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“A language is a dialect
with an army and a navy,
but my accent often turns
out to be your dialect”
(McCrum et al. 1986)
Why study pidgins and creoles?
Pidgins and creoles complicate the
everyday idea of what a language is,
what a dialect is, and where one
language stops and another begins
What is a pidgin?
 A pidgin is a contact language used between two
groups of people who want to be able to
understand each other but who don’t have a
language in common
 They develop a new, working language out of
simplified elements of each other’s language
 A pidgin has to be learned; you can’t just simplify
your language and call that a pidgin
How pidgins arise
 Pidgins arise in functional contexts like trade,
invasion, or migrant labour:
 they tend to have a small vocabulary -- usually
a few hundred core words -- and a simplified
 the language of the people in control of the
situation tends to supply the vocabulary of the
in cases where there isn’t a power differential, the pidgin
draws equally from the vocabulary of all
The example of Russenorsk
“First used in trading between
Russian fishermen and
Norwegian merchants in
Northern Norway from about
the end of the 1700s ... The
contact between the two groups
was restricted to a few months
in summer, when the
Norwegians traded their fish for
Russian grain and other
commodities. The Russian
Revolution in 1917 ended the
trade” and thus the language
(Winford 2003)
 The vocabulary of Russenorsk is almost all
nouns (thing words), verbs (action words)
and a few adjectives (descriptors)
 There are only two pronouns, moja
(I/me/us/we) and tvoja (you)
 The sounds of Russenorsk consist of only
the sounds that Russian and Norwegian
have in common
The grammar of Russenorsk
• Like all pidgins, it doesn’t use grammatical
markers on the words, like “-ed” for past, or “-s”
for plural
– tense, person, number are expressed through
words like “soon”
stari gammel, snart pa kjaida slipom
old old
soon on church sleep
which means:
I’m old,
I will die soon
• Like most pidgins, it doesn’t use words like
“the” or “a”, and it doesn’t use “is” to link
subject and complement
bra mann
Russian-man good man
or, as we would put it,
The Russian is a good man
• Finally, like most pidgins, word order is very
important in signalling meaning
Moja kopom fiska
Moja tvoja pa vater kastom
you on water throw
Making new words in
Russenorsk – 3 ways
 borrowing a word from one of the source
 using a word metaphorically
 joining two words together to make a new
one, like this:
kuasjorta = “cow-shirt = cow-hide
kuasalt = “cow-salt” = salted meat
Defining pidgins
 Not everybody agrees on exactly how to
define a pidgin, but most pidgins are
structurally like Russenorsk
 Some pidgins are more complicated, for
social reasons
 they are extended to fulfil the social roles of
a majority or official language, in which
trading fish is only one of many functions!
 A good example is Tok Pisin
 As you’ve read, Tok Pisin is
the lingua franca in Papua
New Guinea
 It is used for newspapers,
road signs, and advertising,
as well as everyday speech
 It is the second language of
approximately 6 million
What is a creole?
 A creole is an elaborated version of a pidgin
that is the native language of its speakers
 It has a much more complex grammar and a
much larger vocabulary than a pidgin
It develops this structure to deal with the
range of situations it’s used in as a native
language – the mother tongue of its speakers
Creoles and colonization
Historically, most present-day creoles arose
on plantations in the parts of the New
World, of the Indian and the Pacific Oceans
and of West Africa colonized by Europeans
World Map of Creoles according to Holms (1988)
The origin of creoles
 Historically, most present-day creoles arose
on plantations in the parts of the New
World, of the Indian and Pacific Oceans,
and of West Africa colonized by Europeans.
The world of creoles / a world of
 Up until recently, creoles were thought to
have arisen when the children of plantation
workers learned a pidgin as their first
language and then made it more complex
 However, recent scholarship suggests
creoles arise when a whole group of people
need to learn a second, target, language but
don’t have easy access to it
This explains some of the extraordinary
commonalities amongst creoles across the
world. Most show some of the same
simplifications as those made by people
learning a second language.
Most also have a European base and the
Caribbean creoles, at least, have some West
African languages in common.
Caribbean English Creoles
Origin of CECs
 In the Caribbean, most of the indigenous people
were exterminated soon after contact
 The English bought slaves in Africa and brought
them over to work on sugar plantations
 The English were dominant, so the creoles were
based on their vocabulary
 But English remained the language of the masters,
so a continuum often developed
Creole continuum The creole shades into the lexifier language
(English) and they cannot be distinguished,
either in the community or in its speakers:
“Nearly all speakers of English in Jamaica could be arranged in a sort of
linguistic continuum, ranging from the speech of the most backward peasant
or labourer all the way to that of the well-educated urban professional. Each
speaker represents not a single point but a span on this continuum, for he [or
she] is usually able to adjust his speech upward or downward for some
distance on it.” (DeCamp 1961)
Is there one language or are there two
languages in a creole continuum?
Costa Rican English Creole
The grammar of CECs
 Are somewhere between European and
 African: West African languages tend not to
indicate the tense (time) on the verb but
they do indicate whether the action is
continuous or finished
 European languages indicate the time on
the verb but not the aspect (continuous /
 Caribbean English Creoles use the African
English: I sang [past tense] there
Mi don sing [completed action] dere
The vocabulary of CECs
 most words in a CEC are of European
origin, though in some cases there has been
shift in meaning, e.g., “sweet” in JEC is not an
adjective any more, but a verb that means “to
make me feel good”
 In JEC, a few hundred African words have
survived, as well as translated compounds
like bad-mouth (“to speak ill of” (cf.
Mandingo da-jugu, Hausa mugum-baki,
“bad mouth”))
 A well-known characteristic of all creoles is
the way they use reduplication, or
repetition of the same word, to indicate
plural or intensity. Examples from TEC are
true-true (real), one-one (bit by bit)
 In general, creoles have very rich word
formation strategies; new words are
frequently coined, but are just as frequently
The sounds of CECs I
 Caribbean English Creoles have sounds that are closer
to African sounds:
/s/ gone in consonant clusters like /sp/, /st/, and /sk/:
spoon, stand, and skin ->
puun, tan, kin.
/t, d, k/ gone in /st, sk, ld/ at the ends of words:
last, old, desk ->
laas, ool, des
Example of spoken creole (again)
The sounds of CECs II
 Caribbean English Creoles are also syllable-
timed rather than stress-timed
 This accounts for their rhythms, which are
noticeably different from English
The rhythms of creole