Pidgins, creoles, and the creation of language

Paul T. Roberge

in The Oxford Handbook of Language Evolution

Published in print November 2011 | ISBN: 9780199541119
Published online September 2012 | | DOI:

Series: Oxford Handbooks in Linguistics

 Pidgins, creoles, and the creation of language

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The properties of modern instances of language creation offer significant details on several aspects of language evolution. A pidgin is the linguistic creation of a new contact community that has need for a medium of interethnic communication (MIC) for specific purposes but does not share a pre-existing language that can fulfill this function. Pidgins represent dynamic phenomena that show qualitatively different developmental stages, ranging from unsystematic, ad hoc jargons, to more systematic but still highly restricted MIC displaying structural norms, and to more elaborated MIC that come to be used in a variety of functions in a complex multilingual society. The critical steps in the evolution of grammar cover a progression from one-word, mono-propositional communication, to the appearance of protogrammar and multi-propositional discourse, and then to the integration of protogrammar into the more “arbitrary” encoding of the emergent grammatical mode. Jargons, which are often indiscriminately lumped together with pidgins, are aggregates of individual solutions to the problem of interethnic communication. They are characterized by a high degree of variability, transfer from languages known to the speakers, feature stripping, and a lack of linguistic norms. The transition from jargon to stable pidgin coincides with the formation of a language community and the emergence of socially accepted norms, which occurs when none of the languages in a heterogeneous milieu serves as a target language.

Keywords: pidgin; protogrammar; medium of interethnic communication; language community; grammatical features

Article.  3331 words. 

Subjects: Linguistics ; Language Evolution

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