21 February: Fredrik Jansson

Modelling the evolution of creoles

Fredrik Jansson (Stockholm University)
Joint work with Mikael Parkvall and Pontus Strimling

Tuesday 21 February 2017, 11:00–12:30
1.17 Dugald Stewart Building

We are interested in the contact situation, where several existing languages converge to one, a Creole. Various theories have been proposed regarding the origin of Creole languages. Describing a process where only the end result is documented involves several methodological difficulties. In this paper we try to address some of the issues by using a novel mathematical model together with detailed empirical data on the origin and structure of Mauritian Creole. Our main focus is on whether Mauritian Creole may have originated only from a mutual desire to communicate, without targeted learning, and we show that a minimal model can generate good predictions. With a confirmation bias towards learning from successful communication, the model predicts Mauritian Creole better than any of the input languages, including the lexifier French, thus providing a compelling and specific hypothetical model of how creoles emerge. The results also show that it may be possible for a creole to develop quickly after first contact, and that it was created mostly from material found in the input languages, but without inheriting their morphology.