Pidgins & Creoles

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Pidgins & Creoles

1. Introduction

Linguistics use the term Pidgin for the label of speech varieties that develop when speakers of two or more different languages come in to contact with each other and do not know each other’s language. Thus the main reason for the development of these ‘new languages’ is seen in the urgent necessity of communicating between people speaking different languages. Therefore we can say that a linguistic crisis situation serves as the basis for the creation of Pidgins – the word is a malapropism (=substitution of an incorrect word for a word with a similar sound) of the English lexem business – and later on of Creoles. (a lexem names a group of syntactic words which share characteristics concerning meaning and part of speech. Speak, speaks, spoke and speaking > one lexem – whereas speak and speaker > two lexems)
Some pidgins have been called ‘trade languages’ or ‘trade jargons’ and have clearly arisen as the result of contact between people, without a language in common, who were seeking to do business with each other.
In these cases there do not develop varieties of the European languages or dialects but new languages, whose grammar (phonetic, morphology, sytax, etc.) differs fundamentally from their lexical basis-language.
In former times Pidgins and Creoles were often denoted with pejorative expressions like broken English, Bastard Portuguese, Negro French, Taki Taki for Sranan Tongo, Kombuistaaltje (kitchenlanguage) or Isikula (Coolie language) for Fanakalo, which clearly points out the disrespect for these idioms.
Meanwhile the Creolistic has become an independent branch which is solid established in the field of science and it deals with specific Pidgins as well as with the about 80 Creole languages throughout the world, which are spoken from approximately 30 Million people.

2. Pidgins

2.1. Definition

Pidgins are languages lexically derived from other languages, but which are structurally simplified, especially in their morphology. They come into being where people need to communicate but do not have a language in common. Pidgins have no first language speakers, they are the subject of language learning, they have structural norms, they are used by two ore more groups, and they are usually unintelligible for speakers of the language from which the lexicon derives. (BAKKER: p.25)

The word ‘Pidgin’ comes from the Chinese Pidgin English pronunciation of the English word business, which war already used in 1807 and spelled as ‘pigeon’. In some areas the terms jargon (the language used by people who work in a particular area or who have a common interest – comparable with a slang) or lingua franca (language systematically used to communicate between persons not sharing a mother tongue) (especially in Europe) were also used for Pidgins, which nowadays are used to denote different types of language.
We have to mention that not all simplified languages are Pidgins and that the term Pidgin should not be confused with broken languages. For example a Western Europe who speaks broken forms of German, English, French, etc. does not speak a Pidgin, as broken languages have no structural norms.

2.2 Types of Pidgins

• Maritime or nautical Pidgins
Maritime or nautical Pidgins developed as the consequence of the communication between sailors and people from other nations on board or at the coasts. Some examples are (1) the Lingua Franca, the Romance-based Pidgin used in the Mediterranean area; (2) the Basque-lexifier Pidgin of Iceland and the Basque-Algonquian Pidgins in contacts between Europeans and Indians; (3) the Russenorsk of Russian and Norwegian sailors around the North Cape.

• Trade Pidgins
It is not possible to draw a clear distinction between maritime or nautical Pidgins and trade Pidgins, as maritime or nautical Pidgins are often use for trading.

• Interethnic contact languages
These languages were/are used in domains like for example spreading religion, political negotiations or other procedures were people with no common language try to communicate.
The Amerindian-lexifier Pidgins (a lexifier is a language from which pidgins and creoles derive most of their vocabulary) such as Chinook Jargon of the American Northwest, the Delaware Jargon or the Mobilian Jargon could be mentioned for some examples.

• Work force Pidgins
We can point out two different kinds of work force Pidgins. First, there is the sort of Pidgin which developed with the contact between the colonial people and the local workers in their household such as Butler English and Bamboo English in India. The second type developed in multilingual work forces like for example the Hawaiian-lexifier and English-lexifier Pidgins of Hawaii or the Japanese-Malay Pidgins in Australia. In this case the Pidgin simply developed due to the contact between workers from different cultural backgrounds.

3. Creoles

3.1. Definition

Creoles are languages which, originally having been Pidgins, have established as a mother tongue in some speech communities. Normally Creoles coexist with the standard language that was originally pidginized. The standard language (before it has been pidginized) usually functions as the language of education and administrations. Creoles generally do not have a stabilized base of a written tradition and are often influenced by the standard, that is why they tend to change frequently and rapidly.
Those kinds of Creoles that have the greatest lexical influence from the standard and are therefore most similar to the standard form are called acrolects. Those which evince the least influence and are consequently furthest from the standard are named basilects. There also exist varieties in between these two forms, which are labelled mesolects.

3.2 Types of Creoles

In accordance with their external history three types of Creoles can be distinguished:
Plantation Creoles
Fort Creoles
Maroon Creoles

The first type, the Plantation Creole, already explains itself with its name, so to say that these Creoles developed in the plantation fields of certain countries, like Cuba, Jamaica, etc.
Fort Creoles developed at the “so-called forts, the fortified posts along the West African coast, from which the Europeans deployed their commercial activities. In the forts some medium of communication must have been used, both among Africans from different linguistic backgrounds and between Africans and Europeans.” (ARENDS: p.16)
The third group, the Maroon Creoles, developed as a result of slave abscondence. Slaves were able to escape from the plantations and formed new communities, which were not under the influence of rest of the colony, more specific of the metropolitan, European language. Such communities arose in some parts of Jamaica, Colombia, Surinam as well as in São Tomé.

4. The development from Pidgins to a Creole language

The merely auxiliary language – the Pidgin, which is exclusively used in clearly defined contact situations and not as a mother tongue (Lingala, Lingua Franca etc.) - can develop under certain circumstances. When children are imparted a Pidgin as their mother tongue, this advances thus children feature the inborn ability to regulate and develop a language, and this result is referred to as a Creole language.

5. Conclusion

To sum up it can be claimed that a Pidgin is characterised by a limited lexicon and a reduced structure, it has its sociolinguistic peculiarities (speech economy), its use is limited to special situations and it is not used as a mother tongue. However, when a Pidgin is used, or rather learned as a mother tongue, it turns and develops into a Creole, a so-called ‘full-language.

ARENDS, J. / MUYSKEN, P. / SMITH, N. (eds.): Pidgins and Creoles. An introduction. Amsterdam / Philadelphia, John Benjamins publishing company: 1995.

ECKRAMMER; E.: Lecture notes to the theme: Introduction to the history of the Spanish language. University of Salzburg: 2006.

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