Monogenetic Theories (single-origin theories)

  • Monogenetic theories assume monogenesis, hence the name. It is argued that there is a single origin of European-based pidgins and creoles.

Monogenesis and Relexification

  • Monogenetic approaches explain the structural similarities between most or all European-based pidgins (and creoles) with a common origin.

  • According to monogenetic theories, all pidgins have a common origin, the proto-pidgin. Thus, pidgins are genetically related and descent from a common ancestor.

  • A fifteenth century Portuguese-based pidgin in West Africa (WAPP) has been established as the proto-pidgin. It functions similar to a late version of the medieval Mediterranean Lingua Franca called Sabir.

  • According to the theory of monogenesis, WAPP (West African Pidgin Portuguese) was carried around the world in the course of European colonization and, as a consequence, gave rise to pidgins (and later creoles) in many places. These pidgins and creoles all retained particular structural features including lexical remnants of the Portuguese-based proto-pidgin.

  • An important component of the monogenesis theory is relexification. Relexification explains the lexical differences between pidgins and creoles, as they are historically related and derive from a common origin in WAPP.

  • The term 'relexification' means the total or near-total replacement of the vocabulary of a particular language by vocabulary from another language.

  • Thus, if relexification is assumed, when WAPP was carried around the world and its speakers came into contact with different groups of European colonizers – English, Spanish, Dutch and French - it was adopted by these colonizers by a process of relexification. Thus, WAPP was relexified and influenced by the particular European colonizer’s language with which it was in contact. It gave rise to different European-based pidgins and creoles over time.

  • While the lexicon changed and Portuguese words were replaced by words from other European colonizers' languages, the basic grammatical structure of WAPP was retained. According to the monogenesis theory, this is the reason for the structural similarities between pidgins and creoles which have different lexifier languages.

Disadvantage of the monogenesis theory:

  • The theory of monogenesis does not consider the development of all pidgins and creoles worldwide. It only focuses on European-based pidgins and creoles that originated from WAPP.

  • However, there are pidgins and creoles which developed without European connections (e.g. several African or Asian pidgins). These contact languages also show basic structural similarities.

  • Consequently, although monogenesis assumes relexification, and although this may be an appropriate explanation for all European-based pidgins and creoles, it cannot account for the structural similarities between pidgins and creoles worldwide.

  • A more general theory of genesis, thus, should cover all cases of pidginization. Such a theory then must be a polygenetic one which assumes multiple independent origins for the contact languages of the world.

(Information adapted from Sebba, 1997)