KING Creole, Pidgin English, creole food – phrases we’ve all heard. But what is creole, and what is a pidgin language?
A pidgin language is a simplified language, which develops as a means of communication between groups of peoples who share no common language. Pidgins often came about in slave plantations, where a dominant group of Europeans (generally) and a group, or ethnically different groups, of African slaves were forced to communicate on a basic level.
The other source of pidgins historically has been where for reasons of business and commerce two people with no common language needed to find a way to communicate – a supposed etymology for the word ‘pidgin’ comes from the Chinese rendering of the English word ‘business’.
The death of the African slave trade and the increase of English as the dominant language of international business and trade over the centuries has seen pidgins largely pass from use, but pockets will always briefly spring up where people from different cultures are thrown together for whatever reason and need to communicate.
However pidgins have left us with some wonderful, colourful and expressive creoles. The difference between a pidgin and a creole is that as soon as the first generation of children learn a pidgin language as their first language it becomes a creole – or mother tongue – and not a temporary one forced by circumstance. The more common situation historically was that the children of slaves would learn the language of the dominant group – as happened with African slaves in America – and the pidgin would die out.
There are literally millions of speakers of different creole languages around the world and in some countries creoles are now the official and first language – especially in the West Indies. Most creoles now in existence are found along the old colonial trade/slave routes: the Caribbean, West Africa, along the west coast of India, Australia and the Indian Ocean. The most famous creole is probably Cajun, spoken by about four million people in Louisiana and eastern Texas in the US, and is a mix of French and English with different dialects and a rich and imaginative vocabulary.
Efficient and expressive
While creoles are often sneered at for their simplicity it should be remembered that they often came about during times of extreme hardship faced by people unwillingly uprooted and taken forcibly to a new and strange land. Though creoles may draw a wry smile from English speakers, they are efficient and expressive and have in many cases stood the test of time. The following are examples of some English-based creole phrases from around the world.
Get down at the store. To get out of the car at the store. Cajun English, a Cajun dialect – separate from Cajun French - spoken by about 250,000 people in the US.
Gras belong fes. A beard. Neo-Melanesian, an English-based creole spoken in Papua New Guinea by about 120,000 people as their first language.
Yesterday ar, East Coast Park got so many people. There were so many people at East Coast Park yesterday. Manglish, a creole spoken in Malaysia consisting of words from English, Malay, Hokkien, Mandarin, Cantonese and Tamil.
Me ah run. I am running. Jamaican creole, an English-based creole spoken by about 3.2 million people in Jamaica, Panama and Costa Rica.
Uh tell'um say da' dog fuh bite'um. I told him that dog would bite him. Gullah, an English-based creole – influenced by several West African languages – spoken by African Americans in the coastal areas of South Carolina and Georgia in the US. Only around 500 native speakers remain.
The pipo go go small time. The people will go soon. Cameroonian Creole, with some 2 million native speakers.
Hoe gaat het? How are you? Sranan Tongo, an English-based creole influenced by Dutch, Portuguese and African languages spoken by 120,000 in Surinam and some Surinamese immigrants in the Netherlands.
A raya in wit rayador. I grated it with a grater. Fernando Poo Creole English (or Pichi to its native speakers), an English- and Spanish-based creole spoken by about 6,000 people on the island of Bioko in Equatorial Guinea.
These sentences may sound a little odd, but they come from established languages which have been the lingua franca of their speakers for perhaps centuries. We too readily forget that Afrikaans of South Africa, the Chinese of Macao and Swahili of east African were once creoles and are now recognised languages spoken by millions of people. The original Chinese Pidgin English has left us such phrases as ‘long time, no see’ and ‘look-see’. Any language, or languages, which contribute to the World Dictionary should be rejoiced, not scoffed at.