Pidgin and Creole Languages

By Maeve Maddox

The word pidgin refers to a language used as a means of communication between people who do not share a common language.

The word pidgin derives from a mispronunciation of the English word business. The term “Pidgin English” was first applied to the commercial lingua franca used in southern China and Melanesia, but now pidgin is a generic term that refers to any simplified language that has derived from two or more parent languages.

When a pidgin develops into a more complex language and becomes the first language of a community, it is called a creole.

Note: The word creole has racial applications, which are not addressed in this article.

Creoles typically arise as the result of contact between the language of a dominant group and that of a subordinate group, as happened as the result of European trade and colonization. The earliest reference to a creole language is to a Portuguese-based creole spoken in Senegal.

The vocabulary of a typical creole is supplied for the most part by the dominant language, while the grammar tends to be taken from the subordinate language.

A pidgin is nobody’s natural language; a creole develops as a new generation grows up speaking the pidgin as its main language. The grammar of a creole usually remains simpler than that of the parent languages, but the new language begins to develop larger vocabularies to provide for a wider range of situations.

Because of its distinctive use of verb tenses and other grammatical features, Black English is considered by many to be an English creole having British and American varieties. Haitian is a French creole.

Unlike pidgins, creoles are complete natural languages that differ from standard dialects of the dominant parent language in pronunciation, grammar, and vocabulary.

Some more examples of creole languages:

French-based
Louisiana Creole
Mauritian Creole

English-based
Gullah (US Sea Islands)
Jamaican Creole
Guyanese Creole
Hawaiian Creole

More than one parent language
Saramacca (Suriname–English and Portuguese)
Sranan (Suriname–English and Dutch)
Papiamentu (Aruba, Bonaire, Curaçao–Portuguese and Spanish)

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3 Responses to “Pidgin and Creole Languages”

  • Rich Wheeler

    That was really interesting. I did not know ANY of that.

  • D.A.W.

    They speak a creole based on Portuguese and native languages in the country of the Cape Verde Islands.
    I had an electronics student (a good one) from the Cape Verde Islands who also spoke English well – a good thing, since he was going to school in Maryland. After school, he liked to play soccer on the school grounds with a group of Spanish-speaking students from Latin America. Unfortunately, I cannot remember my student’s name, but I can remember a lot about him. My main goal was to teach my students as much electronics engineering as I could in the time allotted, but I had the chance to learn some about the Cape Verde Islands and his experiences there.

    My student told me that after playing soccer with them for several weeks, the Spanish that they were speaking started MAKING SENSE.
    That was reasonable since Portuguese and Spanish are so closely related to one another. It was just a case of his subconscious mind making the connections between his Portuguese creole and Spanish, because he wasn’t making a deliberate effort to learn Spanish.

    Perhaps if some of us spent some time playing soccer or field hockey with a group of Dutch speakers, then after a few months, Dutch would start making sense to us.

    Note that it has come to mind about those careless people who write “alot of” instead of “a lot of”. This mess is puzzling to me.
    D.A.W.

  • Anita Fatunji

    That has derived from/ That was derived from which is correct
    (The word pidgin derives from a mispronunciation of the English word business. The term “Pidgin English” was first applied to the commercial lingua franca used in southern China and Melanesia, but now pidgin is a generic term that refers to any simplified language that has derived from two or more parent languages.)

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