Pidgins and creoles

Hausarbeit (Hauptseminar), 2004

18 Seiten, Note: 1,0



1. Pidgin

2. Theories about the origin of pidgins
2.1. The Baby-Talk Theory
2.2. The independent parallel development theory
2.3. The nautical jargon theory
2.4. The monogenetic/relexification theory

3. Creoles
3.1. Decreolization and recreolization- the life cycle of creoles

4. Social factors in pidgin and creoles 11 4.1. Social factors influencing Tok Pisin

5. Pidgins and Creoles in literature

6. Bibliography

1. Pidgins

Today, pidgins can be found on every continent. The hypothesis is that pidgins occur, if people, who speak mutually unintelligible languages, have come into contact.

The popular opinion has chanced from the idea, that they are only „haphazard, broken, bastardised versions of older, longer established languages“ (Todd, Loreto.1990) to the conviction, that there is no such thing as a primitive language. In fact, some languages are more fully adapted to a technological society than others, but at least all languages are able to adjust themselves to changing conditions.

Pidgins are reduced languages, characterized by having a limited vocabulary and a simple grammar, which serves to satisfy basic communication needs. The syntactic structure is less flexible and less complex than the structures of the languages, which were the contributors to the pidgin language. A comparison between English and English-based pidgins shows, that the pidgin languages have deleted many of the inessential structures of the standard variety. For example, in English, there are two plurality markers (e.g. “two big newspapers”): the numeral and the noun ending. Tok Pisin and Cameroon Pidgin, two pidgin languages which are English-based, mark plurality by the numeral only (e.g. “tupela bikpela pela” and “di two big pepa”).

A pidgin language in not the native tongue of anyone. It is only used as an auxiliary or supplemental language between two speech communities( Todd, Loreto.1990).

2. Theories about the origin of pidgins

2.1. The Baby-Talk Theory

In 1876, the scientist Charles Leland remarked that there are similarities between the “negro minstrelsy” and baby talk. In his opinion, everyone who can understand baby talk could understand a pidgin language.

He and many other travellers noticed that pidgin speakers, as well as small children, could not pronounce the words as expected in the standard version of the language.

A high proportion of content words, only a few function words and less rigidly established word classes are features of baby talk as well as of pidgin languages.

Bloomfield opposed the idea, that the “masters”, so to say the speaker of the –from his point of view- “dominant language” adjusted, respectively, modified his speech to the learner.“ This baby-talk is the masters’ imitation of the subjects’ incorrect speech”(Bloomfield.L.1933).

Nowadays, such an extreme viewpoint is rarely espoused. There are no evidences that they made “contemptuous imitation” (Bloomfield, L. 1933) of the learners’ jargon.

At least the theory fails to explain why the pidgin languages are not mutually intelligible with the languages they derive from, although they are baby –talk versions of them.

Moreover the idea of the baby –talk theory is not able to explain, why the different pidgin languages are more similar to each other than to the languages from which their lexicons derive.

For example, the sentence structure of Haitian Creole and Kamtok resemble each other to a higher degree than to the syntactic structure of the languages their lexicons are related to (Todd, Loreto.1990).

2.2. The independent parallel development theory

Robert A. Hall jr. was the first scientist who discovered the similarities between the world’s pidgins and creoles, though he thought that they have developed independently along parallel lines.

In his opinion, the pidgins and creoles resemble each other to such a high degree, because the are all related to languages, which belong to the Indo-European stock, plus, in regard to the Atlantic varieties, the speakers shared a “common West African Substratum” (Hall. Robert, A. 1966)

2.3. The nautical jargon theory

The nautical jargon theory provides the idea that the lingual franca, spoken on sail-ships during the seventeenth century, influenced the language passed on to the people the sailors came in contact with.

The nautical jargon was supposed to be something like a nucleus for the pidgin, which was later on expanded to the model of the learners’ mother tongue.

This hypothesis explains the similarities and differences between the pidgin languages and creoles of the world.

The similarities are due to the nucleus provided from the nautical jargon, the differences developed from influences exerted by different mother tongues.

There are two facts, which could serve as proofs for this theory.

On the one hand, there are evidences that the sailors are renowned for their unusual speech, that they had a ” dialect and manner peculiar to themselves” (Matthews. 1935).

On the other hand, there are lots of nautical elements in all pidgins and creoles with European Lexicons (Todd, Loreto.1990).

2.4. The monogenetic/ relexification theory

The assumption of the so called monogenetic/relexification theory is that the decent of all European-based pidgins is a fifteenth- century Portuguese pidgin. This pidgin was probably a relic of the medieval Lingua franca Sabir which was used by the multilingual Crusaders and Mediterranean traders.

The supporters of this theory believe, that the Portuguese sailors used this language, when they sailed along the African west coast and wanted to come into contact with the inhabitants.

In fact, this lingua franca was the first European language, the Africans acquired. In the following centuries, the influence of the Portuguese declined and the speakers of the lingua franca aimed at a vocabulary expansion.

Dependent of the region, French, Spanish and English influenced the language afterwards, so that one should rather speak of a "anglicised pidgin Portuguese" or a "gallicized pidgin Portuguese" (Todd, Loreto. 1990).


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Pidgins and creoles
Bergische Universität Wuppertal
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Pidgins, Sociolinguistics
Arbeit zitieren
Nicole Hahn (Autor:in), 2004, Pidgins and creoles, München, GRIN Verlag,


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