Pidgins and Creoles - stages in the linguistic development of Pidgins and Creoles

Seminar Paper, 2005

12 Pages, Grade: 2,0


Table of Contents

1. Introduction

2. The sociohistorical context of Pidgin and Creole development

3. Linguistic development of Pidgins and Creoles
3.1 The Jargon Stage
3.1.1 General Overview
3.1.2 Phonology
3.2 Stabilization
3.2.1 General Overview
3.2.2 Phonology
3.3 The Expansion Stage
3.3.1 General Overview
3.3.2 Phonology
3.4 Creolization
3.4.1 General Overview
3.4.2 Phonology
3.5 Post-Pidgin and Post-Creole continua
3.5.1 General Overview
3.5.2 Phonology

4. Conclusion


1. Introduction

To offer a good reason for talking about the stages in the linguistic development of Pidgins and Creoles one should take a close look at the following statement:

I think it can easily be argued that the fundamental problem for linguistic theory is to understand…how linguistic structures evolve, come into being and change into new (sub) systems and thereby to learn what the true nature of language is. (C-J N Bailey 1982:25)

(Mühlhäusler 1997:127)

Talking about the different stages to elucidate, “the true nature of language” (C-J N Bailey 1982:25) requires the knowledge of some basic information and definitions, especially of the terms Pidgin and Creole:

Pidgins are examples of partially targeted second language learning and second language creation, developing from simpler to more complex systems as communicative requirements become more demanding. Pidgin languages by definition have no native speakers – they are social rather than individual solutions – and hence are characterized by norms of acceptability.

(Mühlhäusler 1997:6)

While there is a wide consensus on the definition of the term Pidgin, besides various characterizations one can find four major types of definitions of the term Creole:

1. Creoles are regarded as mixed languages typically associated with cultural and often racial mixture;
2. Creoles are defined as Pidgin languages (second languages) that have become the first language of a new generation of speakers;
3. Creoles are reflections of a natural bioprogramm for human language which is activated in cases of imperfect language transmission (cf. Bickerton 1981);
4. “Advanced” forms of regional/popular varieties of the metropolitan language.

(Mühlhäusler 1997:7)

But these definitions aren’t sufficient for taking a critical look at Pidgins and Creoles. Besides several minor problems, there are two major or main problems that are fundamental to this topic.

The first one is the continuing lack of longitudinal studies. This lack requires the reconstruction of “non-documented or ill-documented aspects of language development” (cf. Mühlhäusler, 1997). This reconstruction is mostly based on the idea of an uniformitarian development of language. But just like history is no steady development in one direction, the development of language isn’t either. The attempts of reconstruction do not take into consideration discontinuities in the development of language including progressive and regressive phases.

The second major or main problem is that one has to make some concessions. “These include separating the dimensions of restructuring and development, in spite of the fact that actual developments are probably more realistically described as a product of these two […] factors.” (cf. Mühlhäusler, 1997).

As the development of Pidgins and Creoles is such a complex topic, I will first of all elucidate the sociohistorical context of Pidgins and Creoles and then go on with concentrating mainly on the development of the phonology during the different stages.

2. The sociohistorical context of Pidgin and Creole development

When talking about Pidgins and Creoles, one has to include all the linguistic and extra-linguistic conditions that constitute and contribute to the development of a language. Concerning pidginization, the following conditions are the most important ones:

1. Contact situation of two languages (linguistic communities) possessing unequal rights with the domination of one over the other.
2. Limited communicative functions (reduced to one function) with instability of verbal communication.
3. Absence of intention to teach and to learn the language of the dominating community.
4. Absence of necessity to teach and to learn the standardized variant of the dominating community language.
5. Absence of the common language understood both by the dominating community and the dominated community.
6. Presence of different ethnic groups (nationalities) of the communities in contact accompanied by the incomprehensibility of their languages.


As they deal mostly with extra-linguistic conditions, the sociohistorical context of a language seems to be very important in the development of a language. Concerning Pidgins and Creoles, the sociohistorical context is marked by the colonization. And the need for including the sociohistorical context when dealing with Pidgins and Creoles becomes clear when taking into consideration that human mankind has the need for verbal communication and needs also access to a role model.

Especially because of these two needs, also non-verbal communication is part of the sociohistorical context of Pidgin and Creole development. Non-verbal communication is essential to the first time of colonization when there hasn’t been any other means of communication. It describes “natural signs” that imitate gestures for cutting, killing or eating and even for location. This is being illustrated by the following situation:

Lacking interpreters for the countless native languages of Melanesia, the recruiters resorted to pantomime, often of the sketchiest kind. To indicate to the kanakas that they were being engaged to work for three years, the expression ‘three yam’ was used – supposed to be the time taken to grow three crops of yams. Reduced to pantomime it often came down to showing the native a yam and holding up three fingers.

(Mühlhäusler 1997:51)

But even this non-verbal communication does not exclude misunderstandings. As the Melanesians employ a subtractive-counting system instead of an additive-counting system, showing three fingers can mean the number of two to them. When regarding the early verbal means of communication, it has to be said that this unstable stage is marked by the lack of continuity, regression and failure.

3. Linguistic development of Pidgins and Creoles

3.1 The Jargon Stage

3.1.1 General Overview

Jargons can be described as the first attempts of communication. They are “individual solutions to the problem of cross-linguistic communication” (cf. Mühlhäusler, 1997). They are the simplest means of communication besides non-verbal communication. In the Jargon Stage, grammatical rules do not play a major role in communication. Grammar is actually totally absent in this stage. It neither has any morphology nor is it linguistically or socially stable. This social and linguistic instability of Jargons can be traced back to the inconsistency of the transmission of Jargons from one speaker generation to another one. Jargons are invented in an ad-hoc fashion and tend towards categorical multi-functionality.


Excerpt out of 12 pages


Pidgins and Creoles - stages in the linguistic development of Pidgins and Creoles
University of Regensburg  (Institut für Amerikanistik und Anglistik,Universität Regensburg)
PS English as a Global Language
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ISBN (eBook)
File size
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Pidgins, Creoles, Pidgins, Creoles, English, Global, Language
Quote paper
Felix Staufer (Author), 2005, Pidgins and Creoles - stages in the linguistic development of Pidgins and Creoles, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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