Grammatical Complexity

General discussion about learning languages
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Re: Grammatical Complexity

Postby galaxyrocker » Sat Aug 01, 2015 6:08 pm

sfuqua wrote:I'm not sure what you mean by "creole". The definition we used in grad school and which you find on the web is, a mother tongue formed from the contact of two languages through an earlier pidgin stage.
"a Portuguese-based Creole"

Are there languages that are called creoles which did not develop this way? Sure.


So you wouldn't call Haitian Creole a 'creole' simply because it didn't have a pidgin form? Even though it exhibts a lot of other characteristics of a creole? No, the view that all creoles have pidgins is out of date among creolist. If you give me a minute, I'll give you a good writeup about it on Reddit (from a creolist). Here's one. Here's another. There are certain characteristics that languages called 'creole' take. This happens whether they form from a pidgin or not. Most seem not to have had a pidgin stage.

sfuqua wrote:Did many of the processes involved in pidginization and creolization take place in the development of English? Absolutely.

It all depends on definitions.



No, they didn't. Nobody has been able to demonstrably prove that, which is why the 'Middle English Creole Theory' only holds sway among fringe academics. The evidence to point to English as a creole just isn't there and I'd be willing to wager that no serious linguist holds the notion. Vocabulary borrowing does not a creole make.
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Re: Grammatical Complexity

Postby sfuqua » Sat Aug 01, 2015 6:39 pm

We differ in definitions.

By some definitions, there would be no creole languages, because no creole language went through some exactly defined pidgin stage.

By other definitions, all languages would be creoles because to some extent all languages are the results of mixing languages.

It seems that you are referring to the usage of the word as it is used in a subset of recent linguistic theory. I was using the term as it is used in the dictionary.

Thanks for the tip about the changing definition of creole among creolists.
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Re: Grammatical Complexity

Postby sfuqua » Sat Aug 01, 2015 7:06 pm

I've always assumed that the 1066 would have set off the usual processes of word borrowing and code switching that goes on when languages collide. I imagine that there would be a lot of defective French used and a bunch of word borrowing. I doubt if there would be that much use of a pidgin form for communication, since to really get a pidgin going you would need a third language.

You should have heard that Samoan used by US volunteers and Japanese volunteers to communicate with each other in Samoa.
Pidgin formation in action! Baseball games were hysterical.
I even know one couple who dated in pidgin Samoan.
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Re: Grammatical Complexity

Postby galaxyrocker » Sat Aug 01, 2015 8:04 pm

sfuqua wrote:I've always assumed that the 1066 would have set off the usual processes of word borrowing and code switching that goes on when languages collide. I imagine that there would be a lot of defective French used and a bunch of word borrowing. I doubt if there would be that much use of a pidgin form for communication, since to really get a pidgin going you would need a third language.


But the issue is that the two languages pretty much kept to their own register. Yes, there was a lot of borrowing and no doubt a lot of bilingualism. And, as you said, the common class didn't adopt a creole form of the two languages, instead using English and just adapting more Old French loans. Now, there was no doubt a different dialect of Norman French spoken in England around the time, but that's due to reverse borrowing and natural language changes as well. Generally, the upper class spoke French, the lower spoke English, with some borrowings. There really was no massive need for communication among peoples with various different languages, like is the case in the formation of Haitian Creole, for example.
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Re: Grammatical Complexity

Postby sfuqua » Sat Aug 01, 2015 8:19 pm

Complete agreement as far as I understand the period.
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Re: Grammatical Complexity

Postby sfuqua » Tue Aug 04, 2015 5:52 am

I've read reddit. I studied briefly with Derek Bickertan at University of Hawaii during grad school and I haven't thought deeply about creoles this since then, 30 years ago. Even then, as a Biology major undergraduate, I realized that Bickertan was saying some things about evolution of language which simply did not compute. I also dated a woman whose thesis was on Hawaiian Creole English, so I thought I was an expert.

OK, let's see what has changed. We were much looser about the word pidgin. We conflated what is called jargon with pidgin. Because of this looser definition of pidgin, we would call many things pidgins which would not qualify today. As I remember, we did not completely rule out a role for adults in creole formation. We had a much broader meaning for pidginization. Because of this change, or rather, tightening of the definition of pidgin, the meaning of creole changes.

I guess the real insight here is that children have less to do with creole formation than we were giving credit for 30 years ago.

Thanks for the update on the language change that has gone on in linguistics
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Re: Grammatical Complexity

Postby aabram » Tue Aug 04, 2015 6:49 am

There's interesting essay on creoles here: The fallacy of Creole Exceptionalism (PDF). Author touches (and argues against) the idea that creoles are simpler or less developed than "real" languages

In uniformitarian fashion, it seems reasonable to assume that, in terms of fundamental
language-learning capacities, the aforementioned Europeans and Africans
alongside their Caribbean-born (i.e., “Creole”) descendants are on a par with
one another and with language learners everywhere else. Yet one still frequently
encounters the claim, somewhat in the manner of Vinson and Quint, that Creole
languages, because of their allegedly catastrophic development, suffer from intrinsic
structural deficiencies that severely limit their expressive adequacy. This view
is so widespread that it is found even among the most prominent and progressive
Creole-speaking intellectuals from the Caribbean (though see caveats in notes 1,
9, and 16). This is shown in the textual samples in (7), to be expanded below:10
(7)

[We] would not have been able to write in Creole. . . . I don’t even know if this is conceivable
. . . One aspect of Martinique’s cultural backwardness is the [expressive] level of its
Creole language, . . . which level is very low . . . The Creole language has remained . . . in
a stage of immediacy, unable to express abstract ideas. (Césaire 1978:x–xi)
The problem [with Creole] is . . . dealing with a language in which you don’t think abstractly.
(Raphaël Confiant as quoted in Mooney 2000)
But [HC] is not a language that can be used for basic science or that can be used in the
advancement of knowledge. (Métellus 1997:18)



as well as the stigma associated with creoles.
There's also a review (PDF) of a book Simplicity and Complexity in Creoles and Pidgins

This review article is a response to the way the editors of and contributors to Simplicity and
Complexity in Creoles and Pidgins respond to McWhorter’s (2001) claim that creoles have the
world’s simplest grammars. Although I agree with the contributors that creoles are not as simple
as they may look to some, I express several concerns about the ways they (fail to) raise and/or
address some fundamental issues regarding the subject matter. These include discussing what the
notions simplicity and complexity really mean as they are applied to languages and whether
linguistics has yet developed the necessary metric(s) for assessing complexity without biasing the
issues in favor of or against particular types of languages. My arguments are intended to prompt
linguists to think harder over how we can contribute to the scholarship on complexity as related
to emergence, thinking of languages as emergent multi-modular phenomena, internally and
externally interactive, always in the state of flux, and in search of (transient) equilibrium.


which is interesting read even without the book itself.
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Re: Grammatical Complexity

Postby emk » Tue Aug 04, 2015 9:56 am

aabram wrote:
...This view
is so widespread that it is found even among the most prominent and progressive
Creole-speaking intellectuals from the Caribbean (though see caveats in notes 1,
9, and 16). This is shown in the textual samples in (7), to be expanded below:10
(7)

[We] would not have been able to write in Creole. . . . I don’t even know if this is conceivable
. . . One aspect of Martinique’s cultural backwardness is the [expressive] level of its
Creole language, . . . which level is very low . . . The Creole language has remained . . . in
a stage of immediacy, unable to express abstract ideas. (Césaire 1978:x–xi)
The problem [with Creole] is . . . dealing with a language in which you don’t think abstractly.
(Raphaël Confiant as quoted in Mooney 2000)
But [HC] is not a language that can be used for basic science or that can be used in the
advancement of knowledge. (Métellus 1997:18)

These quotes from influential Creole-speakers remind me a conversation I had with a young man from North Africa. He was a native Berber speaker, but he had gone to a French-speaking school. (He may have also spoken Arabic; I can't remember.) Anyway, he said something that really stuck in my mind: "I don't feel comfortable socializing casually in French, but I can't carry on an intellectual discussion in Berber." He wasn't implying that nobody could carry on an intellectual discussion in Berber, any more than he was implying that nobody could socialize casually in French. But for him, each of the languages had a familiar context: Berber was for home and family and friends, and French was for academic and intellectual activities. In each case, his vocabulary was adapted to the task. His French was fine, but somewhat formal in the way that many people's L2s are.

Something similar allegedly is seen among French immersion school graduates in Canada (outside of Quebec). They speak a reasonable academic French after many years of doing all their studies in French, and they pick up academic English easily enough in an English-speaking society. But I've frequently heard it observed that many of them find it somewhat awkward to socialize in French.

And on the flip side, my "home" French is vastly stronger than my academic French. I can sing children's songs and politely tell monolingual Quebecois 3-year-olds, "OK, even if my sons' toy is the grand méchant, we still don't throw toys." Dealing with home and children in French is far more comfortable for me than discussing science fiction and politics. Again, this is obviously no weakness in the French language, but rather a weakness in me.

So when I read that some influential Haitian Creole speakers feel uncomfortable thinking abstractly in that language, or say that it's ill-suited for science, this may not ultimately be a complaint about the limitations of a large and successful creole. It may be the frustration of a bilingual speaker who uses certain languages in certain contexts. Berber is certainly no creole (it's a branch of Afro-Asiatic, which includes ancient Egyptian, Arabic and Hebrew), but if you've never gone to school in Berber, or read literature in Berber, or done mathematics or biology in Berber, then you may not feel comfortable using Berber for those subjects.

You see the same thing with Latin in medieval Europe, or with Middle Egyptian for a large chunk of Egyptian history. People socialized and lived in a local vernacular, but when they had intellectual work to do, they turned towards a "dead" language, one which existed mostly as the L2 of an educated elite. Italian was often considered to be a language ill-suited to serious literature until Dante demonstrated otherwise. Haitian Creole, perhaps, is just awaiting its Dante.

So even if a language has a rich and expressive grammar (whatever that might mean), it doesn't necessarily imply that even sympathetic native speakers will feel comfortable using it for intellectual or academic tasks. In fact, I sometimes suspect that if you take a broad look at human history, the word "intellectual" most typically means, "Somebody who reads and writes a more important L2, one which provides access to literature, and to international society." For a great many people, the languages of literature and science have always been what the Haitian Creole speakers in that article referred to as a lang achte—a language "purchased" via hard work, and limited to an elite.
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