Creoles, Aboriginal Identity and Autism

0392-africanMusic“We have now surveyed a wide range of creole structures across a number of unrelated creole languages.  We have seen that even taking into account the, in some cases, several centuries of time that have elapsed since creolization, and the heavy pressures undergone by those creoles (a large majority) that are still in contact with their superstrates, these languages show similarities which go far beyond the possibility of coincidental resemblance, and which are not explicable in terms of conventional transmission processes such as diffusion or substratum influence (the ad hoc nature of the latter should be adequately demonstrated by the opportunism of those who attribute a structure to Yoruba when it appears in the Caribbean and to Chinese when it appears in Hawaii).  Moreover, we find that the more we strip creoles of their more recent developments, the more we factor out superficial and accidental features, the greater are the similarities that reveal themselves.  Indeed, it would seem reasonable to suppose that the only differences among creoles at creolization were those due to differences in the nature of the antecedent pidgin, in particular to the extent to which superstrate features had been absorbed by that pidgin and were therefore directly accessible to the first creole generation in the outputs of their pidgin-speaking parents.  Finally, the overall pattern of similarity which emerges from this chapter is entirely consonant with the process of building a language from the simplest constituents — in many cases, no more than S, N, and V, the minimal constituents necessary for a pidgin.”  (Bickerton, D. (1981) Roots of Language.  Karoma Publishers:  Ann Arbor.  P. 132)

Consider that there may be a biological basis to the evident fact that creoles across the world exhibit similar features.  If the societies that are being intermingled are from across the world, as is often the case, with people mating with no lineage in common for over a thousand generations, then the same dynamic in play that creates hybrid vigor may be bringing into contemporary times features of their last common forebear.

This would suggest that creole peoples would exhibit other features characteristic of their ancestors, not just ancient language structures.  If the merging peoples were separated by perhaps 2,000 generations, we might expect to observe an increase in conditions characterized by maturational delay, such as autism, stuttering, Asperger’s and left-handedness.  We might also see a talent for dance, gesture and performance.  In some creoles, only the languages blend.  In others, there is a blending of ethnicities as peoples half a planet away meet and form families.  When genetics separated by many generations blend, according to Darwin, common ancestor characteristics emerge.

Might creole societies display features that we would associate with primary process (one time, one place, no negatives)?  In other words, might there be a cognitive withdrawal to an earlier societal evolutionary time?

There are other variables in play.  In the piece Aboriginal Primary Process and Contemporary Autism, I noted the possible effects of specific child rearing practices that could encourage children not to maturationally delay but to stay engaged.  Specific tribal child rearing conventions may have been necessary to create the shared identity characteristic of ancient tribal culture.  The work of Sarah Blaffer Hrdy, in Mothers and Others suggests a number of matrilineal/matrilocal hunter gatherer society child rearing conventions that encourage theory of mind.  If those conventions were not used, it may have not been a question of the child acquiring individuality, but of the child withdrawing to a place of nonidentity, not unlike autism.

So, there are not two new themes I am exploring in this thread.  Creoles may evidence the biological principle observed by Darwin whereby divergent lineages when combined display features of the last common ancestor.  Regarding creoles, such a feature may be the language grammar and structure.

Second, the hypothetical aspects of primary process displayed by some aboriginal societies may be evidencing an alternative identity formation, one that requires specific child rearing practices to encourage participation by young minds.  I might suggest that particularly ancient aboriginal societies, matrifocal cultures, for example, might display earlier stages of biological/neurological/hormonal evolution.  If those particular child rearing practices are not engaged, then the repercussions might be withdrawal or a form of autism.  The new thing to consider is that some aboriginal societies may be exhibiting group identity, which is far from the cult of individuality that characterizes the contemporary United States.  I’ve never explored this, though I have a vague memory of studies exploring the differences in personal identity between aboriginal and modern individuals.

In the back of my mind is the question of whether contemporary autistic children are hard wired for the kind of group identity characteristic of the biological/neurological/hormonal constellation of ancient aboriginal societies and whether they need the specific child rearing practice necessary for that biological/neurological/hormonal type?

This piece started by positing that creole language structure peculiarities might signify evidence of a biological process.  This led to the conjecture that group identity characteristic of some aboriginal societies might be connected to primary process, which suggests connections to autism.  In some ways, it seems to come down to identity.

Autism has been described as a condition characterized by a lack of theory of mind.  Perhaps another way to view the condition is that children with autism are displaying difficulties acquiring identity.  Different societies offer different ways to display identity.  Maybe we need to examine whether modern society should explore alternative group identity options as it relates to children with a nonconventional neurology.

Proceed to author’s FREE book download on this subject (The book is called Evolution, Autism and Social Change). 10 minute introductory video here.

on 02/11/10 in featured, Society | No Comments | Read More

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