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Handout for LING 540 LANGUAGE POLICY
H. Schiffman, last modified 10/24/05
Pidgin and Creole Languages
Originally, pidgin and creole languages were thought of as incomplete,
broken, corrupt, not worthy of serious
attention. Pidgins still are marginal: in origin (makeshift, reduced in
structure), in attitudes toward them (low prestige); in our knowledge of them.
language (origin in
Engl. word `business'?) is nobody's native
language; may arise when two speakers of different languages with no common
language try to have a makeshift conversation. Lexicon usually comes from one
language (the "high" or powerful language), structure (grammar) often from the other
(less prestigious, less powerful, "low" language). Because of colonialism, slavery
etc. the prestige of Pidgin languages is very low. Many pidgins are `contact
vernaculars', may only exist for one speech event.
Some quick definitions:
Creole (orig. person of European
descent born and raised in a
tropical colony) is a language that was originally a pidgin but has become
nativized, i.e. a community of speakers claims it as their first language.
Next used to designate the language(s) of people of Caribbean and African
descent in colonial and ex-colonial countries (Jamaica, Haiti, Mauritius,
Réunion, Hawaii, Pitcairn, etc.)
Relexification The process of
substituting new vocabulary for
old. Pidgins may get relexified with new English vocabulary to replace the
previous Portuguese vocabulary, etc.
Pidgin(s)/Creole(s) are variable; there is great variability and non-uniformity within a
given language (they are by definition non-standard(ized) languages).
Depidginization, Decreolization, absorption, the post-Creole
When a pidgin becomes the native speech of a community, it is
depidginized into a Creole. If/when a Creole merges gradually with the
standard language it is lexically based on, it becomes decreolized or
enters into a
Continuum, and the boundary between the two
becomes gradual, or a continuum. Is Black English a decreolized form of a
former Creole (parallel to, related to Jamaican Creole, Gullah, etc.?) Do we now
have a post-Creole continuum in Jamaica, Guyana, etc.?
Most Creoles seem to be European-based (not all pidgins are), i.e. vocabulary
derived from one or more European languages: English, Portuguese, French,
Dutch, Spanish. Creole English and Creole French most common in New World;
Spanish, Dutch, Portuguese Creoles common elsewhere and are important in
development of all Creoles (Spanish Creole in Philippines, Portuguese in South,
Southeast and E. Asia).
But there are also non-Eur. pidgins (Creoles?): Swahili (Arabic + Bantu);
Bazaar Hindi, Naga Pidgin, Bazaar Malay, Vedda Creole (Sri Lanka), Chinook
Jargon (PNW), Hausa (?), Marathi (?), Yiddish (?), Middle English (?) ...
Structure (grammar) of Pidgin(s)/Creole(s) is reduced:
- Has limited vocabulary, simplified grammar (e.g. no PNG, no gender, no
plural marking, no agreement (e.g. `one man come; two man come; three man go
- Often has aspect instead of tense; marked with particles instead of
- Very little redundency; as simple as can be.
Numbers of Speakers
- 6 million in
Caribbean & W. Africa (Sierra Leone, other Portuguese Creole)
- 3 million in S. Africa (Afrikaans?)
- English-based Creoles
in Africa, W. Indies, Netherlands Antilles (Sranan Saramaccan 88,000 in
Surinam); Gullah (Georgia, S. Carolina offshore islands) Neo-Melanesian
(New Guinea) may be undergoing Creolization; Hawaii (H. `pidgin' is really
- Dutch Cr: Negerhollands (Virgin Isl), Afrikaans, ...
- Spanish, Portuguese-based Crl: Asia, Cap Verde, São Tomé,
Papiamento (Curaçao) became Dutch territory in 1634 so now much
relexification with Dutch, English, Portuguese/Spanish vocabulary. Hard
to keep Sp/Portuguese C/P's apart, since borrowing is often inaccurate.
Many Pidgin(s)/Creole(s) have a lexical item similar to English
`piccaninny' (`child') which comes either from Spanish `pequeño
niño' or from Portuguese `pequen(o) ninho' but how can we tell which?
theory explains how
C/P originate. May include some of the following but no one theory
- Not Convergence through
reduction to minimal linguistic universals (Hjelmslev)
Not parallel evolution due to parallels in the relationship between
superior and subordinate (Bloomfield et al.)
- Not African
- Not descent from one original (Portuguese)
pidgin (Sabir, based on Provençal (?), used during Crusades in the
- Baby Talk or Foreigner Talk
Monogenesis: All Pidgin(s)/Creole(s) are historically descended
from European, probably Portuguese pidgins (Sabir). This ``explains"
all the similarities: vocabulary was orig. Portuguese, got
relexified in time with new vocab in other Pidgin(s)/Creole(s).
``Relexification" means vocabulary can be almost totally replaced
with new vocab from another donor language, or perhaps relexified with
later ``standard" loans from the same donor language.
- Polygenetic: There are separate processes of
development, but the various different kinds are sort of ``dialects"
of an overall system.
- Or: are there pidgin and creole
``dialects" of English, French, Portuguese, etc.?
- Or: are
there structural similarities because of ``linguistic universals"?
- Look here for a discussion of various repertoires in Kali'na
(Amerindian language), French and French Creole used in one part of French Guiana.
- Universalist hypothesis: Doesn't matter whether the
origins are monogenetic or polygenetic, the similarities result when the
donor languages are ``stripped bare" and the languages are built up
again according to the principles of ``linguistic universals".
One popular polygenetic theory:
Baby Talk the
masters, merchants and plantations owners spoke baby talk to the slaves,
who imitated this and spoke it back to the masters, who spoke it back to
the slaves, etc.
last modified 10/22/05