Analysis Of Pidgin And Creole Languages - English Language - Essay

1332 words - 6 pages

An Examination of Pidgins, Creoles, and their Origins
The global wave of European colonisation originated in the preliminary half of
the fifteenth century and persisted until the early nineteenth century, and within
the same period, the slave trade simultaneously began to expand. A direct result
of such events was that the languages of the major colonial powers, most
significantly English, French and Portuguese, began to encounter the native
languages of colonised populations. (Crystal, 2003: 30) Pidgin and creole
languages are the linguistic consequences of such contact. This essay will
highlight the distinction between pidgins and creoles through an inspection of
their defining characteristics, and examine how each language type arises, with
reference to various examples.
A pidgin is a language that enters existence from contact between at least two
languages with complementary distribution; primarily they arise from a need for
communication for trade and work, among speakers who do not share a common
language. Pidgins are therefore characterised as functional languages, with no
native speakers, and while they are hugely influenced by their parent languages,
they are not necessarily mutually intelligible with them. (Singh, 2000: 38) The
dominant language in the creation of a pidgin is know as a superstrate, while the
less dominant is known as the substrate. The role that each original parent
language is assigned is heavily influenced by socio-political power. (Singh,
2000: 41) For example, in colonial pidgins, the European language is always the
superstrate, as the European colonisers had more power and were in control of
the language contact. It is from the superstrate, of ‘lexifier,’ that pidgins acquire
the bulk of their vocabulary, while the syntactic structure often is supplied by the
Once a pidgin language enters into existence, it follows a developmental
continuum that is universal to all languages of this variety. The first and most
basic stage is the jargon phase, characterised by high grammatical and lexical
instability. An example of this phrase can be observed through the basic pidgin
language Russenorsk, which Russian sailors and Norwegian fishermen used to
communicate for trade in the eighteenth century. (Velupillai, 2015: 52) Next,
through the process of tertiary hybridisation, a pidgin language progresses from
the jargon phase to a stable pidgin. Tertiary hybridisation is the process by which
the jargon begins to be used exclusively between groups of speakers who are not
speakers of the superstrate. The jargon develops independent of the superstrate's
influence. (Velupillai, 2015: 54) In the stable phase, there is a reduction of
linguistic variability, and linguistic norms of usage in grammar, pronunciation,
and vocabulary are established, which are distinct from the input parent
languages. The final stage in the development is the expansion phase, in which
the variety of communicative functions that the pidgin is used for increases.
The grammars of pidgin languages are simplified and basic when compared with
the grammars of their parent languages. These grammars are characterised by
typical design features. (Sebba, 1997: PP) One such feature is a lack of surface
grammatical complexity– there are no definite or indefinite articles in pidgin
languages. Furthermore, a reduction in overall sentence complexity can be
observed. In Fanakalo, an African based pidgin language, ‘Upi lo pikanin yena
funa skafu?’ translated literally is ‘Where the child s/he want food?’’ In this
example sentence there is no relative pronoun, so the third person pronoun yena
is substituted as the subject of the relative clause. (Sebba, 1997: PP) A second
feature that characterises pidgins is their lack of morphological complexity. One
example of this can be observed in Tok Pisin, a variety of Melanesian Pidgin
English, in which the plural of nouns is not indicated by inflection. Instead, ‘ol,’
a separate lexical item, functions as a plural marker. Pidgins are thirdly
characterised by a reduction in vocabulary, and fourthly by a preference for
semantic transparency. This preference is evidenced through, in Tok Pisin,
gender being indicated by the use of a separate word. ‘Man’ is male, while ‘meri’
is female. So, with a word like ‘kakaruk,’ which translates to chicken, saying
‘kakaruk man’ would indicate a rooster, while ‘kakaruk meri’ would indicate a
hen. (Sebba, 1997: PP) Therefore, pidgins are distinct due to their simplified
Creole languages are distinct from pidgin languages, but are related in that from
a pidgin language, a creole will evolve. When a child is born into a pidgin
speaking community and acquires that language as their first, native language, it
is at this point that creolisation occurs, and a pidgin develops into a creole.
(Singh, 2000: PP) While a pidgin has a simplified linguistic and grammatical
structure, developed as a means of basic communication between disparate
language groups, a creole language has a fully developed vocabulary and
grammar system, as a result of becoming a first language, and is used for more
sophisticated communicative day-to-day purposes in a community. (Singh, 2000:
PP) Creolisation of a pidgin language does not necessarily have to occur when
the pidgin is in the final stage of it’s development, but instead can occur at any
stage. When it does occur in the final stage, it is referred to as gradual
creolisation. However, if it occurs before a pidgin is stable, it is instead referred
to as abrupt creolisation.
The largest creole language is Haitian Creole, with over eleven million speakers
worldwide. It is believed that the pidgin language that Haitian Creole evolved
from was a result of the French colony of Saint-Domingue, founded in 1659.
The colony focus was on the production of tobacco, cotton and sugar production,
with the population made up of employed French whites and African slaves in
balanced proportions. (Lefebvre, 2006: 62) From a need for communication
between the two groups, a pidgin language formed, with French as the
superstrate, while Kwa languages such as Gbe, and Bantu languages were the
substrate. (Lefebvre, 2006: 63) The pidgin language went through the previously
discussed stages of development, and through a steady importation of slaves, the
language became a distinct from French. The language then became used by all
those born in Haiti, and is an official national language alongside French.
Through a study of Haitian Creole, it is obvious that creole language is far more
sophisticated than pidgin languages. Haitian Creole has a vocabulary of roughly
over 100,000 words, a far wider variety than the pidgin language Tok Pisin’s
1500. In terms of grammar, Haitian Creole is also superior, showing high
grammatical complexity; the language has two indefinite articles, ‘on’ and
‘yon’ (/õ/ and /jõ/) and five definite articles. (Lefebvre, 2006: 78) Furthermore,
the language contains six pronouns: first, second, and third person, each in both
singular, and plural. A final example: In Haitian culture, proverbs are a key and
traditional element, and Haitian Creole reflects this with it’s lengthy repertoire.
One such example is ‘fanm pou yon tan, manman pou tout tan,’ which translates
to: A woman is for a time, a mother is for all time.
This essay has explained the differences between pidgin languages and creole
languages, as well as how each language variety arises, and may now conclude
that creole languages are the superior of the two. Through an examination of the
vocabulary and grammar of both pidgin and creole language examples, it
becomes clear that creole languages are far more sophisticated than pidgin
languages. Pidgins arose historically through a need for communication for
trade, but were basic in their functions. Creoles, however, arose from such pidgin
languages from a need for a higher level of communication, and therefore allow
for far more complex forms of expression.
Word Count: 1250
Crystal, David. (2003). English as a Global Language. 2nd edition. (Cambridge:
Cambridge University Press)
Lefebvre, Claire (2006). Creole Genesis and the Acquisition of Grammar: The Case of
Haitian Creole. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press)
Sebba, Mark. (1997). Contact Languages: Pidgins and Creoles. (London: Palgrave)
Singh, Ishtla. (2000). Pidgins and Creoles: An Introduction. (London: Arnold)
Velupillai, Viveka. (2015). Pidgins, Creoles and Mixed Languages: An Introduction
(Great Britain: John Benjamin Publishing Company)

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