Pidgins and Creoles

Hausarbeit, 2000

13 Seiten, Note: 2

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1. Introduction to the topic

2. Definition: Pidgins and Creoles
2.1. Pidgins
2.2. Creoles

3. Pidgins: Theories of origins
3.1. The Nautical Jargon Theory
3.2. The Independent Parallel Development Theory
3.3. The Substratum Theory
3.4. The Relexification Theory
3.5. The Baby Talk Theory

4. The process of development: from pidgin to creole
4.1. Phase 1 - Marginal Contact
4.2. Phase 2 - Period of Nativization
4.3. Phase 3 - Influence from the dominant language
4.4. Phase 4 - The Post-Creole Continuum

5. Pidgin structure

6. Creole structure

7. The scope of pidgins and creoles in literature

8. The scope of pidgins and creoles in education
8.1. The oral use of pidgin or creole in the classroom
8.2. The use of pidgin or creole as a written medium in the classroom

1. Introduction to the topic

"When eye no see, mout no talk." (Trinidad)

"Jam pas dai m [Abbildung in dieser Leseprobe nicht enthalten] nki it pepe t [Abbildung in dieser Leseprobe nicht enthalten] k sei na jakato." (Sierra Leone - "In severe times a monkey will eat pepper and call it an aubergine.")

" M [Abbildung in dieser Leseprobe nicht enthalten] ni had, wuman no sabi!" (Nigeria - "Women don't understand that money is hard to come by.")

"Pua man laik f [Abbildung in dieser Leseprobe nicht enthalten] mek palava f [Abbildung in dieser Leseprobe nicht enthalten] seka i no get n [Abbildung in dieser Leseprobe nicht enthalten] ting f [Abbildung in dieser Leseprobe nicht enthalten] l [Abbildung in dieser Leseprobe nicht enthalten] s." (Cameroon - "A poor man likes to make trouble because he has nothing to lose.)

(Todd 1990: p. 100/101)

These four proverbs from different parts of the creole-speaking world are only very few examples. Today, there are spoken about 200 pidgin and creole languages in the whole world. They are found in every continent, particularly in West Africa, the Caribbean and the South Pacific. As it is to be seen in the above examples, creoles differ from each other. In the past and even today, pidgins and creoles are thought to be inferior, haphazard, broken and bastardised versions of older, longer established languages. They are seen as auxiliary languages or debased jargons.

In this paper I will give you some definitions, the theories of origin and the development of pidgins and creoles, and I will give you an overview on how those languages are structured and what scope they have in different spheres.

2. Definition: Pidgins and Creoles

2.1. Pidgins

Generally, it can be said that a pidgin is a marginal language, developed in a situation where different groups of people require some means of communication, but lack any common language. To say it differently, pidgins have always arisen when people speaking mutually unintelligible languages have come into contact. That means a pidgin is the result of contact between peoples speaking different languages, usually formed from a mixing of the particular languages. The usual method of this mixing of two or more languages is to take words from one language and adapt these words to the phonological and grammatical patterns of the other language which was spoken before the arrival of the pidgin. Usually one of the languages which contributes to the pidgin is a world language, like English, French or Spanish, and the other one is an exotic language. Such an exotic language, also called the substrate language, is often an indigenous one. Because the world language, which is also known as the superstrate language, is spoken by the dominant group, it is the dominant part of the developing new language. Pidgin speakers do not only simplify the grammars of the superstrate and the substrate, but also restructure them to produce a new linguistic system.

Finally, there are two more conditions which have to be fulfilled before a language can be called a pidgin. Firstly, the grammatical structure and the vocabulary must be radically reduced, and secondly, the language which comes into being must not be native to any of the speakers, that means it is nobody's first language. All its speakers learn it as adults as a second or further language.

A pidgin language is called a contact language because it is used in contact situations. For example, some pidgin languages came into existence between masters and slaves on former European-owned plantations in the Caribbean or between slaves themselves, who were often separated from others of their linguistic group to lessen revolts.

In some sources it is distinguished between restricted pidgins and extended pidgins. A restricted pidgin arises as a result of marginal contact, such as minimal trading etc. It serves only this limited purpose and tends to die out as soon as the contact is over. One example for this is the Korean Bamboo English, which was spoken by Koreans and Americans during the Korean War. This pidgin language has now almost disappeared. An extended pidgin doesn't die out, but may also not become a mother tongue. Because of its usefulness, especially in multilingual areas, its vocabulary is extended and used beyond the original limited function which caused it to come into being.

2.2. Creoles

A creole arises when a pidgin becomes the mother tongue of a speech community. This language is still simplified and mixed, but no longer reduced. The vocabulary has to expand and a more elaborate syntactic system evolves because the creole language takes on a full range of social functions. It has to be used for all the purposes a native speaker needs to use a language for. The reduction that took place during the pidginization has to be repaired by a process of expansion. This process of expansion is known as creolization. During the creolization, vocabulary is developed and expanded, grammatical devices and categories are added to and the language acquires a wide range of styles. There are some important English-based Pidgins to mention, which are, at this time, going through this creolization process, like the West African Pidgin English, especially spoken in Nigeria and Cameroon, Tok Pisin ("Talk Pidgin") in Papua New Guinea, Bislama in Vanuatu and Solomon Islands Pidgins, just to name a few.

A creole can develop from a pidgin in two ways: The speakers of a pidgin are put in a position where they can no longer communicate by using their mother tongues. This often happened in the Caribbean during times of slave trade when slaves were separated to reduce the risk of plotting. The only language common to them was a pidgin language they had acquired on the African coast, on board ship or while working on plantations. The logical result for children born to parents who have no common language but pidgin is to acquire this pidgin language as the native language. In that way a pidgin becomes a creole. And in those situations, the creole will have to fulfil many more functions than its pidgin ancestor, which was used only in particular situations by speakers who had a native language to fall back on.

The other way for a pidgin to become a creole is that a pidgin can become so useful in a community that it may be expanded and used even by people who share a mother tongue. Parents, for example, use a pidgin in everyday life such as in the market, at church or in offices etc., that it becomes normal for them to use it at home, so that their children acquire it as well. This is an example for the fact that a creole is not always the result of not being able to use the mother tongue.

3. Pidgins: Theories of origin

This is a very interesting aspect of this topic because many scholars argue about how pidgin languages arise. These are the five most popular theories:

3.1. The Nautical Jargon Theory

This theory assumes that pidgins are derived from the lingua franca spoken by the crews of ships in times of trading. Those crews were composed of men speaking a variety of dialects and languages, so that they had to find a common denominator language. This lingua franca was passed on to the Africans, Asians etc. they came in contact with.

3.2. The Independent Parallel Development Theory

This theory is also called "Polygenetic Theory" and it says that pidgins arose independently and developed along parallel lines. They are similar in structure because they are restructurings of similar languages. That means that all pidgin languages developed in the same way: predominantly European superstrates come together with African substrates.

3.3. The Substratum Theory

This theory has the idea that the superstrate or lexifier language contributes the vocabulary to the pidgin while the grammar comes from the substrate(s).

3.4. The Relexification Theory

This theory is also known as "The Monogenetic Theory", and it says that all European- language-based pidgins are descended from Sabir. Sabir is a 15th century proto-pidgin with Portuguese superstrate, which was used in trading and colonising India, West Africa and the Far East. Records show that this language differed in vocabulary from area to area, but its structure seems to have been relatively stable and bears some resemblance to modern pidgins. It is said that Sabir was acquired by the indigenous people in trading areas. Later it was relexified with words from the locally dominant language replacing the original Portuguese forms.

3.5. The Baby Talk Theory

This theory - also known as the "Foreigner Theory" - is based on utterances of travellers who heard pidgin languages and were very surprised by the similarities to the talk of small children. In the 19th century, Charles Leland wrote about a China Coast Pidgin English: "What remains can present no difficulty to anyone who can understand Negro minstrelsy or baby talk." (Todd 1992: p. 27) Some examples should be mentioned, like the use of lots of content words and few function words, the rare morphological change and the reduction of pronominal contrasts. This theory says that either the indigenous people learned an imperfect version of the superstrate language, or the European colonisers simplified their own language to make it easier for the substrate speakers to learn.

4. The Process of Development: From Pidgin to Creole

Originally, all pidgins were restricted. In the early stages they had small vocabularies and few syntactic rules. They were capable of dealing with a limited range of subjects. To reinforce or clarify the meaning of what was said they used gestures. From those ordinary origins they develop either as an extended pidgin or as a creole. This expansion process can be subdivided into four main phases.

4.1. Phase 1 - Marginal Contact

The marginal contact is characterized by casual and unsustained contact between English speakers and the local people. It involves the formation of jargons, which are extremely simple with very restricted structural resources, great variation, and sentences generally no more than one or two words long. This contact, for example, is practiced by guides, who often simplify their language when showing foreign visitors around. As a historical example are to be mentioned the English-speaking sailors, traders and adventurers who first went to Africa, Asia, America or Australia, who used a simplified and limited form of English in order to communicate.

From such a contact, a marginal pidgin evolves; capable, with the help of gestures, of communicating about physical needs and trading arrangements; discussions are limited to tangible objects. Such marginal pidgin soon proves unsatisfactory. If the contact is prolonged and intimate, a fuller form of communication must develop and the pidgin either abandons or expands. That means the only two options open to a marginal pidgin are to disappear or to become more useful by expansion of its resources.

4.2. Phase 2 - Period of Nativization

This phase begins as soon as the pidgin English is used by and between local people. In this case the pidgin can be expanded in only one way: from the users' mother tongue. These pidgin speakers found ways to form words to extend their communication among themselves. Therefore they used lexical items borrowed from the indigenous languages, word-compounding, calquing and reduplications.

4.3. Phase 3 - Influence from the dominant language

When a pidgin reaches the third phase it is capable of being used as a mother tongue. At this stage it is hard to distinguish whether it is a pidgin or a creole. By now, the pidgin's expansion is closely associated with the "dominant" language, which is the language of government and education and is almost always the language from which the pidgin's basic vocabulary is derived. In this case one has to distinguish between those English- based pidgins which still coexist with English and which are influenced by the prestigious standard in pronunciation, vocabulary and grammar, e.g. the Cameroon pidgin, and those English-based pidgins which no longer coexist with their lexical source language. Here the pidgin only continues to exist if it was well established and very important as a means of communication when the contact with English was withdrawn. In such circumstances, it may continue to expand using its own resources or it may borrow from the new dominant language. Different pidgin languages in Surinam are examples for that, their new dominant language is Dutch now, which is the official language in this American state today.

4.4. Phase 4 - The Post-Creole Continuum

This phase is limited to those areas where English continued to be an official state language. When the contact between English and the related pidgin or creole was sustained and as education in standard English became more widespread, a process of decreolization occurred, so that the pidgin or creole became more and more influenced by the standard in phonology, lexis and syntax until it has developed a considerable range of English.

Such a situation can be found in all Anglophone areas in the world where a creole or an extended pidgin is an important lingua franca, for example the West Indies, West Africa and, of course, Jamaica, where there is no clearly defined dividing line between a "pure" creole and the Jamaican Standard.

5. Pidgin structure

As already mentioned, the structure of any pidgin proves very restricted, lacking stylistic options, puns and metaphors, and having few sociolinguistic markers such as politeness phenomena. One very obvious characteristic of a pidgin is the lexicon, which is extremely reduced comparing it with the superstrate and substrate languages. It is estimated that "normal" languages comprise approximately 25-30,000 lexical items, while Tok Pisin has about 1,500. One reason for this is that each pidgin word has lots of different meanings. In Tok Pisin, for instance, gras means "grass" and "something which grows somewhere", as shown in (1)

(1) gras bilong het - grass belong head = hair

gras bilong maus - grass belong mouth = moustache

gras bilong pisin - grass belong bird = feathers

(McMahon 1994: p. 259)

Words are often multifunctional. They are used as nouns, verbs and adjectives which cannot be compounded, so that the expression of complex ideas requires a good deal of circumlocution and periphrasis, as it is to be seen in (1) and (2)

(2) liklik brum bilong klinim tit = toothbrush

bikpela box yu faitim i singaut = piano

(McMahon 1994: p.259)

Pidgins rarely show any inflectional morphology, so that no marking for gender, case, number, tense etc. occurs. A comparison of contemporary pidgin Englishes, such as Tok Pisin and Kamtok (Cameroon Talk) with English, shows that pidgins have abolished many of the inessential features of the standard variety. All natural languages have some degree of redundancy. English is, compared to other European languages like French or Spanish, quite little redundant. In the word group "the two big newspapers", the numeral and the noun ending are markers for plurality. But Tok Pisin and Kamtok are even less redundant, proved by the same word group tupela bikpela pepa and di tu big pepa where the markers for plurality are represented only by the numerals tupela and tu (Todd 1992: p. 2).

Another example for using numerals and quantifiers is shown in (3)

(3) pik = "pig"/"pigs"

tripela pik = "three pigs"

planti pik = "many pigs"

(McMahon 1994: p. 259)

One very important example for the discarding grammatical inessentials is the

verbal inflection. Again, English is less inflectional than, for instance, French or Spanish, but still more inflectional than both regarded pidgins, which have an invariable verb form, as it is to be seen in (4)


Abbildung in dieser Leseprobe nicht enthalten

(Todd 1992: p. 2)

Because of the lack of inflectional morphology, words are invariant and regular. All this makes it easy - even for the unprepared and unknown hearer - to decode the language. And also the speaker benefits from the minimal grammar and the maximal existence of vocabulary, as words are easier to acquire than grammar.

Also simple is that pidgins usually have a fixed, invariable word order, which is SVO. It is used for statements, questions and negatives, and there are no complex sentence structures such as relative clauses. Finally, words are short, usually mono- or bi-syllabic, and the speech tempo is very slow.

6. Creole structure

In general, we can say that the structure of creole languages develops and gets much versatile in comparison to the pidgin structure because it is used in more familiar situations, where it is necessary to express one's thoughts more precise.

A strategy used more in creoles than in non-creole languages to form in the simplest way as many words as possible is reduplication. The phonological reduction, which characterized the pidgin can lead to widespread homophony, for instance, in Krio where was meant "wash" and "wasp", and san meant "sun" and "sand". This problem is solved in the creole using reduplication, which gives was"wash" and waswas"wasp", san"sun" and sansan"sand".

While in pidgin languages we recognized a decreasing redundancy, the creole brings up a sense for more redundancy. In creolised Tok Pisin, for example, there is inserted ol before a noun to indicate plurality. Together with a quantifier or a numeral it is more redundant than the pidgin.

On the contrary to its pidgin ancestor, the creole uses shorter constructions, as in (5)

(5) Pidgin Tok Pisin: Yu mekim sam wara i boil. = "You make some water boil." Creole Tok Pisin: Y u boilim wara.

(McMahon 1994: p. 262)

While the pidgin is characterized by circumlocution, creoles develop compoundings. Man bilong save ("man belong know") meaning "expert" becomes in the creole saveman. Ai bilong mi i laik slip ("my eyes like sleep") meaning "I'm sleepy" becomes mi aislip nau (McMahon 1994: p. 263) .

While pidgins lack sentence-embedding, and have only main clauses, constructions with embedded subordinate clauses tend to develop in creoles, as in (6)

(6) Pidgin Tok Pisin: Mi no save. Ol I wokim dispela haus.

Creole Tok Pisin: Mi no save olsem ol i wokim dispela haus.

English: "I didn't know that they built this house."

(McMahon 1994: p. 263)

Creoles have no syntactic difference between statements and questions, although they have question words.

7. The scope of pidgins and creoles in literature

This can be subdivided into ecclesiastical and non-ecclesiastical works. Writings referring to Christianity have been found wherever there was a huge occurrence of pidgin or creole languages. It is probable that the first oral translations of prayers go back as far as the 18th century. One of the first written translations was made by a man called William Hodgson in 1857. Lots of biblical texts appeared around the turn of the 20th century. The scholars and missionaries who were faced with the task of transcribing pidgins and creoles had one problem. They had to choose between representing them in a form similar to English spelling conventions, or in a form which was a more accurate reflection of the language's sound system. The first one is represented by Plissoneau's 1926 catechism in Cameroon pidgin:

O good Jesus, I like you, I want you. Come quick for clean my skin and my soul. Come quick for take my heart, and make that I no fit left you again, till the time when you go receive me for heaven. Amen

(Todd 1992: p. 68)

This type of transcription is understandable only by those who are proficient in English spelling, but such texts were supposed to be read to and not by pidgin speakers. The second form being realised by Tok Pisin uses an orthography like the following:

Dispela em i gutnius bilong Jisas Kraist, Pikinini bilong God. Dispela gutnius em i kamap pastaim olsem profet Aisaia i raitim: "Harim, mi salim man bilong bringim tok bilong mi, na em i go paslain long yu"

(Todd 1992: p. 68)

Such an orthography is consistent and independent on the spelling conventions of any other language, but the disadvantage is that Tok Pisin speakers have to learn a different orthography if they acquire standard English.

As well as missionary writings, there is a huge number of non-ecclesiastical writing in pidgins and creoles. The best known are from the USA and addressed to a non-pidgin- speaking audience. The "Uncle Remus" tales of Harris enjoyed great popularity and led to the publishing of similar works, like Jones, Negro Myths from the South Georgia Coast (1888), Milne-Horne, Mamma's Black Nurse Stories (1890) and Smith, Annancy Stories (1899). Many of the writers revealed the culture of the ex-slaves to the white world.

Although the best known samples of literature come from the New World, there are also examples from China and West Africa. There it is more common to get pidgin and creole passages rather than extensive works.

From China comes Charles Leland's Pidgin English Sing Song of 1876. From West Africa comes Cunnie Rabbit, Mister Spider and the Other Beef (1903), which is a book of tales written in a language similar to Krio. A very unique work in pidgin/creole writings comes from West Africa as well. It is the diary of Antera Duke written in an English pidgin from Calabar.

In the 20th century, pidgins and creoles became common in literature. While such literature was being written, scholars were producing dictionaries, grammars and descriptions of lots of pidgins and creoles. They also tried to abolish prejudice and ignorance towards pidgin and creole writings, but not until the late 1960s they were firstly heard.

8. The scope of pidgins and creoles in education

8.1. The oral use of pidgin or creole in the classroom

It is a fact that education depends on communication, a two-way communication between pupil and teacher. The most obvious medium for such communication is the language. But which language should be used in a pidgin or creole situation? For example, in Surinam, where English is not the official language, where three well-defined and widely used creoles exist, and where Dutch is a largely unused but officially recognized language, it seems reasonable to teach in creole. On the contrary to this, there are areas where standard English continues to be an official or prestige language. In those areas, it is obvious that it should be taught in English.

In pidgin- and creole-speaking areas, it seems reasonable to admit the use of some form of the lingua franca in oral education, as an attempt to be realistic in the face of needs, aspirations and levels of competence of pupil and teacher. Teachers need to go to training colleges to learn how they can use the pidgin or creole occasionally during the lessons as a way of practising - for instance in supplying the local equivalent of an unknown word or phrase. This reduces unnecessary classroom tension.

As far as oral behaviour is concerned, the aim should be to facilitate the pupil's use of language.

8.2. The use of pidgin or creole as a written medium in the classroom

The written case is much harder to realize than the oral one.

There is little doubt that individual orthographies could be worked out for each pidgin and creole. But who decides about the norm and whose pronunciation should work as the model?

As in the oral use it should be realized in the written use of pidgin and creole. It would be good for the pupils to have texts in their mother tongues, which supports the understanding of standard English.

While pidgin and creole speakers spend most of their lives in a pidgin- or creole- speaking area, most of what they read and write will be in standard English, for example an examination paper, a novel, an official note or a letter of application for employment. There are some countries where the pidgin or creole has developed to such an important language that, for instance in Papua New Guinea, there are lots of publications written already in Tok Pisin.

But this is not the case in Cameroon, where attitudes towards the certain pidgin or creole are very intolerant. In 1982, a Cameroonian intellectual called Kamtok"linguistic dirt" (Cameroon Tribune), which makes parents who speak pidgin or creole feel educationally limited, so that they prefer their children to be taught to read and write the internationally-sanctioned variety of English, using the conventions of Standard English spelling.

Finally one can say, that education is meant to open doors, not to barricade pupils from within.


Adler, Max K. (1977), Pidgins, Creoles and Lingua Francas. A sociolinguistic study, Hamburg: Buske

Bynon, Theodora (1993), Historical Linguistics, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press

McMahon, April M.S. (1994), Understanding Language Change, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press

Romaine, Suzanne (1992), Language, Education, and Development: Urban and Rural Tok Pisin in Papua New Guinea, Oxford: Clarendon Press

Todd, Loreto (1992), Pidgins and Creoles, London [u.a.]: Routledge

Trudgill, Peter & Hannah, Jean (1994), International English - A guide to the varieties of Standard English, London [u.a.]: Arnold

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Pidgins and Creoles
Universität Rostock
Varieties of Present-day English
ISBN (eBook)
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Pidgins, Creoles, Varieties, Present-day, English
Arbeit zitieren
Anika Hummel (Autor:in), 2000, Pidgins and Creoles, München, GRIN Verlag,


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