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What is Pidgin and What is Creole?

Pidgins, Creoles and other Stigmatized Varieties



The BBC is launching 11 new language services and one of them is English-based Pidgin, which is one of the most widely spoken languages across West Africa, even though it is not officially recognised. Di BBC West Africa Bureau wey dey serve correct tori to pipo for di whole of West Africa go do di launch for Wednesday March 21 for Lagos.

What is Pidgin? The Oxford English Dictionary definition of Pidgin is: A language containing lexical and other features from two or more languages, characteristically with simplified grammar and a smaller vocabulary than the languages from which it is derived, used for communication between people not having a common language; a lingua franca.

A pidgin is a reduced language used by groups with no language in common who need to communicate for trade or other purposes. A creole, by contrast, is a natural language developed from a mixture of different languages, like Haitian Creole, which is based on 18th-century French but absorbed elements of Portuguese, Spanish and West African languages. Semi-creole languages, which Mr. Holm also studied — Afrikaans is an example — share even more traits with their vocabulary-source languages.

The word pidgin seems to have had its origin in the inability of 19th century Chinese to articulate the word business. It came out as bigeon or bidgin, and since it is a short step from B to P, it finally flattened out as pidgin.

In 1782, in Information to Those Who Would Remove to America, our own Benjamin Franklin recorded this snippet of a more advanced Pidgin English: “Boccarorra [a form of buckra 'white man'] make de Black Man workee, make de horse workee, make de Ox workee, make ebery thing workee; only de Hog. He, de Hog, no workee; he eat, he drink, he walk about, he go to sleep when he please, he libb like a gentleman.” J. L. Dillard, Black English, (Vintage Books 1973), p.89

Pidgin may refer to any of the creole descendants of old West African Pidgin (of Guinea Coast Creole, as its creolised variety is sometimes referred to). There are many of them, but in this case, the reference to Nigerian Creole English (possibly including the closely related Ghanaian and Cameroonian varieties, judging from where the BBC has been recruiting local reporters).

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- RIP 12/29/15 John Holm, Pioneer in Linguistics, Dies at 72

Dr. Holm helped bring the study of creole and pidgin languages into the scholarly mainstream. He produced a landmark study, the two-volume “Pidgins and Creoles,” which traced their socio-historical evolution and helped create one of the most exciting subfields of linguistics. He also insisted that pidgins and creoles be regarded as languages in their own right, not debased versions of source languages. “They are new languages, shaped by many of the same linguistic forces that shaped English and other 'proper' languages,” he later wrote in “An Introduction to Pidgins and Creoles” (2000).
While hitchhiking through Mexico and Central America as a teenager, Mr. Holm heard black Nicaraguans along the Caribbean coast speaking a non-Spanish language that seemed oddly familiar. They called it “pirate English,” a reference to its probable origin as a pidgin spoken on pirate and British Navy ships. Although Mr. Holm could barely understand what he was hearing, it planted the seed for what would become his life's work: the study of creole and pidgin languages spoken by millions of people around the world, especially the English-derived creoles of the Caribbean.

- Catalan is a language without a state (without an army or navy as John Holm once put it) spoken by some 6 million with first-language fluency.

World Creoles
Southern Bahamian: Transported African American Vernacular English or Transported Gullah?
(Stephanie Hackert and John Holm) published in vol. 15 (2009) of The College of the Bahamas Research Journal, pp. 12-21
Holm argued (wrongly) in the 1990s that proof of AAVE's creole origins lay in the creole speech of the southern Bahamian islands, populated almost entirely from the US mainland after the American Revolutionary War. It has since come to light that most of the immigrants came from Gullah-speaking areas of the US, suggesting that AAVE was from its beginnings the product of partial rather than full creolization.

Science: Linguist finds a Language in its Infancy 7/14/13
A Village Invents a Language All Its Own
Warlpiri rampaku, or Light Warlpiri, is a new language spoken only by people under 35 in Lajamanu, an isolated village of about 700 people in Australia's Northern Territory.Carmel O'Shannessy, a linguist at the University of Michigan, has been studying the young people's speech for more than a decade and has concluded that they speak neither a dialect nor the mixture of languages called a creole, but a new language with unique grammatical rules.
Everyone in Lajamanu also speaks “strong” Warlpiri, an aboriginal language unrelated to English and shared with about 4,000 people in several Australian villages. Many also speak Kriol, an English-based creole developed in the late 19th century and widely spoken in northern Australia among aboriginal people of many different native languages. Lajamanu parents are happy to have their children learn English for use in the wider world, but eager to preserve Warlpiri as the language of their culture.

Given the size of the community, the demographics, and how remote it is yet with several languages in contact, I wonder, as well, how the spread of technology will influence this.” I found the article very interesting indeed. I don´t know of any other language that has been identified as an autonomous linguistic system at such an early stage of its development. Even though very powerful social forces are usually needed to counter the momentum of normal language transmission, it´s also the case that if you have the right conditions in a social microcosm, the necessary power might be no greater than that of teachers over children in a boarding school or orphanage—consider Philippine Creole Spanish in Cotabato, or Aboriginal Creole English at the Fitzroy Crossing mission school in Australia, or Unserdeutsch in New Guinea (the case histories are in Pidgins and Creoles [Holm 1989, vol. 2]). ~ John Holm


Defining Creole
By John H. McWhorter
Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005.
Pp. 444. paper
ISBN 0195166698

The vocabulary of a pidgin comes mainly from one particular language (called the "lexifier"). The early "pre-pidgin" is quite restricted in use and variable in structure. But the later "stable pidgin" develops its own grammatical rules which are quite different from those of the lexifier. Once a stable pidgin has emerged, it is generally learned as a second language and used for communication among people who speak different languages. Examples are Nigerian Pidgin and Bislama (spoken in Vanuatu).

When children start learning a pidgin as their first language and it becomes the mother tongue of a community, it is called a creole. Like a pidgin, a creole is a distinct language which has taken most of its vocabulary from another language, the lexifier, but has its own unique grammatical rules. Unlike a pidgin, however, a creole is not restricted in use, and is like any other language in its full range of functions. Examples are Gullah, Jamaican Creole and Hawaii Creole English. Note that the words "pidgin" and "creole" are technical terms used by linguists, and not necessarily by speakers of the language. For example, speakers of Jamaican Creole call their language "patwa" (from patois) and speakers of Hawai'i Creole English call theirs "Pidgin."

Note that the words "pidgin" and "creole" are technical terms used by linguists, and not necessarily by speakers of the language. For example, speakers of Jamaican Creole call their language "patwa" (from patois) and speakers of Hawai'i Creole English call theirs "Pidgin."

A PIDGIN is a version of a language which is stripped of virtually everything except what is necessary to basic communication, meaning no, or all but no morphology, a relatively small lexicon, a preference for juxtaposition over subordination, etc.

Creoles are distinguished synchronically by, though being full languages, retaining signs of their pidgin ancestry, such as virtual absence of both inflection and tone, and highly transparent derivational processes. Creole is a latter-day descendant of something that began as a pidgin.

An Intertwined Language, where FULL, rather than REDUCED, subsystems of two or more languages come together in various combinations. Some intertwined languages are quite "set".Others are more fluid and vary more with the individual. Less focused varieties of this type include Isicamtho (Afrikaans/Zulu) and even the Spanglish thriving in the United States.

John McWhorter

John McWhorter is a Senior Fellow at the Manhattan Institute.


UK-based Naija rapper ChiiDO
dropping knowledge about Naija and Pidgin English


Celebrities like Bill Cosby who is a known rapist and happens to have a PH.D. in education is considered an expert. Mr. Cosby is not a Linguist. He is not an expert on language, dialect speakers or ebonics. He doesn't respect dialect speakers or recognize Ebonics as a language.
Reporters who haven't bothered to find out who the experts are, interview a celebrity like Bill and quote him on this topic consequently the public stays misinformed and the national media interested in the notorious cult of celebrity, not the research of academic linguistic experts, is at fault and perpetuates linguistic myths promoting a Culture of Ignorance.