Pidgin and Creole Languages

The concept of Pidgin and Creole Languages arose in sociolinguistics to describe the changes in language development that occur as a result of different ethnic groups mingling in a separate area. The formation of Pidgin and Creole Languages helps linguists identify and explore many interesting patterns that have a direct bearing on the understanding of language as a social and cultural phenomenon, as well as specific aspects pertinent to language functioning. Originally discarded by linguists as marginal phenomena not meriting a serious exploration, these languages are now the focus of scholarly attention and have implications for language classrooms as well.

A pidgin language is the mixture of different languages that “may arise when two speakers of different languages with no common language try to have a makeshift conversation” (Shiffman, 1997).  It is typical of the pidgin language to rely on a mixture of words from two or more languages represented in the area. Grammar may be borrowed from one of the languages or virtually non-existent. A pidgin is not the mother tongue for anyone who speaks it; it is developed by adults for the purposes of quick understanding and for these reasons does not develop coherent, well-established rules, although its speakers can speak it for the rest of their lives.

In contrast, a creole is “a language that was originally a pidgin but has become nativized, i.e. a community of speakers claims it as their first language” (Shiffman, 1997). The grammar is invented by children of pidgin speakers, after which the originally haphazard combination of words and rules turns into a fully-fledged language with its own rules, grammar, and lexicon. Creoles are found in many post-colonial states where the language of the colonizers mingled with that of the original populations, resulting in the formation of a Creole tongue. Examples can be Hawaii, Jamaica, Mauritius, and other former colonies.

Creoles, once they arise, acquire the full range of functions of any national language around the world and can be used in different spheres of life. In this sense, it becomes the native language of a certain community, often contributing to the creation of national identity and permitting identification with a certain nation or locality. These languages also help bind together ethnically diverse population that inhabits such areas and provides a common tool for communication between these groups.

The development of Pidgins and Creoles illustrates the impact of various sociolinguistic factors that affect their evolution. In fact, investigation of their formation provides historians with rich material they can use to conduct their studies of history of particular areas, their settlement patterns, and interactions between different ethnicities. The process is impacted by various factors that “include migration, immigration, slavery, and insufficient education” (Jones, n.d.). A history of a Pidgin or a Creole can also shed light on marginalization of native people and speakers of non-standard languages (University of Hawaii, 1999).

The latter idea has important implications for language teachers and those teaching other subjects. The University of Hawaii (1999) in their position paper on Pidgin used in Hawaii claims that “all children come to school with a language, and that language should be accepted and never denigrated”. It should also be noted that although the variety of English used in Hawaii is called Pidgin, it is in fact a Creole with the well-formed system of rules and grammatical structures. Teachers who work in that area have to reckon with the fact that some children will enter school speaking Pidgin instead of Standard English. It is therefore essential to create conditions for them under which they will not feel disadvantaged as compared to others because of speaking a different language than the rest. There is often a trend to marginalise these children because they are taken to speak a language that is inferior or non-standard than the “correct”, Standard English. This practice is unacceptable, as teachers should learn to deal with children speaking Pidgin English as respectfully as with the rest. This treatment should be based on the understanding that Creole languages are just as developed as any other languages and represent specific varieties that emerged under the influence of historic and social circumstances.

The situation when some children come to school with Pidgin while most of the school tuition is in Standard English is certainly a challenge to the teacher. In general, “most people agree that all children should learn the standard variety in order to have access to wider opportunities” (University of Hawaii, 1999). However, this does not mean that Pidgin should be totally “left out of the classroom” (University of Hawaii, 1999). The task of the teacher therefore is to design a class framework that would permit mutually beneficial development of both language varieties. The usage of Pidgin language that is habitual for the child in home use fosters positive attitude toward school, while exclusive reliance on a strange standard language can alienate children from school. It also helps make the transition to school life easier and smoother.

Pidgins and Creoles play a great role in language variation, increasing it manifold. First of all, their emergence means the addition of new languages to already rich palette of the world’s tongues and offers scholars more opportunities for research and juxtaposition with other varieties. Besides, within pidgins and creoles, there is additional variation, as “there is great variability and non-uniformity within a given language (they are by definition non-standard(ized) languages)” (Shiffman, 1997). Exploration of these patterns of variation can offer scholars additional insights into the formation of languages and related linguistic processes.

This variation opens vast opportunities for scholars that can use Pidgins and Creoles to gain new insights into human mental processes and linguistic phenomena. Especially striking and mystifying is the “re-invention” of grammar by children who develop a new language on the basis of a random combination of words and patterns. Linguists engaged in researching Creoles all over the globe, including Derek Bickerton, believe that “they display remarkable similarities in grammar and are developed uniformly from pidgins in a single generation, lending support to the theory of a Universal Grammar” (Wikipedia, 2006). The theory of Universal Grammar developed by Noam Chomsky states that all human beings have an innate apparatus that contains the basic, fundamental rules of grammar that governs the language acquisition process. The similarity of Creole languages around the world suggests that children in the second generation of Pidgin users can make use of such Universal Grammar to create a new language, introducing rules present in this set into Pidgin structures.

The study of Pidgins and Creoles also has important implications for the investigation of sociolinguistic phenomena. Creoles and Pidgins are born and disappear because of the influence of social factors. In many cases, they will be ousted by the superstrate – the language that was combined with the local dialect, substrate. Thus, the original European language that led to the appearance of a Pidgin can take its place, forcing the Pidgin or Creole to lose ground. A Creole can survive as a language for informal conversation. Study of all these patterns grants insights into the development of society and interaction of various social and ethnic groups.

Pidgins and Creoles are pervasive language phenomena that seriously influence the linguistic situation in many areas of the world. This is why it is important to recognize the causes of their appearance and influencing factors. For teachers, this understanding has special implications as it helps to understand better the workings of the human brain and prepare for dealing with children speaking these languages.

 

References

Jones, J. (n.d.). Pidgin and Creole. Retrieved July 5, 2006, from http://www.hevanet.com/alexwest/pidgin.html

Schiffman, H. (1997). Pidgin and Creole Languages. Retrieved July 5, 2006, from http://ccat.sas.upenn.edu/~haroldfs/messeas/handouts/pjcreol/node1.html

University of Hawaii. (1999, November). Pidgin and Education: Da Pidgin Coup. Retrieved July 5, 2006, from http://www.hawaii.edu/sls/pidgin.html

Wikipedia. (2006). Creole language. Retrieved July 5, 2006, from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Creole_language

 

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