Pidgin and Creole

June 15, 2012 |

A precise boundary between the two terms, Pidgin and Creole, does not exist mostly because they both represent “corruptions” of higher languages and include a wide variety of phenomena.
The Oxford English Dictionary suggests the definition of Pidgin English “as an English specialized jargon corrupted according to another language to permit intercommunication”. This is the case of Chines and European. The word “pidgin” probably originated from the English word “business”, adapted to Chinese pronunciation and was used to define a hybrid language until the end of 19th Century. Only in the 20th Century it became a technical word to describe “… a contact language which draws on elements from two or more languages” (Oxford Companion of English Language) or “ a form of language as spoken in a simplified or altered form by non-native speakers, especially as means of communication between people not sharing a common language”. (The New Shorter Oxford English Dictionary; 1993; vol. II). Suzanne Romaine is still more precise describing pidgins as the result of “a process of simplification and hybridization involving reduction of linguistic resources and restriction of use to limited functions such as trade” and continues adding “… sometimes extended to refer to the early stages of any instance of second language… often influenced by their own primary language”.

The word “Creole” comes from Latin “CREARE” and Portuguese “criar” and it means “to nurture”. It was used to design an animal or a person born in the Colonies of America and producing Portuguese, Spanish or French. Between the 17th and the 18th Century, in the Caribbean area the word could identify either Creole Whites, local descendants of Europeans, or Creole Negros, descendants of African slaves, but also Local Creoles, a mixture of both.

During the 19th Century, the word “Creole” was used to define languages from Australasia, Indian Ocean and other languages that derived but, at the same time, differed much from European tongues: Creole French of Martinique or Mauritius or Roper River Creole in Australia. Normally mixed races communities were the elected for the evolution of Creole from Pidgin. It was difficult to distinguish one from another because they often maintained the same name.

Pidgin takes various stages to become Creole, which obviously implies restriction of lexicon and grammar. Lexicon is taken most of all from the dominant language(s) or superstrate language(s), while grammar comes from the minor languages or superstrate. Due to the fact that Pidgin represents the partial or limited use of a language, the interpretation of new words or speech are often left to context. The first phase of the development of a creole language consists in satisfying the need of people to communicate (makeshift language phase) to which follows a phase of communication limited to a specific context and enduring for years (stable pidgin). Pidgin is considered as “extended” when children of a community begin to use it as a more developed system. The real creole is the language of an extended community becoming “independent language” if provided with standard form. An independent creole may be subject to a last change, when it tries to adapt to the superstrate language. This stage is defined as “decreolization” and transforms a creole into a dialect.

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Category: Foreign Language

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