Language Birth: Pidgin and Creole Languages

This section is concerned with the description of so-called pidgin and creole languages. Pidgins and creoles are typically referred to as contact languages because they arise from contact between two or more existing languages.

More precisely, such languages develop in areas where speakers with different native languages who do not speak and understand each others' languages have contact to each other. In specific social situations there is a fundamental necessity for communication between these speech communities (e.g. trade). We say that their languages are complementarily distributed. In such situations a common means of communication, i.e. a common language, is needed.

The result is the development of a language that has not existed before: a pidgin or jargon respectively. This new language functions as a lingua franca for its speakers: a language which is used as a means of communication between speakers who do not share a native language. Pidgin languages do not have native speakers.

The development of pidgins and creoles is not exclusively but closely connected to European colonialist expansion and its accompanying slave trade. This is the reason why we find so many pidgins (and creoles) located along former trade routes.

For a map showing the location of pidgins and creoles around the world click here

One of the central characteristics of pidgins and creoles is their highly simplified grammatical structure compared to the structures of their source or input languages. Though grammatically highly simplified, they are from a linguistic standpoint not inferior language varieties but separate languages on their own fulfilling the communicative purposes of their speakers. Outside linguistics, the general attitude towards these languages is nevertheless often rather negative even among their speakers. Pidgins often suffer from a lack of prestige.

In the sections on pidgins and creoles you will find more detailed information concerning the development and linguistic characteristics of these contact varieties.