Pidgins and Creoles and their Relevance to Linguistics with a special regard to Jamaican Creole

Seminar Paper, 2009

14 Pages, Grade: 1,7


Table of Contents:

1. Introduction

2. Definitions
2.1. Jargon
2.2. Pidgin
2.3. Creole

3. Pidgin and creole in linguistic studies
3.1. History of pidgin and creole studies
3.2. Theories of the origin and development of pidgin and creole
3.2.1. Baby-Talk Theory
3.2.2. Universalist & Substratum Theory
3.3.3. Language Evolution

4. Characteristics of Jamaican Creole
4.1. Phonology
4.2. Morphology/Syntax
4.3. Lexical characteristics
4.4. Multiple substrates

5. Relevance of pidgins and creoles for sociolinguistics
5.1. Sociolinguistic situation in Jamaica
5.2. London Jamaican English and its speakers

6. Conclusion

7. Bibliography

1. Introduction

Contact languages such like pidgins and creoles were formerly considered as broken versions of older languages and therefore were called “nigger French“, “bastard Portuguese“ or “broken English“. But since the end of the 19th century however linguists had begun to study these languages. Since then they have no been considered as broken forms of „higher“ languages but new languages with their own systems (cf. Holm 2001: 1).

In this paper I will give a brief overview about the development of pidgin and creole studies in linguistics and how linguists try to draw new conclusions about the origins and evolution of languages and about language change in general by studying creole and pidgin languages.

I will first define the terms jargon, pidgin and creole and then depict some theories about pidgins and creoles and illustrate in what way they could be relevant for the understanding of language in general. Secondly, I will point out some typical characteristics of the Jamaican Creole and try to relate the illustrated linguistic theories to Jamaican Creole.

At the end of this paper I will briefly focus on the relevance of creoles and pidgins to sociolinguistics also on the basis of Jamaican Creole.

2. Definitions

2.1. Jargon:

Jargon has two different meanings. First it describes a special vocabulary which is used by a certain group within a society. This could be for instance the vocabulary that doctors use or craftsmen. Their speech is difficult to understand for outsiders and it facilitates the communication among themselves. But in our context jargon describes a language that could also be called pre-pidgin. Unlike a pidgin a jargon has no fixed forms, is less stable and it has no norms of meaning, pronunciation and grammar. It is restricted to a few domains but it can evolve into a stable pidgin. (cf. Swan et al. 2004)

2.2. Pidgin:

A pidgin is a simplified language that evolves from contacts between groups that share no common language but need to communicate verbally with each other. Usually it is restricted to certain domains like trade. The group with less power uses words of the language of the group with more power. Therefore the language of the more powerful group is called the superstrate language and the language of the group with less power is called the substrate language. Both languages are not closely related and the resulting pidgin is reduced in the way that for example inflections are dropped and that there are no complex phrase-level structures. The process of a jargon becoming a pidgin is called pidginization (cf. Holm 2001: 5).

2.3. Creole:

When a pidgin language acquires native speakers it becomes a creole language. A creole language is spoken natively by an entire speech community. The process of a pidgin becoming a creole language is therefore called nativization or creolization. But unlike pidginization creolization is not a process of reduction but rather a process of expansion. A creole has for example enhanced vocabulary because it is not restricted to one domain like a pidgin but has to cover all areas of the life of the speakers. It has also an elaborated and reorganized grammar including verbal systems and embedded phrase-structures (cf. Holm 2001: 7). The lexifier languages, meaning the languages that donate the vocabulary to creole and pidgin languages are most often French, English, Spanish or Dutch. These are the former countries of colonial power.

3. Pidgin and creole in linguistic studies

3.1. History of pidgin and creole studies

According to Holm scientific studies of creole languages began with Addison Van Name’ s “Contributions to creole grammar“ which was published between 1869 and 1870. Van Name is said to be the first who described lexical and phonological similarities between different creoles of the Carribean (cf. Holm 2001: 24). He recognized that there was a relationship between creolization and other kinds of language change and that the only difference was the accelerated speed of the creolization compared to other kinds of language change:

“The changes which creoles have passed through are not essentially different in kind, and hardly greater in extent than those, for instance, which separate the French from the Latin, but from the greater forces at work they have been far more rapid [...] (Van Name 1869-70: 123; as cited in Holm 2001: 25).“

In principle this relationship is still a main subject of research for linguists nowadays. Since the end of the 19th century therefore creoles hav not been regarded as the languages of people who are incapable of learning the correct forms of the lexifier languages but as they could get insights in the general mechanisms of language change and the origins and products of innovation. Linguists realized that through investigating in creole languages development of languages.

In the late 1950s creole and pidgin studies were then established as a new academic field and a few characteristics of creoles and pidgins predestine them for linguistic studies.

Some of these characteristics have been pointed out by Mühlhäusler as for example being factors such as linguistic variability and the accelerated speed of language change that are less noticable in other languages. These factors are more noticable in creoles and pidgins.

Furthermore Mühlhäusler states that there are certain developments in language change and origin that have only a short life-span. These developments can only be postulated for the prehistory of other languages whereas for creoles and pidgins they can be investigated in historical sources or can even be analyzed through contemporary fieldwork.

The impact of cultural forces on natural languages can, according to Mühlhäusler, also be studied by taking a look at creoles and pidgins because these develop in a culturally neutral environment. Earlier stages of other languages can be reconstructed by examining creoles and pidgins.

To study these languages linguists are confronted with methodological problems. To solve those problems means to enrich the linguistic methodology in general (cf. Mühlhäusler 1997: 222).

These are some points where linguistics can benefit from by investigating creoles and pidgins. While investigating creoles and pidgins linguists came up with some theories of their origin and development which I will briefly illustrate in the following part.

3.2. Theories of the origin and development of pidgin and creole

Hugo Suchard who, according to Holm, is regarded as the “father of creole studies“ invented the “baby talk“ theory which is also called the “foreigner talk“ theory. This theory was described by another linguist called Leonard Bloomfield as follows:

“[...] ’ baby talk’ is the masters’ imitation of the subjects’ incorrect speech [...] The subjects in turn, deprived of the correct model, can do no better than to acquire the simplified ’ baby talk’ version of the upper language [....] (Bloomfield 1933: 472; as cited in Holm 2001: 33).“

This means that a reduced language is established because the speakers of the superstrate language talk to the speakers of the substrate language in a simplified way because they think they will not be understood if they speak correctly and the speakers of the substrate language therefore learn the simplified form of the language as the correct version.


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Pidgins and Creoles and their Relevance to Linguistics with a special regard to Jamaican Creole
Humboldt-University of Berlin  (Anglistik)
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Oezguer Dindar (Author), 2009, Pidgins and Creoles and their Relevance to Linguistics with a special regard to Jamaican Creole, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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