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Concise Encyclopedia of Sociolinguistics

Concise Encyclopedia of Sociolinguistics


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F. C. V. Jones

Pidgins and Creoles are essentially analytic languages
in which the structure of words is morphologically
simple. This is because inflectional and derivational
affixes from the parent languages are the first
casualties of the pidginization process and the last
to redevelop. Syntactic features like tense, aspect, and
plurality, for example, which are expressed by affixes
in many languages, are signaled by separate mor-
phemes in these languages. The morphological
formatives which do develop are usually suffixal, or,
in a few cases, prefixal additions to the root, and do
not involve suppletion (irregular morphological
forms like go-went) or vowel mutation of the foot >
feet type.

The growth of morphology in pidgins and
Creoles is consistent with the phases of development
of these languages. These phases are: the jargon or
prepidgin, the stabilization, the expanded or
extended pidgin, the creolization, and the postpidgin
or postcreole.

Most of the information on the growth of
morphology during the earlier phases especially
comes from accounts of Pacific pidgins, which have
been particularly well-studied from their earliest
phases of development.

1. The Jargon Phase

During this phase (see Jargons), when a pidgin is
being born, morphological formatives in words from
the parent languages are generally dropped. The few
that remain are forms in which the root and its affix
have been fossilized or frozen, with morpheme

boundaries disappearing, making the word mono-
morphemic. They are usually adoptions of frequently
heard (plural or past tense) forms from the source
languages. In some French-related pidgins (and
Creoles), for example, the final sound of the plural
definite article (pronounced ,/lez/ before a noun
beginning with a vowel, but /le/ elsewhere) is
attached to the pidgin noun to form a single
morpheme that can be either singular or plural in
denotation; for example, :ie 'eye' from the French
plural les yeux jlezyoj instead of the singular oeil.
English-related pidgins (and Creoles) have items like
sus <'shoes,' meaning 'one or more shoes.' The main
reasons for the dropping of affixes is that morpho-
logical formatives are a marked or complex category,
and their presence would militate against the learning
of the emergent, fledgling languages.
In the absence of morphology, there is very
little established grammar (time references, for
example, are expressed by the use of time adverbials),
and there is the widespread use of word-class
multifunctionality, with one form being used, for
example, as a noun, a verb, an adjective, and an

2. The Stabilization Phase

It is during this phase that some morphology can
begin to emerge, as the pidgin is now developmen-
tally ready for it. However, since the pidgin is still at
an early stage of development, very little morphology
does occur, while word-order conventions tend to
become firmly established. Unmarked or less marked


Pidgins and Creoles: Morphology

(i.e., more commonly occurring or simpler) features
begin to emerge before marked or more marked
(rarer or more complex) features, and the universal
principle that derivational morphology precedes
inflectional morphology also applies. Developments
are internally motivated, showing reanalysis in the
grammatical development of the pidgin as it pro-
gresses toward the achievement of autonomy as a

Morphology can develop to mark word (sub)classes,
after considerable variation over time and space, and
in sentence position. This seems to be a distinguishing
feature of many Pacific pidgins. For example, -pela
(derived from English 'fellow') is suffixed to mono-
syllabic adjectives when they are used attributively.
Also, transitive verbs are marked by the suffixing of
-(a/i/u)m or -//. In pidgins in general, gender and
diminutive distinctions in nouns, though not in
pronouns, may begin to develop. A word meaning
'man/ 'woman/ or 'child' is preposed (or in a few
cases postponed) to the noun. Also universal during
this phase is the use of the word man (which in this
case is semantically bleached or may simply be
regarded as meaning 'human') or its reflex as an
agentive suffix to a verb or adjective; for example,
(English-related) Tok Pisin: kamman (come man)
'new arrival.'

Multifunctionality is even more widespread during
this phase, and indeed persists throughtout the
lifespan of a pidgin/creole. It also characterizes
word-formation devices like compounding and re-
duplication, which begin to develop (see Sect. 3).
Another universal feature in pidgins is the fact that
equivalents of wh- question words are bimorphemic
compounds expressing units of meaning, rather than
monomorphemic words, as is usual in their lexifier
languages. Examples are: Kenya Pidgin Swahili, titu
ganil (thing which?) 'what?'; Cameroon Pidgin
English, wusail (which side?) 'where?'

3. The Expanded Pidgin and Creolization Phases

Morphology continues to develop as the autonomy
of the language becomes even more firmly
established. However, even when it has creolized,
the language remains essentially analytic. Moro-
phological (like other linguistic) developments
continue to be largely internally motivated,
following a clear developmental and markedness

Two universally distinguishing word-formation
features which can be particularly clearly seen in
English-related pidgins and Creoles—compounding
and reduplication—assume marked sigificance.
Word-level compounds (for example, Tok Pisin
skinwara [skin water] 'sweat') develop from phrase-
level compounds (wara bilong skin), which may have
originated from lengthier circumlocutions. Such
compounds are typically transparent, productive,

endocentric types that may have started their
existence as fixed collocations. Many are, however,
metaphorical innovations that are used deliberately
to increase the lexicon, in response to the growing
communicative needs of the growing language. An
example is Guinea Bissau (Portuguese related) Creole
piis-kabalu 'hippopotamus,' from Portuguese peixe
'fish' and cavalo 'horse.' More abstract patterns, in
exocentric compounds, including caiques (word-for-
word or morpheme-by-morpheme loan translations
from substrate languages—the first languages of the
pidgin speakers) may also develop. For example,
many English-related Atlantic Creoles have bigeye/
bigyai < 'big eye,' calqued from a West African
substratum language, Igbo: any a uku (literally 'big
eyes') 'covetous (ness).' Some compounds are tautol-
ogies designed to reduce the number of homophones
in the language, comprising words from the same
or from different languages; for example, English-
related Trinidadian Creole go:tkidi 'kid' (which
may have been formed to avoid homophony with

kid 'child').

Reduplication—the partial or complete doubl-
ing (and, in a few cases, triplication) of a word
to give a new lexical item—is also mainly an internal
development, but is usually accelerated by substrate
influence, including straight borrowings. In many
pidgins and Creoles, in the absence of, or in
conjunction with, grammatical words, clitics, and
formatives, notions of plurality, accumulation or
collectiveness, distribution, and iteration—among
others—are frequently expressed by reduplication,
which may or may not be a productive process.
Examples of reduplication are Nigerian Pidgin
English benben 'crooked' (from English bend};
Spanish-related Papiamentu potopoto 'muddy' (from
substratum language sources).
Some derivational morphology may be borrowed
from local vernaculars. Very little inflectional mor-
phology is found in Atlantic pidgins and Creoles that
are not in their postpidgin or postcreole phase. One
example is the use of the suffix -du by the Portuguese-
related Creoles of West Africa (reflecting a conflation
of superstrata—lexifier language—and substrate in-
fluence) to mark the past participle or to give a verb a
passive meaning. In expanded pidgins of the Pacific,
inflections have developed from free forms; for
example, sentential adverb baimbai ('by and by')
moving from sentence initial to preverbal or prefix-
on-verb position is replaced by bai, which functions
as the future tense marker bai. Morphological
causatives have also been achieved, for example, in
Tok Pisin, by the suffixation of im, first to stative
intransitive verbs, next to adjectives, then to non-
stative (dynamic) verbs, and finally to transitive

The application of recursiveness in the develop-
ment or adoption of affixes, which was severely


Language Contact

restricted in earlier stages of the languages (a word
could not contain more than one affix) begins to take

These changes continue with creolization and
become generalized. Restrictions continue to be
relaxed. Creole languages generally evince a hotch-
potch of diverse word-formation processes and
devices, including many lexicalizations, semiproduc-
tive processes, and borrowings, mainly from the

4. Postpidgin/Postcreole Phas

This phase is particularly
borrowing (and possible rein
inflectional and derivational
superstrate (for example, th
English-related post-pidgins/
may be used to express a
nonreferrential (i.e., stylistic)
example, the suffix -ed in the
'educated' gives the word a si
Words may even be spontane

haracterized by the
terpretation) of some
aifixes from the (current)
English -^ plural in
reoles). These affixes
marked increase in the
;e of the language; for
Krio word sdyuketsd
perlative connotation,
usly created, based on

A sociolinguistic area is an ai
belonging to several different
result of their daily interactio
called upon to express cert;
cultural experiences and achere to sociocultural
norms accepted by members
Such an area is marked by \\
or multilingualism and by t
social, cultural, and linguistic

superstrate models, as in the case of English-related
Bahamian Creole spokadacious 'very attractive (of


The proliferation of the borrowing of these
formatives helps to increase the complexity of the
(post)pidgin/creole, and can even facilitate its depid-
ginization or decreolization. However, the continued
borrowing or creation of derivational affixes
may eventually lead to a significant decline in
multifunctionality and establish a clear morphologi-
cal patterning that will contribute to promoting the
overall naturalness of the language.

See also: Pidgins and Creoles: An Overview; Pidgins
and Creoles: Models; Pidgins, Creoles and Minority
Dialects in Education.


Holm J A 1988 Pidgins and Creoles, Vols. 1 and 2.
Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, UK
Muhlhausler P 1997 Pidgin and Creole Linguistics, 2nd edn.
University of Westminister Press, London

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