Learning to Speak

34 Pidgins and Creoles

A pidgin language is a grammatically simplified communication method. It usually develops when two or more groups have to develop a system of communication when a common language doesn’t exist. It is common when communities come together for trade and they are not considered complete languages. Pidgins are not native to any speech community. It is built from the words and sounds from a number of languages with a limited core vocabulary.

 

Pidgins usually have the following characteristics:

  • Their morphology is usually isolating
  • They tend not to have complicated phrase structures
  • Syllables tend to be simple and often lack codas
  • Consonant clusters are simplified
  • Linguistic characteristics such as gender and number (singular and plural) are excluded

 

As Canada has a long history of contact between various language communities, it has had a large share of pidgins developing over the centuries. Example include Eskimo Trade Jargon used by the Mackenzie River Inuit with the Athabaskan communities that traded with them. Inuktitut-English Pidgin was used in Quebec and Labrador. Algonquian–Basque pidgin was used by Basque whalers and Algonquin communities the Gulf of Saint Lawrence up to the 1710s. Labrador Inuit Pidgin French was a pidgin heavily influenced by French and spoken in Labrador until the 1760s.

 

The reason we are discussion pidgins here is to explore the extraordinary drive towards language in human beings. While pidgins exist as second languages for adult speakers, if the children of those adults are exposed to a pidgin, they do not grow up speaking it. Instead, they develop a complete language known as creole. A creole is a pidgin language that has become the native language of the children of adult pidgin speakers. Unlike the simplified pidgins, creoles are syntactically rich and complete languages. This indicates that human beings have some in-build language mechanism that can develop a language with the mere exposure to linguistic structures. A creole that developed Scottish Red River Métis in present-day Manitoba is Bungi Creole. It developed from pidgins of Scottish English, Scottish Gaelic, French, Norn, Cree, and Ojibwe.

 

Michif is another example of a fully developed creole language. Michif combines Cree and Métis French with words borrowed from English, and some neighbouring indigenous languages. Michif noun phrase phonology, lexicon, morphology, and syntax as well as articles, adjectives are derived from Métis French. Its verb phrase phonology, lexicon, morphology and syntax as well as demonstratives are from Cree.

 

Exploring the emergence of creoles from pidgins show the inherent instinct for language in human beings. If language is merely a socially transmitted communication system, then children could grow up speaking pidgin as their language. The fact that they develop a complete syntactically rich language even when exposed to pidgins suggests an internal language acquisition mechanism that takes in the input of linguistic structures and develops it into a language using some universal grammar.

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Psychology of Language by Dinesh Ramoo is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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