Video Fix: Pidgin and Creole: the Discovery and Language Contacts

September 9, 2015 5:43 pm


The history of pidgin and creole started with the time when Europeans tried to expand their territories during the European exploration in 15th century. During the 16th century and early 19th century, pidgin and creole languages spread out especially in South America and Africa. Pidgin is a language which is occured through language contacts where often took place in uncivilized societies among local people and European people. During that time, it was used as a communication tool between them. Pidgin was playing a role as a lingua franca among people who were not familiar with major European languages such as English or French. This language was needed for doing business among them.

Consequently, pidgin is often considered as the mixture of languages such as some European languages (eg. English and French), some local languages (eg. Hawaian) as well as other varieties of languages which settlers brought from different places. Pidgin has not only been used for business, but also for other purposes, for example as a medium of communication among several ethnicities. Hawai’i is a place where it is very interesting to know how pidgin and creole has been developed.

Let’s have a look at a video about pidgin (and creole) in Hawai’i

As the video also shows the characteristics of pidgin in Hawai’i, it is considered as a mixture of languages. One of the most common characteristics of pidgin is that it has simple terms in order to make understanding between people not sharing a common language easier. In general, the linguistic structure of pidgin and creole are more simple compared to European languages in terms of sentences, verbs, nouns, and other linguistic functions. this sentence needs to be clarified Thus, sometimes pidgin sounds like a “broken” language.

Concerning the difference between pidgin and creole, “a creole language can be defined as a language that has come into existence at a point in time that can be established fairly precisely” (Muysken and Smith, 1994:3). Normally, pidgin language is not a sophisticated one like European languages, but once pidgin becomes a first language for the next generation, it is called creole.

Creole languages are still used in many different places. Finally, I will introduce two different examples from Martinique and Japan.

Since Martinique was colonized by France, the characteristics of Martinican creole are partly similar to French. Still, this creole is considered as a mixture of other different languages. The influence from French can be seen in the following examples; for the greetings, they say “Bonjou” and they do not pronounce the last “r”, which usually appears in standard French. “Pani pwoblem” should be easy to guess what it is in French. That is, “pas de problème”, which still sounds similar. It will become more difficult to understand when reading the complex structured sentences in creole. If you are interested in it, please have a look at other videos with regard to Martinican creole attached below.

The other example is from Bonin (Ogasawara) Islands in Japan, which are located to the south of Tokyo. Long (2007) tried to record the different varieties of languages in islands, starting his fieldwork in 1997. He indicates that even though Bonin Islands are a part of the Tokyo prefecture, early settlers spoke English, Portuguese, Hawaiian, Chamorro and many other Pacific languages. After the 19th century, the language contact among these languages can be no longger seen at that moment. Instead, the language contacts obviously shifted between English and Japanese (while there are more influence of Japanese) which he supposed to be the mixture of both languages. The following example is from his recording which was conducted in 2001 and in which many expressions are intertwined between Japanese and English.

I: Are wa itsu taberu tabemono, corned beef?
(‘When is it you eat that food, corned beef?’)

R: It’s Irish, is it?

I: Yeah, yeah. Oh, it’s, it’s ano, are. ( ‘Oh, it’s, uh, what-you-may-call-it.’)

F: Fifteenth.

I: Fourteenth to fifteen yeah, yeah.

F: St. Patrick’s Day.

*Japanese words and expressions are written in italics.

(Extracts from: Long, 2007:21)

Long (2007) denies that this is a creole language, he calls it a mixed language. There is no concrete theory on this language up to now. In 1876, Japan declared to govern these islands. After that, Japanese was used as a principal language, while between 1830 and 1876 it should be considered that people spoke several languages or pidgins even though he indicated that only English was used.

Pidgins and creoles represent the history of places which have been colonized or occupied. It should be an interesting topic to investigate further.


Sources and References:

Pidgin Language

Muysken and Smith (1994) Pidgins and Creoles: An Introduction, John Benjamin Publishing Company

Long, D. (2007) When Islands Create Languages or, Why do language research with Bonin (Ogasawara) Islanders? Shima: The International Journal of Research into Island Cultures, Volume 1 Number 1

Martinican Creole Dictionary

Further videos for interested people:

Learning Martinican Creole (in French)


Written by Shunichi Hashikawa
Study Visitor at TermCoord
Student at the University of Luxembourg



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