Sociolinguistics


Preference for Semantic Transparency

  • Pidgins show a general preference for semantic transparency:

Pidgins are characterized by compounds in their lexicon which are semantically transparent. Therefore, the meaning of a word can be determined straight away from the meanings of the single morphemes of which the word is built.

In English we speak of a female mouse and a male mouse. If we know the independent meaning of the free morphemes female or male and mouse, it is easy to detect the meaning of the compound.

We find similar distinctions between female and male referents in several pidgins and creoles:

For example:

(a) In Tok Pisin gender is indicated by the use of a separate word: man for the male and meri for the female:

kakaruk = chicken
kakaruk man = rooster
kakaruk meri = hen

(b) Bahamian Creole English: male = boy; female = gyal

chilí = child
boy-chilí = son
gyal-chilí = daughter

(c) Papiamentu: male = homber; female = muhe

mucha = child
mucha homber = son
mucha muhe = daughter

(For (b) and (c) see Holm (2000: 120))

  • Other examples for semantic transparency in Tok Pisin, for example, are illustrated by what might be called paraphrasing expressions:

Tok PisinEnglish
grasgrass
gras bilong fesbeard
gras antap long aieyebrow
  
hanhand
pisinbird
han bilong pisinwing of a bird

(Source: Holmes (2008: 90))