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Pidgin and Creole Languages

Originally thought of as incomplete, broken, corrupt, not worthy of serious attention. Pidgins still are marginal: in origin (makeshift, reduced in structure), in attitudes toward them (low prestige); in our knowledge of them.

Some quick definitions:

  1. Pidgin language (origin in Engl. word `business'?) is nobody's native language; may arise when two speakers of different languages with no common language try to have a makeshift conversation. Lexicon usually comes from one language, structure often from the other. Because of colonialism, slavery etc. the prestige of Pidgin languages is very low. Many pidgins are `contact vernaculars', may only exist for one speech event.

  2. Creole (orig. person of European descent born and raised in a tropical colony) is a language that was originally a pidgin but has become nativized, i.e. a community of speakers claims it as their first language. Next used to designate the language(s) of people of Caribbean and African descent in colonial and ex-colonial countries (Jamaica, Haiti, Mauritius, Réunion, Hawaii, Pitcairn, etc.)

  3. Relexification The process of substituting new vocabulary for old. Pidgins may get relexified with new English vocabulary to replace the previous Portuguese vocabulary, etc.

Harold Schiffman
Tue Mar 25 08:54:40 EST 1997