Slimming Human Language to the Bone

Project leader

Funding source

Riksbankens Jubileumsfond (RJ)

Project Details

Start date: 01/01/2003
End date: 31/12/2004
Funding: 1200000 SEK


The purpose of this project is to study pidginisation from a typological point of view. The reason for a study of pidgins is that concepts such as 'simplicity', 'complexity' and 'expressive potential' have begun to attract increasing interest among linguists. Questions such as "What exactly does a language need to contain in order to be able to function as a means of communication?", "Are there features of human languages which serve no communicative purpose, and if so, why do they exist?" are examples of questions the project would like to try to find an answer to. Pidgins offers a possibility to study to what extent human communication can be reduced, and yet remain functional. A pidgin should not been seen - as is all to often the case - as failed second language acquisition, but rather as a successful attempt at creating the simplest possible medium of interethnic communication. Although a pidgin is considered lacking some of the expressive power of traditional languages, it is obvious that its simple structure guarantees that its users, as it were, get value for their money. The project focuses to some extent on how the expressive potential is exploited to the max, through e.g. polysemy and multifunctionality, but also through the shedding of communicatively unmotivated features such as grammatical gender and irregular verbs. In order to avoid a Eurocentric bias, the project emphasises the inclusion of pidgins with non-European lexifiers, such as Zulu, Chinook, Malay, Swahili and Arabic.

Last updated on 2017-24-03 at 12:37