PIDGIN AND CREOLE LANGUAGES


Published in the International Encyclopedia of the Social and Behavioral Sciences 2002


1. Introduction

Most studies of pidgins and Creoles (PC) have focused on their origins, despite an undeniable increase during the 1990s in the number of works on structural features. Recently, some creolists have also addressed the question of whether, as a group, Creoles can be singled out as a structural type of languages. Space limitations make it impossible to discuss structural features in this essay, aside from the fact that there are no features that are peculiar to PCs, as explained in Sect. 2.

2. What are Pidgins and Creoles?

Strictly speaking, PCs are new language varieties, which developed out of contacts between colonial nonstandard varieties of a European language and several non-European languages around the Atlantic and in the Indian and Pacific Oceans during the seventeenth to nineteenth centuries. Pidgins typically emerged in trade colonies which developed around trade forts or along trade routes, such as on the coast of West Africa. They are reduced in structures and specialized in functions (typically trade), and initially they served as non-native lingua francas to users who preserved their native vernaculars for their day-to-day interactions. Some pidgins have expanded into regular vernaculars, especially in urban settings, and are called `expanded pidgins.' Examples include Bislama and Tok Pisin (in Melanesia) and Nigerian and Cameroon Pidgin English. Structurally, they are as complex as Creoles. The latter vernaculars developed in settlement colonies whose primary industry consisted of sugar cane plantations or rice fields, which employed massive non-European slave labor. Examples include Cape Verdian Criolou (lexified by Portuguese) and Papiamentu in the Netherlands Antilles (apparently– Portuguese-based but influenced by Spanish); Haitian, Mauritian, and Seychellois (lexified by French); Jamaican, Guyanese, and Hawaiian Creole, as well as Gullah in the USA (all lexified by English); and Saramaccan and Sranan in Surinam (lexified by English, with the former heavily influenced by Portuguese and the latter by Dutch). Note that although Melanesian pidgins are associated with sugar cane plantations, they apparently originated in trade settings and were adopted on the plantations (Keesing 1988).

The terms Creole and pidgin have also been extended to some other varieties that developed during the same period out of contacts among primarily non- European languages. Examples include Delaware Pidgin, Chinook Jargon, and Mobilian in North America; Sango, (Kikongo-)Kituba, and Lingala in Central Africa, Kinubi in Southern Sudan and in Uganda; and Hiri Motu in Papua New Guinea (Holm 1989, Smith 1995). In the original, lay people's naming practice, the term jargon was an alternate to pidgin. However, some creolists claim that pidgins are more stable and jargons are an earlier stage in the `life-cycle' that putatively progresses from Jargon, to Pidgin, to Creole, to Post-Creole by progressive structural expansion, stabilization, and closer approximations of the lexifier–the language which contributed the largest part of a Creole's lexicon.

Chaudenson (1992, p. 21) argues that Creoles developed by basilectalizing away from the lexifier, i.e., acquiring a basilect, which is the variety the most different from the acrolect, the educated variety of the lexifier. Mufwene (2001) emphasizes that Creoles and pidgins developed in separate places, in which Europeans and non-Europeans interacted differently –sporadically in trade colonies (which produced pidgins) but regularly in the initial stages of settlement colonies (where Creoles developed). Moreover, the term pidgin was coined in 1807 (Baker and Mühlhäusler 1990), over two years after the term Creole was used in reference to a language variety. `Pidgin English,' apparently a distortion of `business English' developed in Canton, a geographical area where no large colonial plantation industry developed and no Creoles have been identified.

The term `Creole' was originally coined in Iberian colonies, apparently in the sixteenth century, in reference to nonindigenous people born in the American colonies. It was adopted in metropolitan Spanish, then in French and later in English by the early seventeenth century. By the second half of the same century, it was generalized to descendants of Africans or Europeans born in Romance colonies. Usage varied from one colony to another. The term was also used as an adjective to characterize plants, animals, and customs typical of the same colonies.

Creole may not have applied widely to language varieties until the late eighteenth century. Such usage may have been initiated by metropolitan Europeans to disfranchise particular colonial varieties of their languages. It is not clear how the term became associated only with vernaculars spoken primarily by descendants of non-Europeans. Nonetheless, several speakers of Creoles (or pidgins) actually believe they speak dialects of their lexifiers.

Among the earliest claims that Creoles developed from pidgins is the following statement in Bloomfield (1933, p. 474): `when the jargon [i.e., pidgin] has become the only language of the subject group, it is a creolized language.' Hall (1962) reinterpreted this, associating the vernacular function of Creoles with nativization. Thus, Creoles have been defined inaccurately as `nativized pidgins,' i.e., pidgins that have acquired native speakers and have therefore expanded both their structures and functions and have stabilized. Hall then also introduced the pidgin-Creole `life-cycle' to which DeCamp (1971) added a `post-Creole' stage.

The first creolist to dispute this connection was Alleyne (1971). He argued that fossilized inflectional morphology in Haitian Creole (HC) and the like is evidence that Europeans did not communicate with the Africans in foreigner or baby talk, which would have fostered pidgins on the plantations. Chaudenson (1992, p. 21) argues that plantation communities were preceded by homesteads on which mesolectal approximations of European lexifiers, rather than pidgins, were spoken by earlier slaves. Like some economic historians, the socioeconomic history literature suggests that in North American colonies Creole Blacks spoke the lexifier fluently. In ads on runaway slaves in British North American colonies, bad English is typically associated with slaves imported as adults from Africa. Diachronic evidence of Creoles suggests that the basilects developed during the peak growth of plantations (in the eighteenth century for most colonies!), when infant mortality was high, life expectancy was short, the plantation populations increased primarily by massive importation of slave labor, and the proportion of fluent speakers of the earlier colonial varieties kept decreasing (Chaudenson 1992, p. 21, Mufwene 2001).

According to the life-cycle model, as a Creole continues to coexist with its lexifier, the latter exerted pressure on it to shed some of its `Creole features.' This developmental hypothesis can be traced back to Schuchardt's (1914) explanation of why African- American English (AAE) is structurally closer to North American English than Saramaccan is to its lexifier: coexistence with it in North America and absence of such continued contact in Suriname. DeCamp (1971) and several creolists who followed suit (e.g., Rickford 1987) resurrected the position by invoking `decreolization' (`loss of ``Creole'' features') to account for speech continua in Creole communities.

It is in this context that DeCamp (1971) coined the term `post-Creole continuum,' which must be interpreted charitably. If a variety is Creole because of the particular sociohistorical ecology of its development, rather than because of its structural peculiarities, it cannot stop being a Creole even after some of the features have changed. Besides, basilectal and mesolectal features continue to coexist in these communities, suggesting that Creole has not died yet. Lalla and D'Costa (1990) present copious data against decreolization in Caribbean English Creoles.

Closely related to this issue is the common assumption that Creoles are separate languages from their lexifiers and ex-colonial varieties thereof spoken by descendants of Europeans. Thus, the nonstandard French varieties spoken in Quebec and Louisiana, as well as on the Caribbean islands of St. Barths and St. Thomas, are considered dialects of French rather than Creoles. Likewise New World nonstandard varieties of Spanish and Portuguese are not considered Creoles, despite structural similarities which they display with Creoles of the same lexifiers. Although not admitted in linguistics, the classification seems to have been associated generally with whether the majority in the largely proletarian communities speaking the new, colonial vernaculars is of European or of non- European descent. Otherwise, all colonial varieties of European languages are restructured and contactbased; the current classification of vernaculars into Creoles and non-Creoles remains question begging. The embarrassment stems largely from the absence of a yardstick for measuring structural divergence from the lexifier, especially when it is dubious that it was the same in every contact setting.

It has also been claimed that Creoles have more or less the same structural design (Bickerton 1984). This position is as disputable as the counterclaim that they are more similar in the sociohistorical ecologies of their developments, or even the more recent claim that there are Creole prototypes from which others deviate in various ways (McWhorter 1998). The very fact of resorting to a handful of prototypes for the general Creole structural category suggests that the vast majority of them do not share the putative set of defining features, hence that the features cannot be used to single them out as a unique type of language. On the other hand, variation in the structural features of Creoles (lexified by the same language) is correlated with variation in the linguistic and sociohistorical ecologies of their developments (Mufwene 2001). The notion of `ecology' includes, among other things, the nature of the lexifier, structural features of the substrate languages, changes in the ethnolinguistic makeup of the populations that came in contact, the kinds of interactions between speakers of the lexifier and those of other languages, and rates and modes of population growth.

To date the best known Creoles have been lexified by English and French. Those of the Atlantic and Indian Ocean are, along with Hawaiian Creole, those that have informed most theorizing on the development of Creoles. While the terms `Creole' and `creolization' have often been applied uncritically to various contact-induced language varieties, several distinctions, which are not clearly articulated have also been proposed, for instance, between pidgin, Creole, koine! , semi-Creole, intertwined varieties, foreign workers' varieties of European languages (e.g., Gastarbeiter Deutsch), and `indigenized varieties' of European languages (e.g., Nigerian and Singaporean English). The denotations and importance of these terms deserve re-examining.

3. The Development of Creoles

The central question here is: how did Creoles develop? The following hypotheses are the major ones competing today: the substrate, the superstrate, and the universalist hypotheses.

Substratist positions are historically related to the `baby talk hypothesis,' which I have traced back to nineteenth-century French creolists (e.g., Adam 1883). Putatively, the languages previously spoken by the Africans enslaved on New World and Indian Ocean plantations were the primary reason why the European lexifiers which they appropriated were restructured into Creoles. These French creolists assumed African languages to be `primitive,' `instinctive,' in `natural' state, and simpler than the `cultivated' European languages with which they came in contact. Creoles' systems were considered to be reflections of those non- European languages. The baby-talk connection is that, in order to be understood, the Europeans supposedly had to speak to the Africans like to babies, their interpretation of foreigner talk.

The revival of the substrate hypothesis (without its racist component) has been attributed to Sylvain (1936). Although she recognizes influence from French dialects, she argues that African linguistic influence, especially from the Ewe group of languages, is very significant in HC. Unfortunately, she states in the last sentence of her conclusions that this Creole is Ewe spoken with a French vocabulary. Over two decades later, Turner (1949) disputed American dialectologists' claim that there was virtually no trace of African languages in AAE and showed phonological and morphosyntactic similarities between Gullah and some West-African (especially Kwa) languages. He concluded that `Gullah is indebted to African sources' (p. 254).

There are three main schools of the substrate hypothesis at the beginning of the twenty-first century. The first, led by Alleyne (1980) and Holm (1988) is closer to Turner's approach and is marked by what is also its main weakness: invocation of influence from diverse African languages without explaining what kinds of selection principles account for this seemingly random invocation of sources. This criticism is not ipso facto an invalidation of substrate of substrate influence; it is both a call for a more principled account and a reminder that the nature of such influence must be reassessed (Mufwene 2001).

The second school has been identified as the `relexification hypothesis.' Its leading proponent Lefebvre (1998) argues that HC is a French relexifi-cation of languages of the Ewe-Fon (or Fongbe) group. This account of the development of Creoles has been criticized for several basic shortcomings, including the following: (a) its `comparative' approach has not taken into account several features that HC (also) shares with nonstandard varieties of French; (b) it downplays features which HC shares also with several other African languages which were represented in Haiti during the critical stages of its development; (c) it has not shown that the language appropriation strategies associated with relexification are typically used in naturalistic second language acquisition; and (d) it does not account for those cases where HC has selected structural options which are not consistent with those of Ewe-Fon. Moreover, relexificationists assume, disputably, that languages of the Ewe-Fon group are structurally identical and that no competition of influence was involved among them.

The least disputed version of the substrate hypothesis is Keesing's (1988), which shows that substrate languages may impose their structural features on a new, contact-induced variety if they are typologically homogeneous, with most of them sharing the relevant features. Thus Melanesian pidgins are like (most of) their substrates in having DUAL}PLURAL and INCLUSIVE}EXCLUSIVE distinctions and in having a transitive marker on the verb. Sankoff and Brown (1976) had shown similar influence with the bracketing of relative clauses with ia. However, the pidgins have not inherited all the peculiarities of Melanesian languages. For instance, they do not have their VSO major constituent order, nor do they have much of a numeral classifying system in the combination of pela with quantifiers. For an extensive discussion of substrate influence in Atlantic and Indian Ocean Creoles, see Muysken and Smith (1986) and Mufwene (1993).

Competing with the above genetic views has been the `dialectologist,' or superstrate, hypothesis, according to which the primary, if not the exclusive, sources of Creoles' structural features are nonstandard varieties of their lexifiers. Speaking of AAE, Krapp (1924), for example, claimed that this variety was an archaic retention of the nonstandard speech of low-class Whites with whom the African slaves had been in contact. According to him, African substrate influence was limited to some isolated lexical items such as goober `peanut,' gumbo, and okra. Since the late 1980s, Shana Poplack and her associates have shown that AAE shares many features with white nonstandard vernaculars in North America and England, thus it has not developed from an erstwhile Creole (see Poplack 1999 for a synthesis). Because some of the same features are also attested in Creoles, we come back to the question of whether most features of Creoles did not after all originate in their lexifiers.

Regarding French Creoles, the dialectologist position was first defended by Faine (1937), according to whom HC was essentially Norman French. This position was later espoused by Hall (1958), who argues that `the `basic' relationship of Creole is with seventeenth-century French, with heavy carry-overs or survivals of African linguistic structure (on a more superficial structural level) from the previous language(s) of the earliest speakers of Negro Pidgin French; its `lexical' relationship is with nineteenthand twentieth-century French' (p. 372). Chaudenson (1992, p. 21) is more accommodating to substrate influence as a factor that accounts for the more extensive structural divergence of Creoles from their lexifiers compared with their non-Creole colonial kin.

The `universalist hypotheses,' which stood as strong contenders in the 1980s and 1990s, have forerunners in the nineteenth century. For instance, Adolfo Coelho (18801886) partly anticipated Bickerton's (1984) `language bioprogram hypothesis' in stating that Creoles' owe their origin to the operation of psychological or physiological laws that are the same everywhere, and not to the influence of the former languages of the people among whom these dialects are found. Bickerton pushed things further in claiming that children made Creoles by fixing the parameters of these new language varieties in the their unmarked, or default, settings as specified in Universal Grammar. To account for cross-Creole structural differences, Bickerton (1984, pp. 1767) invokes a `Pidginization Index' (PI) that includes the following factors: the proportion of the native to non-native speakers during the initial stages of colonization, the duration of the early stage, the rate of increase of the slave population after that initial stage, the kind of social contacts between the native speakers of the lexifier and the learners, and whether or not the contact between the two groups continued after the formation of the new language variety. Some nagging questions with Bickerton's position include the following: Is his intuitively sound PI consistent with his creolization qua abrupt pidgin-nativization hypothesis? Is the abrupt creolization hypothesis consistent with the social histories of the territories where classic Creoles developed? How can we explain similarities between abrupt Creoles and expanded pidgins when the stabilization and structural expansion of the latter is not necessarily associated with restructuring by children? Is there convincing evidence for assuming that adult speech is less controlled by Universal Grammar than child language is? How can we account for similarities between abrupt creolization and naturalistic secondlanguage acquisition?

Not all creolists who have invoked universalist explanations have made children critical to the emergence of Creoles. For instance, Sankoff (1979) makes allowance for Universal Grammar to operate in adults, too.

Few creolists subscribe nowadays to one exclusive genetic account, as evidenced by the contributions to Mufwene (1993). The `complementary hypothesis' (Corne 1999,Mufwene 2001) seems to be an adequate alternative, provided we can articulate the ecological conditions under which the competing influences (between the substrate and superstrate languages, and within each group) may converge or prevail upon each other. This position was well anticipated by Schuchardt (1909, 1914) in his accounts of the geneses of Lingua Franca and of Saramaccan. More and more research is now underway uncovering the sociohistorical conditions under which different Creoles have developed, for instance, Arends (1995), Chaudenson (1992, p. 21), Corne (1999), and Mufwene (2001).

Still, the future of research on the development of Creoles has some problems to overcome. So far knowledge of the nonstandard varieties of the lexifiers spoken by the European colonists remains limited. There are few comprehensive descriptions of Creoles' structures, which makes it diæcult to determine globally how the competing influences interacted among them and how the features selected from diverse sources became integrated into new systems. Few structural facts have been correlated with the conclusions suggested by the sociohistorical backgrounds of individual Creoles. Other issues remain up in the air, for instance, regarding the markedness model that is the most adequate to account for the selection of features into Creoles' systems. For developmental issues on PCs, the following recently edited collections are good starting points: Muysken and Smith (1986), Mufwene (1993), and Arends et al. (1995). More specific issues may be checked in volumes of the Creole Language Library (John Benjamins) and of Amsterdam Creole Studies, in the Journal of Pidgin and Creole Languages, and in Etudes Créoles. Several issues of Pacific Linguistics also include publications on Melanesian Creoles.

4. Creolistics and General Linguistics

There is much more literature on the genesis, sociology, and morphosyntax of PCs than on their phonologies, semantics, and pragmatics. With the exception of time reference and nominal number, studies in semantics and pragmatics are scant. On the other hand, the development of quantitative sociolinguistics owes a lot to research on AAE since the mid-1960s (see, e.g., Labov 1972) and Caribbean English Creoles (e.g., Rickford 1987). Numerous publications in American Speech, Language in Society, and Language Variation and Change reflect this. There are also several surveys of creolistics. Holm (1988, 1989), Arends et al. (1995), and Mühlhäusler (1986, 1997), cited here, are just some of the references, which vary both in adequacy and in geographical areas of focus. It ishopedthat,Corne(1999) is the beginning ofa new trend of comparative studies of Creoles lexified by the same language.

Studies of structural aspects of Creoles have yet to inform general linguistics beyond the subject matters of time reference and serial verb constructions. For instance, studies of lectal continua have had this potential, but little has been done by creolists to show how their findings may apply to other languages. The mixed nature of mesolects, those intermediate varieties combining features of both the acrolect and the basilect should have informed general linguistics against the fallacy of assuming monolithic grammatical systems. However, little has been done on the subject matter. Likewise, the debate on Creole genesis could have informed historical linguistics on the importance of varying external conditions to language change.

Although lack of consensus among creolists may be invoked as a general reason for this failure to influence general linguistics, alarming indifference from theoretical linguists, especially those engaged in theories of typology and universals, is a more important reason. Consensus cannot be expected of creolistics any more than of other subfields of linguistics or any other scientific discipline. However, in the broader context of language contact (including second-language acquisition), studies of especially Creole genesis have been inspiring. For instance, Thomason and Kaufman (1988) are cited widely in studies of indigenized English. Andersen (1983) was an important step to consolidate common interests between secondlanguage acquisition and Creole genesis. More crossfertilization might be expected between studies of Creole genesis and those of (child) language development (DeGraff 1999), as among diverse subfields of linguistics.

See also: Archaeology and the History of Languages; Creolization: Sociocultural Aspects; Dialectology; Evolution and Language: Overview; Language and Ethnicity; Language and Society: Cultural Concerns; Language Endangerment; Language Policy: Linguistic Perspectives; Language Policy: Public Policy Perspectives; Melanesia: Sociocultural Aspects

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