Reduction in Overall Sentence Complexity

  • Pidgins show a general reduction in overall sentence complexity:

There are usually no complex sentences in pidgins (e.g. sentences with relative clauses). If sentences are embedded, it may not be morphologically marked.

(Where given, a click on the link will direct you to the relevant pidgin/creole text containing the examples presented here.)

Upi lo muntu ena sebenzile lapa lo gadin?
Where the man he work-PAST in the garden
‘Where is the boy who worked in the garden?’

Upi lo pikanin yena funa skafu?
Where the child s/he want food?
‘Where is the child who wants food?’

In the examples above there is no relative pronoun. Instead the ordinary third person pronoun yena/(ena) is used as the subject of the relative clause.

This is also the case when the relativized phrase is the object of the verb in the relative clause:

Lo ambulens wena bizile yena yena fikile.
The ambulance you call-PAST it it come-PAST
‘The ambulance you called has arrived.’

  • As a pidgin moves through the developmental stages, more complex syntactical structures may develop in line with an increase in the range of communicative functions for which the pidgin is used. For example, relative clauses and complementizers may develop. Accordingly, expanded pidgins often develop a relative pronoun:

  • E.g. Tok Pisin: relative clauses can be marked by the optional demonstrative ya (‘here’). In the example it occurs after the head noun and at the end of the relative clause.

Meri ya i-stap long hul ya em i-hangre.
Woman REL SUBJECT MARKER-stay in hole REL she SUBJECT MARKER-hungry.
‘The woman who stayed in the hole was hungry.’

  • Tok Pisin has developed the complementizer olsem by changing the grammatical function of the adverb olsem (‘thus’):

(em) i bilip olsem sispela bai helpim tru ol provins.
He SUBJECT MARKER believe that this FUTURE help-TRANSITIVE MARKER true(ly) the-PL province.
‘He believes that this will really help the provinces.’

  • However, pidgins will probably never be as syntactically complex as their relevant source languages.

(Information taken and adapted from Sebba, 1997)

The Syntactic Structure of Questions in Pidgins