Derek Bickerton has spent over 30 years studying pidgins and creoles around the world. In Bastard Tongues, he explains where his studies have taken him and how he developed a progressive view of languages that were previously looked down upon in the academic world of linguistics. For those who might not know what pidgins and creoles are or the difference between them, in brief, a pidgin is a language formed when speakers of different languages come together and must communicate on a fairly regular basis. Pidgins tend to be very rudimentary and have highly flexible structure depending on which speakers are speaking to one another and the context in which this communication occurs. Creoles are formed by the children of those in this community, who stabilize the language and expand it to include complex structures, making it a full-blown language. This is a natural progression according to Chomsky's theory of universal grammar, which (also in brief) states that humans are born with a mechanism in the brain that is conditioned to acquire language. Pidgins and creoles often occur in areas that used slavery and indentured servitude, and so Bickerton mostly conducted his research throughout the Caribbean, Central America, the northern countries of South America, islands in the Indian Ocean, and the Pacific Islands--most frequently focusing on Hawaii, where he taught.
I found many parts of this quite fascinating--I especially liked the history behind many of the locations and people he studied. I enjoyed seeing the similarities between some languages that seem drastically different and how etymologies have evolved over time. He also discusses a human experiment he tried to initiate in the late 70s that, though ethically questionable, would have been interesting nonetheless in its findings about how humans create language. The experiment would have required several different couples with children, each family speaking a different language, to live in relative isolation on an island of Palau, but the funding never came through for the study. At the end, Bickerton hypothesizes further on this concept in a rather frenzied manner, which leads me to why I only give this book three stars. The downfall is due to Bickerton's tone and inconsistency. He is a self-proclaimed rebel, an untrained scholar that fell accidentally into the study of linguistics, and I quickly grew tired of his unceasing self-congratulatory manner. He constantly put down his colleagues and academic rivals, which I found irrelevant to the focus of the book and rather immature. Also, at times when he describes the grammar of different languages, he tends to use much of the technical linguistic jargon that is oftentimes difficult to follow for the average person (me), but having read a fair amount of other books on linguistics, I wouldn't have even minded this too much if he had left his petty differences out of it.
I would recommend this book to those interested in the evolution of language and the perseverance of people in the face of remarkable trauma and injustice, but also feel free to skip over any section where Bickerton starts ranting about his biases.