My idea in choosing this book is to share my interest in linguistics. It is not a grand ideas book about the human capacity for language. Rather it is an autobiographical account of one linguist’s travels to try to describe a set of languages. Bickerton has another book, Adam’s Tongue, which is very speculative about the origins of language and is quite fun.
Here are some explanations of linguistic terms in the book.
- Tense refers to forms a language uses to express time: past, present, future, etc.
- Aspect refers to additional features of events, such as duration of an event.
- Mood refers to the relation of a statement to reality, such as whether the statement asserts a fact or a hypothetical situation.
- Voice refers to the presentation of the information in a sentence, for example, passive voice in English where the thing acted upon is made the subject of the sentence.
- Concord/agreement refers to changes in the form of a word based on other words in the sentence, e.g., a verb may change form to reflect the subject and/or object of the sentence.
These simple definitions get trickier as we encounter the great variety of languages in the world, but they will do for now to get you started. Below are three exercises. Try to figure out which sequences of sounds have which meaning. I have explained how to pronounce odd looking symbols. Note: the spaces between forms indicate word divisions. A form is considered a separate word, if it can stand alone. Forms inside a word occur in a fixed order, when they occur. Vague, I know, but again it will suffice for these exercises. I do not give the names of the languages, but they are actual languages. Think of these as Sudoku.
Exercise 1: ʌ as in cup, ʃ as in sheep, ʔ as in British bottle.
- minʌʃp huypay You go buying.
- nʌʃp toʔkpay He goes selling.
- tʌnʌʃkap huypay We (excluding you) go buying.
- nanʌʃkap huypay We all go buying.
- miganʌʃkawu toʔkpay You all didn’t go selling.
- tʌnʌʃp ʃiʃhuypay I go meat buying.
- tʌʃiʃhuyp I buy meat.
- nʌʃp huypay ʔinaʔw Her husband goes buying.
- nʌʃp toʔkpay tʌnyaʔw My husband goes selling.
- tʌʃiʃhuykap We (excluding you) buy meat.
- miʃiʃtoʔkw You sold meat.
- ʃiʃtoʔkah He will sell meat.
- migaʃiʃtoʔkah You will not sell meat.
- kanʌʃu ʃiʃtoʔkpay He did not go selling meat.
- tʌgaʃiʃtoʔkp I do not sell meat.
- naganʌʃkawu ʃiʃhuypay We all did not go buying meat.
- tʌganʌʃkaah ʃiʃtoʔkpay We (excluding you) will not go selling meat.
- nʌʃah ʃiʃhuypay ʔinaʔw Her husband will go buying meat.
- kanʌʃu ʃiʃtoʔkpay ʔinyaʔw Your husband did not go selling meat.
Exercise 2: ŋ as in sing
- ʌwŋ hawk You study.
- toy hawk I study.
- toy ŋu I sleep.
- ʌwŋ ŋu hay ze You slept two hours.
- ʌwŋ hawk baw ze How many hours did you study?
- toy hawk baw lʌw How long did I study?
- hay ze toy ŋu I will sleep two hours.
- baw lʌw ʌwŋ ŋu How long will you sleep?
- baw lʌw toy hawk How long will I study?
- baw ze toy ŋu How many hours will I sleep?
- mi kam I come.
- nau yu go You go now.
- yu kam wantaim mi You come with me.
- mi go wantaim yu I go with you.
- mi stap long bus I am in the jungle.
- yu stap long haus You are in the house.
- mi go long taun I go to town.
- bai yu go wantaim mi You’ll go with me later.
- nau mi stap long haus I am in the house now.
- bai mi stap wantaim yu I’ll be with you later.
- yu go wantaim mi long bus You go with me to the jungle.
- mi kam wantaim yu long haus I come with you to the house.
- Bai yuk am long bus You’ll come to the jungle later.
- Nau yu stap wantaim me long taun You are with me in the town now.
- Bai mi kam wantaim yu long taun I’ll come with you to town later.
By the way, one or more of these languages is a creole. Which one(s)?