It is not unusual to see regions that are in close geographical proximity to each other, share common practices, vocabulary, cultural as well as linguistic elements. This forms the basis of how language evolved and how dialects came into being. This month, however, let’s take a look at an interesting concept called Pidgin languages. And no, this has nothing to do with birds! In fact, Pidgins develop when people with no common language come into contact with each other and make do. Let’s take a look at some pidgins spoken in West Africa, Hawaii and other multicultural hubs.
Pidgins – Creoles or Dialects?
Pidgin refers to what is known as a ‘make-do’ trade language that emerged as a mixture of languages, to help people who do not have a common one to communicate with one another. They are usually formed as a result of major languages belonging to former major colonial powers, such as English, French and Portuguese. For instance, the establishment of plantation economies in the Caribbean with large groups of slaves from different backgrounds who came from West Africa, gave rise to a number of English, French, Spanish, Dutch, and Portuguese based pidgins. There are also a significant number of pidgins spoken in parts of Africa, South America, and Southeast Asia based on languages other than those of the colonial powers.
A creole is known to include elements from its parent languages and is a fully-functional language of its own; however, a pidgin is usually a blend of the vocabulary of one major language with the grammar of one or more other languages. It is never really a person’s native or first language.
How many and where?
A lot of well known pidgins have evolved into creole languages, with Pidgin English being recently recognised as an official language in Hawaii. In the Nigerian city of Lagos alone, there are 500 various spoken languages, the resulting pidgin known as Naija. Technology has also begun to focus on pidgins and creoles, with BBC radio broadcasts in English-based Pidgin for West and Central Africa. This News Pidgin reaches a weekly audience of 7.5 million people in Nigeria and around the world on radio. There is also an app that offers translations in pidgins, while the Wycliffe Bible Translators is working on a Pidgin English website for the Bible.
Tracing back the links
Creole originated as a form of communication used between English speaking residents and non-English speaking immigrants in Hawaii. A few languages such as Portuguese, Hawaiian and Cantonese were influenced by it, while Pidgin also acquired many words from the Japanese, Puerto Ricans, Mexicans, Filipinos and Koreans who settled in Hawaii.
Trade and colonisation is what brought pidgin to West Africa. West African Pidgin English arose during the period when the British dominated the Atlantic slave trade in the late 17th and 18th centuries. These pidgins have now evolved into creoles, and are a claimed first language for a new generation of speakers.
Today, variations of pidgins are used in all spheres of life ranging from political campaigns, television and radio broadcasts. They are also taught in some tertiary institutions, used in music and other works of art, and are sometimes also used in speeches by public officials!
Among the various efforts taken by linguistic authorities as well as governments to preserve this language, pidgins are often viewed in a “non-purist” way by language experts. Some might view them as languages that have helped to bridge the communication gap between them and others, while it continues to remain a “make do” medium for many others. Either way, the pidgins are developing on a daily basis as new lexical items are being introduced quite regularly.