New Englishes - Pidgins and Creoles

Pidgin Languages

A pidgin language is a means of simple communication between people who do not speak the same tongue but need to communicate. They are hybrid languages used for contact purposes between Europeans and indigenous peoples of other continents, based on English, French, Spanish, Dutch and/or Portuguese.

The origins of the term 'pidgin' are unclear, it has been suggested that it means:
   - 'business' - as pronounced by the Chinese
   - 'pequeño' - meaning a 'little'; from 'Do you speak English?' - 'A little.'
   - 'pidjon' - the Hebrew word for 'barter';
   - 'pigeon' - a metaphorical comparison with a carrier pigeon;

   * slow, loud delivery; great use of gestures
   * great use of repetition (for clarity and degree)
   * simplified pronunciation:

- vowels (eg. 'hot' and 'hat' sound the same in Caribbean Eng.)
- consonants (eg. 'th' is generally pronounced 't' or 'd')
   * simplified grammar:
- a rigid word order (subject, verb, object)
- no real tense system, no passive forms
- avoidance of inversion (questions are implied by intonation)
- lack of plurals or conjugated verb forms (no inflections)
   * a very limited vocabulary:
- repeated adjectives indicate greatness (eg bikbik = very big)
- a limited number of words (perhaps just a couple of hundred)
- combinations of simple words are used
- adjectives, nouns and verbs are interchangeable
   * a very simple phonetic spelling system (if it develops)
   * a very limited life-span (rarely more than a century).

It has been suggested that all pidgin languages have a common root, perhaps they are all a relic of a 15th century lingua franca called Sabir used by Crusaders and traders in the Mediterranean. Nearly all pidgins share words, eg. 'savvy', to know (from French 'savoir'), 'pikinini', small (from Spanish/Portuguese) and 'kisim', to get (from English 'gives him'). There are also many similarities with baby talk.

English has mainly been pidginized in Western Africa and the Pacific, though there have been many examples elsewhere: a pidgin language developed in Vietnam during the war for contact between American servicemen and the local population.

Expanded Pidgin Languages

In some multi-lingual parts of the world, a pidgin language can become a useful means of communication not only with outsiders, but also between neighbouring peoples. The language becomes a true lingua franca. Such expanded pidgin languages are no longer temporary languages and are often used for the press, broadcasting and literature.

The most important expanded pidgin languages based on English are: Krio (Sierra Leone), Nigerian Pidgin, Cameroon Pidgin, Chinese Coast Pidgin and Tok Pisin (Papua-New Guinea).

Tok Pisin

Tok Pisin is used by around 20,000 people in Papua-New Guinea as their first language, around 75 million use it in total. It has all the features of pidgins, though it is an expanded form and is therefore more developed:
   - sometimes more specific than English ('yumi' = you & I; 'mipela' = my friends & I);
   - vocabulary sources include English, German, Spanish/Portuguese and local words;
   - often very vulgar ('bagarap' = accident; 'sit bilong paia' = ashes)

Examples of Tok Pisin Vocabulary

asde - yesterday
bikpela - big
bikskul - university
dispela - this
hotpela - warm (hot)
liklik - small (little)
longpelaongpela - very long
gras bilong hed - hair
gras bilong pigin - feather(s)
klak - heart
orait - all right / to fix
pikinini - child/children
pinis - finish(ed)
pisin/pigin - bird
savvy - know
trong - strong(ly)
wanblut - relation
wanpela - one
wanpelawanpela - one by one
yumitripela - the three of us


The term 'creole' (from French/Latin 'create') refers to an expanded pidgin which has become the main language of a community, replacing native languages. Krio is more or less a creole; there are other English-based creole languages in the West Indies (Jamaican or Caribbean English), Suriname (Saramaccan) and the Pitcairns.

Caribbean Creole

Caribbean Creole stems from the time of the slave trade and is principally used in Guyana, Trinidad and Jamaica. Vocabulary is mainly English-based but has French, Spanish and African borrowings. Pronunciation is simplified, hence 'day', 'dear' and 'dare' all sound something like 'dee-er'. Local authors write in Caribbean Creole:

Bans O'Killing

So yuh a de man, me hear bout!
Ah yuh dem sey dah-teck
Whole heap o'English oat sey dat
Yuh gwine kill dialect!
Meck me get it straight Mass Charlie
For me noh quite undastan,
Yuh gwine kill all English dialect
Or jus Jamaica one? ... ...

Louise Bennet

Mi cyaan believe it

Mi seh mi cyann believe it
Mi seh mi cyann believe it
room dem a rent
mi apply widin
but as me go in
cockroach rat an scorpion also come in
waan good
nose haffi run
but me naw go sideung pan igh wall
like Humpty Dumpty
mi a face me reality.

Mikey Smith

© (except for poems) Nigel J. Ross, 2003




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