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How Food and Sex Delayed or Prevented the Emergence of Pidgins

Salikoko S. Mufwene, University of Chicago

March 2, 2022 · 4:30 pm6:00 pm · via Zoom

Program in Linguistics

It has traditionally been assumed that pidgins emerged almost right away out of the initial or subsequent sporadic contacts between Europeans and non Europeans during their trade expeditions outside Europe. History suggests otherwise and also that absence of evidence may in fact be evidence of absence. We start with the correction that the trade transactions involved European mercantile companies (e.g., the British/Dutch East India Companies) and non-European rulers, who could trade highly prized commodities. Individuals acted as representatives of the companies and institutions. Trade proceeded through intermediaries, who acted as brokers and interpreters, just like the exploitation colonization of the same regions later on, starting in the 19th century. Navigation was constrained by the direction of winds and the availability of the commodities. How did the Europeans spend their time typically in the coastal trade forts while idling? What were their language practices as reported in economic history accounts? It will be easy to answer the question of how interpreters emerged. What some of us have learned questions the received doctrine.

Native of the Democratic Republic of Congo, Salikoko S. Mufwene is the Edward Carson Waller Distinguished Service Professor of Linguistics and the College at the University of Chicago, where he is also Professor on the Committee on Evolutionary Biology, on the Committee on the Conceptual and Historical Studies of Science, and on the Committee on African Studies . His current research is in evolutionary linguistics, which he approaches from an ecological perspective, focused on the phylogenetic emergence of language and on how languages have been affected by colonization and world-wide globalization, especially regarding the indigenization of European languages in the colonies and language birth and death. He brings into all this fresh African, Africanist, and creolist perspectives, having published a great deal in African and creole linguistics.

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