Bastard Tongues: A Trailblazing Linguist Finds Clues to Our Common Humanity in the World's Lowliest Languages

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Farrar, Straus and Giroux, Mar 4, 2008 - Language Arts & Disciplines - 288 pages
2 Reviews

Why Do Isolated Creole Languages Tend to Have Similar Grammatical Structures?

Bastard Tongues is an exciting, firsthand story of scientific discovery in an area of research close to the heart of what it means to be human—what language is, how it works, and how it passes from generation to generation, even where historical accidents have made normal transmission almost impossible. The story focuses on languages so low in the pecking order that many people don't regard them as languages at all—Creole languages spoken by descendants of slaves and indentured laborers in plantation colonies all over the world. The story is told by Derek Bickerton, who has spent more than thirty years researching these languages on four continents and developing a controversial theory that explains why they are so similar to one another. A published novelist, Bickerton (once described as "part scholar, part swashbuckling man of action") does not present his findings in the usual dry academic manner. Instead, you become a companion on his journey of discovery. You learn things as he learned them, share his disappointments and triumphs, explore the exotic locales where he worked, and meet the colorful characters he encountered along the way. The result is a unique blend of memoir, travelogue, history, and linguistics primer, appealing to anyone who has ever wondered how languages grow or what it's like to search the world for new knowledge.


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LibraryThing Review

User Review  - amaraduende - LibraryThing

This book is GREAT! It's written in a quick-witted, casual style that is intelligent and doesn't simplify linguistic details too much for the sake of the lay-reader. It's an adventure story, a safari, a vacation, a dive into the linguistic 'bioprogram' we just may all have in our brains... Read full review

LibraryThing Review

User Review  - Carlie - LibraryThing

Derek Bickerton's story is fascinating for all of the things he never meant to do, all of the things he did on purpose, and the things he wanted to do but never did. He didn't set out to become a ... Read full review


1 Becoming a Linguist
2 Grappling with Guyana
3 A Different Kind of System
4 Colombia Before Cocaine
5 The Road to the Isles
6 Under the Rainbow
7 From Pidgin to Creole
8 The Forbidden Experiment
The Crucible
12 Seychelles and Serials
13 Hawaiis Hidden History
14 Coda
Suggested Reading

9 After the Island
10 The Infernal Machine

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About the author (2008)

Derek Bickerton is Professor Emeritus of Linguistics at the University of Hawaii. He is the author of two books on Creole languages (Dynamics of a Creole System and Roots of Language), three on the origin and evolution of language, and four novels.

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