221; Since there is no direct access to data manifesting the nature of incipient human language, it is inferred that restricted linguistic codes that are presently available may provide a window on the nature of protolanguage. Pidgin languages feature among the restricted codes that have been identified in the literature (e.g. Bickerton 1984). This chapter bears on the relevance of pidgins (and creoles) (PCs) in the debate on the origins and evolution of language. The first part is dedicated to the Bickertonian approach to pidgin and creole genesis. It presents the main features of this research paradigm, as well as a critical discussion of its various components. The second part reports on the shift in research paradigm in the field of pidgin and creole studies, from the study of language varieties to the study of the processes that yield these language varieties. On the basis of the data and analyses presented in the first two parts of the paper, the third part addresses the question of whether the pidgin/creole sequence actually does provide us with a window on the protolanguage/language sequence. My conclusion is twofold: First, pidgins and protolanguage are not alike. Second, the sequence pidgin/creole does not give us a window on the protolanguage/language sequence. Major arguments include the fact that pidgins, even restricted ones, are too elaborate to serve as analogues of protolanguage, and the fact that PCs are not created <i>ex nihilo</i>.

References

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