Jamaican Creole and Tok Pisin. Grammatical Similarities and Differences Between English Based Creole Languages

Term Paper (Advanced seminar), 2011

20 Pages, Grade: 1,7


Table of Contents

1. English Pidgins – from the beginning until today

2. Tok Pisin and Jamaican Creole - A Comparison of two modern Creole languages
2.1. Historical overview of Jamaican Creole and Tok Pisin
2.1.1. Linguistic History of Jamaican Creole
2.1.2. Linguistic History of Tok Pisin
2.2. Grammatical Similarities between Tok Pisin and Jamaican Creole
2.2.1. Nouns
2.2.2. Pronouns
2.2.3. Verbs
2.2.4. Syntax
2.3. Grammatical Differences between Tok Pisin and Jamaican Creole
2.3.1. Nouns
2.3.2. Pronouns
2.3.3. Verbs
2.3.4. Syntax

3. Practical approach on Tok Pisin and Jamaican Creole grammar
3.1. Vybz Kartel – Live we Living as an example of Jamaican Creole
3.2. Oshen featuring Ugly B. – Acting fancy as an example of Tok Pisin

4. Creole languages all over the world

5. Bibliography

6. Appendix

1. English Pidgins – from the beginning until today

As Colonization in Europe emerged more and more countries all over the world were seized by Spanish, German, Dutch, Danish and English troops. The colonial powers hoped to find gold, silver and other trade worthy goods in the new colonies and wanted to increase their power and reputation among each other. The British Empire sent out troops to Africa, Australia and the Caribbean Islands to conquer parts of these continents for the sake of their motherland’s glory. As there was a problem of communication a new language between the English troops and settlers and the native people came up that is nowadays called a Pidgin language. It was a mixture of the indigenous language and the language of the invaders from Europe. When later the British brought the first slaves from other colonies mostly in Africa they also had a huge impact on this Pidgin language.

As the time went by more and more of these colonies declared their independence but most of the influences to the life and the country in the colonies seemed irreversible. A very important impact was the one on the language of the former natives by African slaves and European settlers that inhabited the colonies for a long time. These influences can still be seen in modern times in education, lifestyle and of course the language. The Pidgin languages all over the world – today most of them developed to creoles – are still spoken. They have some distinct features in common but they also show differences concerning grammatical or syntactical features even if the spelling seems to be nearly the same.

Therefore in my opinion it is worthwhile taking a closer look to those similarities and differences between Pidgin and Creole languages all over the world and to pick out some appropriate examples that maybe do not share a continent, but instead share linguistic features derived from actions and happenings of a former time whose impacts are still seen today.

2. Tok Pisin and Jamaican Creole - A Comparison of two modern Creole languages

2.1. Historical overview of Jamaican Creole and Tok Pisin

2.1.1. Linguistic History of Jamaican Creole

The first people living in Jamaica were the Arawaks and their language was Taino (Coutsoukis 2001). When in 1509 Spanish colonists came to the island they tried to communicate with the natives but as they did not share a language this appeared as difficult task. A new language was born, a mixture of the Taino language of the indigenous Arawaks and the Spanish language of the conquerors was created mostly for the purpose of trade and communication. When later the first settlers came to Jamaica to build up a new life they brought along their slaves, they had shipped out from African colonies. By this time the African slaves and their owners spoke a mixture of Spanish and several African languages and this kind of speech of course would now influences the language spoken on the Jamaican island all the years before.

In 1655 English troops seized Jamaica and just one year later the first English settlers who had mostly been living on other Caribbean Islands came to the Jamaica (Viereck 2002: 193). These new inhabitants also brought their own slaves, who came mostly from Africa, too but they spoke other dialects or even languages, because they originally had come from other parts of Africa than the slaves of the Spanish population. By this time the Spanish language had almost completely disappeared and a new English based Pidgin was created to ensure communication between natives, the new settlers and their slaves. In 1670 Jamaica became an English colony and member of the Commonwealth. The English Standard was used for official purposes but meanwhile the English based Pidgin language developed to a lingua franca everybody was supposed to understand and speak.

In 1734 the number of slaves in Jamaica had increased to 92% of the population and the influence of the African language on English Pidgin even increased (Viereck 2002: 193). Finally in the 18th century it developed to Jamaican Creole as the first Jamaican people spoke the mixture based on Standard English and African dialects as a mother tongue.

When in 1962 Jamaica declared its independence (Kortmann/Schneider 2004: 407) the language should not be influenced any longer. Jamaican English was kept as the official language and Jamaican Creole still is spoken by most of the inhabitants of the Caribbean island and can be seen as a lingua franca.

2.1.2. Linguistic History of Tok Pisin

Papua New Guinea, the country where Tok Pisin is spoken today, also has its language from colonial times even if its history is shorter in time than the one of Jamaican Creole. At the beginning of the 18th century the English language was brought to the area of New Guinea by traders and whale hunters. As the indigenous people needed to communicate with the English sailors, mostly for the purpose of trading, a first pidgin language in the area was created. It was called Melanesian Pidgin. (Mühlhäusler 2003: 5)

When in 1884 big parts of the country got under German control as a colony, the German imposters tried to repress the English bases pidgin language, but they had no success. One important reason for this had been the imported labourers who had worked on plantations in Queensland and Samoa. These workers spoke English and other Melanesian languages like the natives and their only way of communicating with other plantation workers was a mixture of English and the Melanesian languages. So the English impact on Melanesian Pidgin became even greater when the imported labourers returned and brought the English based pidgin from the plantations back to their home countries. (Siegel: Grammar)

The importance of Melanesian Pidgin grew and it became a creole as the first children of former plantation workers learned it as a mother tongue. When in 1914 the First World War broke out, the colony of Papua New Guinea got under Australian administrative and the German influences totally stopped, which can be seen in the lexicon of the language today. Under the Australian administration Tok Pisin spread. It was used at work, but also in daily life for communication purpose. (Mühlhäusler 2003: 5f)

The development of Tok Pisin came to a harsh end when Japanese soldiers invaded the country during the Second World War. Most of the plantations all over the country were destroyed and as those were still important places for learning the language, this was a huge impact on the language. Also the contact to other Pidgin language speakers and Australian and American dialects influenced Melanesian Pidgin. But the war also had some positive influence, because the language used for communication by the allies was Tok Pisin and so “its status changed from that of a language of workers and servants to a medium of liberation and self-assertion (Mühlhäusler 2003: 7).” Beginning after the World War in 1945 the first newspaper was published in Tok Pisin and it became the official language for governmental institutions and politics. (Mühlhäusler 2003: 7)

In 1953 the UN tried to abandon Tok Pisin because the language was seen as a remnant of oppressiveness of colonial times, but the language did not disappear. Until the independence of Papua New Guinea in 1975 the language spread further by virtue of new media, church, literature and an “increasingly positive attitude among […] Native people and expatriates” (Mühlhäusler 2003: 7). Since 1975 Tok Pisin has undergone several phases of decline, but it is still spoken in wide areas of Papua New Guinea as official language and lingua franca.

2.2. Grammatical Similarities between Tok Pisin and Jamaican Creole

2.2.1. Nouns

In the English Standard language nouns express their plural with an s at the end of the word. In Jamaican Creole and Tok Pisin the plural form of nouns was not adapted, but it is still built similar with a plurality indicator. These are words or fragments of words placed in front of the verb of the sentence to express plurality. Which indicators are used in the pidgin languages Jamaican Creole and Tok Pisin in particular is referred to in the section of differences between the two creoles.

The English Standard expresses the possession of a noun in a sentence with an ‘s at the end of the subject of it or a construction with of as seen in the following example: That man’s house. That is the house of the man. In both creole languages, in Jamaican Creole and Tok Pisin, the grammatical feature of possession is expressed in a similar way. One possibility is to express possession with a construction alike the one in Standard English but no ‘s is added: “dat man house” (Crystal 2009: 347). The other possibility is to add a particle that shows possession. The use of this particle is explained in the section of differences of nouns.


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Jamaican Creole and Tok Pisin. Grammatical Similarities and Differences Between English Based Creole Languages
University of Würzburg  (Neuphilologisches Institut)
Dialects of English
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ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Book)
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450 KB
jamaican, creole, pisin, grammatical, similarities, differences, between, english, based, languages
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Maximilian Bauer (Author), 2011, Jamaican Creole and Tok Pisin. Grammatical Similarities and Differences Between English Based Creole Languages, Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/311945


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