Pidgin and Creole Languages
• When people from different countries with different languages meet and try to
communicate what should they do?
1. Use a language they all know (Lingua Franca)
2. Mix their languages (Pidgin/ Creole)
Pidgins and Creoles: Definitions
A PIDGIN is a language with no native speakers: it is no one’s first language - contact
- product of a multilingual situation in which those who wish to communicate must find or
improvise a simple language system.
- sometimes there’s imbalance of power among the languages (economically and socially)/
sometimes a ‘reduced’ variety of a ‘normal’ language (simplified grammar and vocabulary,
considerable phonological variation)
- at least three languages involved
- examples: Pidgin Chinese English, Tok Pisin (Papua New Guinea), pidgin German of the
Gastarbeiters (workers from Turkey, Greece, Italy, Spain and Portugal)
A pidgin is a reduced language that results from extended contact between groups of people with
no language in common; it evolves when they need some means of verbal communication,
perhaps for trade, but no group learns the native language of any other group for social reasons
that may include lack of trust or of close contact. (Holm, 1988: 4-5)
- De Camp (1977): clear-cut example
>>> Juba Arabic in southern Sudan is a pidgin – not a native language of any of its
speakers but functions as an auxiliary interlingua – 100 years old language – limited to the needs
of trade + supplemented with vocabulary from normal Arabic. It has very simple sound system
and has almost entirely eliminated the complicated morphology of Arabic. Though it is easier for
an Arabic person to learn it than for an English speaker, it does require learning and cannot be
just improvised.
- If one group speaks a prestigious language and the others vernacular-the prestige language
tends to supply more of the vocabulary, while vernacular languages have more influence on
the grammar
- The language which supplies most of the vocabulary is known as the LEXIFIER (or superstrate)
while the languages which influence the grammatical structure are called the SUBSTRATE
Example: Young visitor to Papua New Guinea
When I first heard Pidgin English I just thought it was baby-talk. I thought anyone
can do that. It had words like liklik for ‘little’ and ‘cranky’ for wrong and nogut for
‘bad’. It just made me laugh. Then I began to realize it wasn’t as easy as I’d thought.
People kept correcting me when I tried, and they got annoyed if I didn’t take it
seriously. I soon learned better.
Example: A Papua New Guinean stumbled against a white woman coming out of the theatre. When
questioned about what had happened, the Papua New Guinean replied: ‘Mi putim han long baksait
bilong misis’ (I touched the woman’s back with my hand’). As Suzanne Romaine reports: ‘The
answer cost him half a tooth, his job, and three months in prison, due to the confusion between the
meaning of Tok Pisin baksait meaning ‘back’, and English ‘backside’.
Three identifying characteristics:
1. It is used in restricted domains and functions
2. It has a simplified structure compared to source languages
3. It generally has low prestige and attracts negative attitudesespecially from outsiders.
(watch trailer:
 Pidgins often have a short life. In Vietnam a pidgin English developed for use between the American
troops and the Vietnamese, but it soon died out.
Exercise: Can you guess which European languages have contributed to the vocabulary of the
languages illustrated in the following sentences?
a) Mō pe aste sa banan
I am buying the banana
Seychelles Creole: French based (French is the lexifier language)
b) De bin alde luk dat big tri
they always looked for a big tree
Roper River Creole: English-based (lexifier)
c) Olmaan I kas-im chek
the old man is cashing a cheque
Cape York Creole: English-based (lexifier)
d) Ja fruher wir bleiben
yes at first we remained
Papua New Guinea Pidgin German: German-based (lexifier)
e) Dis smol swain I bin go fo maket
this little pig went to market
Cameroon Pidgin: English-based (lexifier)
• A CREOLE is a pidgin that has become the first language of a new generation of speakers
- Creoles arise when pidgins become mother tongues (Aitchison, 1994: 3177)
- A creole is a pidgin which has expanded in structure and vocabulary to express the range of
meanings and serve the range of functions required of a first language (Holmes, 1992: 95)
- Tok Pisin and some west African pidgins like Nigerian Pidgin exist both as pidgins and creoles
- Pidginization involves simplification of language (reduction in morphology, syntax, tolerance of
phonological variation, reduction in the number of functions, extensive borrowing of words)
- Creolization involves expansion of the morphology and syntax (structural regularity),
regularization of phonology, increase of functions in which the language is used, increase in
- De Camp (1977): clear-cut examples
>>> the vernacular language of Haiti is a creole – native language of all Haitians (standard
French is spoken and is official) – extensive vocabulary and complex grammatical system (its vocabulary is
largely French, grammatical structure is mixed Spanish, Portuguese, English)
Example and exercise: Australian Roper River Creole
a) im megim ginu
he makes a canoe
b) im bin megim ginu
he made a canoe
c) im megimbad ginu
he is making a canoe
d) im bin megimbad ginu
he was making a canoe
[present tense]
[past tense]
[present continuous tense]
[past continuous tense]
Can you work out how the past tense and the continuous aspect are expressed?
Example and exercise: Tok Pisin forms (Tok Masta – a term used to describe the attempt which certain
Anglophones make to speak Tok Pisin)
Tok Pisin English
Tok Pisin
big, large bikim
to enlarge
to widen
to lower
to spoil, to damage
Exercise: Can you work out the patterns and fill in the gaps in the following list?
Tok Pisin
gras bilong fes
gras bilong hed
gras antap long ai eyebrow
gras nogut
gras bilong pisin
gras bilong dog
gras bilong pusi
han bilong pisin
wing of a bird
 Hair/ feather/ dog’s fur/ cat’s fur
Pidgin and creole languages – mainly in the equatorial belt around the world, usually in places with direct and
easy access to the oceans. Mainly in the Caribbean and around the north and east coasts of Africa, particularly
the west coast and across the Indian and Pacific Oceans.
-127 pidgins and creoles (35 are English-based, 15 are French-based, 14 Portuguese-based, 7 are Spanishbased, 7 Spanish-based, 5 Dutch-based, 3 Italian-based, 6 German-based etc.)

Pidgin and Creole Languages