Substrate Theories

  • One central explanatory factor or ‘mechanism’ involved in the origin of pidgin and creole languages and their observed structural similarities.

  • Substrate theories take into consideration the role of substrate languages in the pidginization process:

  • Substrate theories to pidgin origin account for structural similarities between pidgins and creoles worldwide by means of the influence exerted by structurally similar substrate languages. While the lexifier language provides the major part of a pidgin’s lexicon, the substrate languages significantly contribute to their grammars. Doing so, structural similarities in the grammars of the substrates involved in the formation of pidgins should then also lead to relevant structural similarities in the grammars of these pidgins. Thus, the typical structural elements shared by pidgins (and creoles) worldwide should then also be found in the substrate languages which played a role in their development. If this is the case, these substrate languages can be used to explain the structural similarities found in pidgin grammars.

  • For example, during the period of slavery a number of related West African languages were in contact with different European lexifiers in different parts of the Caribbean. As many West African languages share particular grammatical features, these could be assumed as accounting for the occurrence of similar features in European-based pidgins and creoles such as Jamaican Creole, Haitian Creole or Papiamentu.

(Information adapted from Sebba, 1997)