What do you understand by Pidgins and Creoles?

Table of Content

According to Holmes (2001), a pidgin is a language without any native speakers. Holmes further explains that pidgins develop as a way for individuals without a shared language to communicate with each other (Holmes, J. 2001:81). The primary goal for speakers of a pidgin language is to facilitate effective communication, rather than acquiring proficiency in multiple languages.

Pidgins are contact vernaculars and are used for specific purposes, each having its own distinct linguistic structure (Holmes, J. 2001:81). On Caribbean slave plantations during the 17th and 18th centuries, West African individuals were intentionally isolated from those who shared the same language to reduce the potential for escape or rebellion against authority. To communicate with one another, they created pidgins using elements from both their superiors’ language and their own languages.

This essay could be plagiarized. Get your custom essay
“Dirty Pretty Things” Acts of Desperation: The State of Being Desperate
128 writers

ready to help you now

Get original paper

Without paying upfront

According to Holmes (2001:81), pidgins have a different structure compared to the languages in contact, but they do borrow vocabulary from these languages. This means that a pidgin is a basic form of language that shows signs of blending different languages and no one speaks it as their first language (Mesthrie et al, 2000:280). Creolist Peter Muhlhausler (1986:5) defines pidgins as examples of second-language learning that is partially targeted or non-targeted, and they develop from simpler systems to more complex ones as communication needs increase.

(Pidgins) … are social rather than individual solutions and are characterized by norms of acceptability. However, Mesthrie et al (2000:280) suggest that the situation can be more complex. In their research, they find it useful to differentiate between pidgins based on the complexity of their grammatical structures. First, a jargon or pre-pidgin has a somewhat unstable structure with rudimentary vocabulary, which is often supplemented with gestures.

According to Mesthrie et al (2000:280), a pre-pidgin is considered to lack grammaticality, and in some cases, it may be perceived as a corrupted form of language. On the other hand, a stable pidgin is characterized by a recognizable structure and a relatively developed vocabulary (Mesthrie et al, 2000:281). These stable pidgins have a limited sphere of influence, typically confined to specific domains such as the workplace and marketplace (Mesthrie et al, 2000:281). Additionally, an expanded pidgin refers to a form of language that has achieved a certain level of style and sophistication in terms of its structural and vocabulary-related elements.

The complexity of a pidgin language can be attributed to its use in various domains, including interpersonal and domestic settings and even in formal domains such as public speeches or political pamphlets (Mesthrie et al, 2000:281). Eventually, a pidgin language can evolve into a creole language, becoming the first language of a speech community. Creoles are predominantly found in former slave-holding societies and emerge due to a variety of factors such as trade, war, and population movements (Mesthrie et al, 2000:281). This paper will further explore the process of creolization while also discussing the social stigma associated with Jamaican “patois,” a creole spoken by black youth in the Caribbean. In Britain, this creole is considered a distinct marker of race and ethnicity and often viewed as a corrupted form of language lacking grammatical structure.

According to Holmes (2001:83), when a pidgin is formed, all languages involved contribute to the sounds, vocabulary, and grammatical features, but to varying degrees. Additionally, some unique features may emerge in the new variety. The vocabulary of a pidgin is relatively small, although Holm (1988:73) and Todd (1994:3 – 178) identify processes that help expand the basic roots of a pidgin semantically. Much of the lexis used in pidgin is polysemous, meaning each identifiable word can have multiple meanings that are primarily understood or explained in specific contexts.

In Cameroon Pidgin English, the word ‘shado’ can have multiple meanings such as shadow, soul, or reflection, and the word ‘water’ can refer to water, lake, river, spring, or tear (Mesthrie et al, 2000:290). The English language also exhibits polysemy, where words like the verb ‘to get’ can have different semantic interpretations such as ‘take,’ ‘become,’ ‘have,’ or ‘understand’ (I’ll get the food, they got nervous, I’ve got twenty pounds, I get it). Pidgins like Cameroon Pidgin English seem to incorporate polysemy into their language construction influenced by English. According to (Mesthrie et al, 2000:290), in pidgins a single word can serve multiple grammatical purposes, which contributes to their multifunctionality.

According to Romaine (1988:38), Tok Pisin demonstrates the concept of multifunctionality in pidgins. In this pidgin, the word ‘sik’ serves both as a noun and an adjective. For instance, it is used as an adjective in the phrase ‘mi sik,’ which means ‘I am sick.’ On the other hand, its noun usage can be observed in the phrase ’em I gat bigpela sik,’ which means ‘he has got a terrible disease.’ The concept of multifunctionality intrigues Creolists as it involves using the same word in various grammatical functions. Additionally, there is a connection between multifunctionality and the process of grammaticalisation, as grammaticalisation can be seen as a mechanism that creates versatile lexical items.

(Lefebvre, C. 2004: 156) In Haitian Creole, the preposition ‘anle’ can function as a noun (top, upper part), adjective (flighty), or adverb (high, up high). (Valdman et al, 1981 in Lefebvre, C. 2004: 162) Another process used in pidgin is circumlocution, which is necessary to express certain concepts.

The expression of concepts that are simple words in regular languages is often achieved by using roundabout ways in pidgins. For example, in Tok Pisin, the verb “belong” is used as a preposition meaning “of.” Some examples of this usage are: gras bilong fes (beard), gras bilong hed (hair), gras bilong ai (eyebrow), wara bilong skin (sweat), pinga bilong lek (toe), and pela bilong op bottle (bottle opener). (Glosses: gras < grass; fes < face; bilong < belong; ai < eye; pela < fellow; op < open; pinga < finger; lek < leg; hed < head. Note that the symbol '<' means 'based on or derived from'.) Pidgins also utilize compounding to indicate abstractions and systematically denote gender of nouns. Mesthrie et al (2000:291) provide the following Tok Pisin examples: big maus (conceited, literally 'big mouth'), drai bun (tough, toughness, literally 'dry bone'), tu bel (in two minds, doubting, literally 'two belly'), hos man (stallion), hos meri (mare). Lastly, many pidgins incorporate reduplication, using repeated roots to add meanings related to intensity, plurality, duration, and frequency.

(Mesthrie et al, 2000:291) Todd (1984:134) provides examples of reduplication in Cameroon English: Fain ‘lovely’ fain fain ‘really lovely’ Big ‘big’ big big ‘very big’ Bos ‘boast’ bos bos ‘to be continually boasting’ Tok ‘talk’ tok tok ‘to talk all the time, prolonged talk’ Memba ‘remember’ member member ‘recollections’. According to Mesthrie et al (2000:291), pidgins are often described based on what structures they lack rather than what features they share. Bickerton (1976) also suggests that pidgins are seen as corrupted adaptations of European languages. Furthermore, Hall (1966) defines a pidgin as a language with reduced grammatical structure and vocabulary, but argues that unbiased investigations have proven that all pidgins and creoles, even the simplest ones, can be described and formulated using modern linguistic observation and analysis.
(Hall, R, A.

According to Mesthrie et al (2000:291), pidgins have limited suffixes and grammatical markers, which are predetermined within the input languages of a specific pidgin form. The use of tense in pidgins often relies on contextual understanding or temporal adverbs like “before,” “today,” “later,” “by-and-by,” and “already” (Mesthrie et al, 2000:292). For instance, Chinese Pidgin English expresses past tense using the adverb “before,” as in the phrase “before my sellum for ten dollars,” which means “I sold it for ten dollars” (Bakker 1995:37). To indicate past tense, the adverb “before” is followed by the pronoun “my” representing the first person singular pronoun “I.”

Mesthrie et al (2000:292) suggest that some English-based pidgins have additional markers for the past tense. For example, Tok Pisin uses the grammatical marker ‘pinis’ borrowed from the English word ‘finished’ to indicate the past tense. Cameroon Pidgin English, on the other hand, uses both ‘don’ and ‘bin’ borrowed from the English words ‘done’ and ‘been’ to convey past tense forms. Therefore, pidgins cannot be considered ‘ungrammatical’ because they still follow certain grammatical rules for expressing tense, although these rules may be influenced by the input language of the pidgin.

In addition, if the adaptations of tense indication are a merging and integration of the grammatical rules from the input languages, they should not be considered ‘corrupt’. A notable difference can be seen in pidgin languages where adverbial suffixes are lacking, but the stable pidgin language Fanakalo in South Africa has many verb suffixes. However, the grammatical marking in Fanakalo is simpler compared to its main source language, Zulu. (Mesthrie et al, 2000: 292) An example of verb suffix occurrence in Fanakalo is demonstrated with the use of -ile (past tense) dlala ‘to play’ vs.

It is widely accepted that pidgins are considered inferior and substandard forms of language that have low prestige in society. Many linguists view them as marginal and insignificant compared to languages that have strong grammatical foundations. However, Siegel (1996) demonstrated, in the analysis of pidgin forms, that their structure has the potential to be more complex than similar structures found in the superstrate language.

According to Siegel (1996), Bislama, a pidgin of Vanuatu, does not have gender pronouns, unlike English where gender forms such as he, she, and it are used. This can make Bislama seem simpler in structure. However, Bislama does have a distinction between ‘inclusive’ and ‘exclusive’ pronouns, which is not present in English. In Bislama, the first-person inclusive pronoun is ‘yumi’, meaning ‘we or us, including you’, while the first-person exclusive pronoun is ‘mifala’, meaning ‘we or us, not including you’.

According to Mesthrie et al (2000:292), Bislama grammar clearly indicates whether the listener is included (yumi) or not (mifala). The inclusiveness and exclusiveness of pronouns in Bislama are due to its extended pidgin forms rather than restricted ones. These grammatical rules demonstrate that while a pidgin language is a simplified and limited vocabulary adaptation of input languages, it still carries its own effective and successful grammatical structure. A creole language, on the other hand, is a nativized version of a pidgin language with native speakers.

Creolization involves the development of morphology and syntax, regularisation of phonology, an increase in usage of the creole language, and improvement in vocabulary. According to Mesthrie et al (2000:297), the most interesting aspect of creolization is the reorganisation of grammar, including the explicit marking of tense and related categories, as well as the development of complex clauses with subordinate embedding. In summary, creolization results in a fully developed language with grammatical and semantic competence. It is a process of expansion where vocabulary is expanded through the use of words from substrates and superstrates, as well as innovative combinations of existing words (Mesthrie et al, 2000:297). Ultimately, creolization leads to the development of a more complex set of phonological rules.

According to Bickerton, in his article from Mesthrie et al (2000:298), a list was created consisting of grammar structures commonly found in creole languages. One specific structure mentioned was the ‘zero copula,’ where the verb ‘be’ and its variations (am, is, are, was, were) are left out. In an example sentence from Jamaican Creole, the copula is not explicitly stated but implied – ‘di kaafi kuol,’ which translates to ‘the coffee is cold.’ (Mesthrie et al, 2000:299) It is typical for Jamaican Creole to negate the copula, although non-creole speakers might view this as a lazy and non-standard form.

However, the above sentence clearly implies the verb form in its grammatical construction. If the construction is fully understood, there is no need for the copula to be explicitly stated. Additionally, although not commonly used in Standard English, there is evidence of a limited form of the zero copula existing in the language. For instance, phrases like ‘the higher, the better’ and ‘you from Liverpool?’ omit the copula form. In Standard English, the copular form should be included for an utterance or sentence to be considered ‘correct.’ However, statements such as the ones mentioned earlier are still acceptable as they can be understood.

It is simply a matter of implication; the copular is not stated but can be inferred. Non-speakers often fail to appreciate the linguistic complexity of creole languages. As a result, a creole language may be considered ‘ungrammatical’ or ‘corrupt’ because it does not adhere to the predetermined grammatical rules of either the substrate or superstrate language. However, creole languages develop methods to consistently convey meanings such as verb tenses, which may eventually evolve into inflections or affixes over time.’ (Holmes, J.)

The example below illustrates how Australian Roper River Creole indicates the past tense with the particle ‘bin’ and distinguishes the progressive aspect with the suffix ‘-bad’ that attaches to the verb:
(a) im megim ginu ‘he makes a canoe’ [present tense]
(b) im bin megin ginu ‘he made a canoe’ [past tense]
(c) im megimbad ginu ‘he is making a canoe’ [present continuous]
(d) im bin meginbad ginu ‘he was making a canoe’ [past continuous] (Holmes, J. 2001:86) This example demonstrates that creoles have a systematic method for marking tense. Additionally, creoles cannot be considered ‘corrupt’ or ‘ungrammatical’ in a grammatical sense for this reason. As the demand for expansion of the creole increases, creoles also develop systematic ways of expressing additional meanings.

The subsequent example from Tok Pisin at its different stages shows how the same meaning is expressed, but the structure and vocabulary change as the creole develops. In its pidgin stage, Tok Pisin used the adverb ‘baimbai’ to refer to future events, a phrase derived from English ‘by and by.’ As creolization occurred, the adverb was slightly shortened to ‘bambai’ or ‘bai,’ as seen in examples (b) and (c). (a) baimbai yu go you will go (b) bambai yu go you will go (c) bai yu go you will go (d) yu bai go you will go (e) yu bEgo you will go (Holmes, J. 2001:87)

Example (d) displays an alternative syntax in which the pronoun ‘yu’ is placed at the beginning of the sentence. Example (e), on the other hand, illustrates how the word ‘go’ eventually became attached to the verb as a regular prefix, indicating future tense (Holmes, J. 2001:87). The notion of a pidgin expanding grammatically and structurally into a creole supports the idea that this development results in a more regular and structured system. Once a creole is established, it can fulfill all the functions of any language, including politics, education, administration, original literature, and so forth.

According to Holmes (2001:89), the functions provided prove that the claim of Tok Pisin being a ‘corrupt’ or ‘ungrammatical’ language is unfounded. Holmes also explains that Tok Pisin is the primary language used for debates in Papua New Guinea. This suggests that if the language were lacking grammatical structure, a debate could not be conducted effectively.

In addition, creoles are now recognized as a formal standard in some cases and even considered national or official languages. This contrasts with the initial negative perception that non-speakers may have towards creole languages, as speakers themselves hold their creole language in high regard. An example of this is Tok Pisin, which is considered significant and prestigious by its speakers who acknowledge its effectiveness as a means of communication.

2001:90) and at the same time, fostering a sense of togetherness and shared understanding among its speakers. It is a common belief that Creole languages are indicative of poor English. Additionally, Jamaican patois is viewed as an unacceptable language due to its departure from standardized grammar. Consequently, individuals who speak Creole are often socially and linguistically marginalized as a result of the comparison between Jamaican patois and Standard English.

According to Hewitt (1986), Caribbean-based patois is prevalent in Britain and has been influenced by British urban speech and the expressive needs of urban youth. Despite the societal stigma surrounding patois, it is actually considered prestigious among its speakers, especially within black youth culture. Jamaican Creole speakers find the morphology, phonology, and syntax of English to be fundamentally foreign.

The lack of inflection in the verbs of Jamaican Creole to indicate tense and aspect is demonstrated by the example of simple past tense. In English, verbs such as ‘lived’ and ‘went’ are conjugated, while in Jamaican Creole they remain invariant as ‘ben/wen live’ and ‘ben/wen go’ (McCourtie, L. – WEB REFERENCE 1). This improper use of past tense, according to standard grammatical rules, and the absence of inflection to denote tense and aspect, highlight an obstacle in considering Jamaican Creole as a ‘grammatical’ language.

Speakers of the language do not need inflection to express tense and aspect because they rely on context and circumstance. If tense and aspect were incomprehensible without inflection, the creole language would develop its grammar to accommodate the fractured communication. However, this is unnecessary due to the power of inference and implication, which creole forms often depend on. Pidgins and Creoles have their own grammatical regulations, although they are not as complex as the languages they are based on.

Furthermore, the main purpose of a pidgin language is to facilitate communication when one or more languages are not mutually understandable. This purpose is achieved, establishing pidgin as a distinct form of language. Additionally, a Creole language emerges as the first language of a community, with its own grammar and vocabulary that develop and become inherent to the Creole. The provided examples demonstrate that both pidgin and Creole languages have their unique grammar and vocabulary, which are formed from one or more “full” languages. The creation of a new language form should not be considered incorrect or corrupt as language naturally evolves and adapts to societal needs.

Cite this page

What do you understand by Pidgins and Creoles?. (2017, Dec 17). Retrieved from


Remember! This essay was written by a student

You can get a custom paper by one of our expert writers

Order custom paper Without paying upfront