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When French became the new language of parliament in England in 1066, it was a lingua franca: the vernacular was still English, but in order to communicate, people spoke French, or sometimes Latin.

Much later, during the colonial period, lingua francas were needed again; this time to for communication between the colonisers and the locals.

The main difference between these two scenarios is that in the second, a pidgin was created. A pidgin is a language used primarily for communication between two groups with no common language.

It is thought that the reason behind this is that there were two languages involved after the Norman conquest (French and English), whereas in order to create a pidgin, three languages are needed. Because of the nature of many countries being colonised at the time, there were often three languages: English, and two local dialects. This is essential, because the locals must communicate in the pidgin in order to understand one another.

Pidginisation involves a superstrate language and a substrate. The superstrate is the language of power: whoever the coloniser is has money, weapons, and more than a pinch of arrogance, so the superstrate is commonly English, French, Spanish, Portuguese, Dutch, or German. The substrates are usually the local languages.

A pidgin language takes the majority of its vocabulary of the superstrate, and the grammar and pronunciation of the substrate. All of these are massively simplified: the language is one of necessity; it isn’t used for discussing the finer points of Shakespeare, but for negotiating the price of tea.

For example, in Tok Pisin, the word for anything that grows is gras, from the English grass. The Patwa for bird is bud, with the difficult consonant cluster ‘rd’ removed. Difficult sounds, such as the sounds which children acquire last, are often removed in pidgin languages. ‘Ten thousand years ago’ in Patwa is ‘ten tauzin yiers ago’: the ‘th’ is removed, as is the diphthong in years (rather that fitting two sounds into the word, the Patwa adds another syllable so it is pronounced ye-ahs). As you can see, pidgins are spelled as they are pronounced. No pesky silent letters or letters which can be pronounced in a number of different way depending on where they are in the word. English actually has a lot to learn from these languages…

A pidgin becomes a creole when it becomes the mother tongue of someone in the community. No longer is it purely a language of necessity, but a language in a true sense.

Because of this, the process of creolisation is essentially the exact opposite of that of pidginisation. What was simplified is then built on, in order to meet the much expanded needs of speakers.

So, from Tok Pisin gras, we get ‘gras bilon het’ for hair (literally ‘something-that-grows belonging to my head); ‘gras bilon maus’ for moustache; ‘gras bilon sewader’ for seaweed, and so on. On top of this, in order to expand vocabulary, there is a fair amount of reduplification: look is Tok Pisin for look, while looklook means stare. Tok is talk, and toktok is chatter.

Grammar is often so simplified that tense, aspect, and many other things are signalled outside of the verb. For example, man is man  in Patwa, and ­mandem is men: literally man+ ­dem.

Take a wee look at this extract from the Jamaican Creole (Patwa) Bible (1:1-1:10 of The Book of Ruth/ Di Buk ah Ruut), which I’ve included in English first to help you compare. Do you have any thoughts? Can you notice any other interesting aspects in the extract?

1:1 Now it came to pass in the days when the judges ruled, that there was a famine in the land. And a certain man of Bethlehemjudah went to sojourn in the country of Moab, he, and his wife, and his two sons. 1:2 And the name of the man was Elimelech, and the name of his wife Naomi, and the name of his two sons Mahlon and Chilion, Ephrathites of Bethlehemjudah. And they came into the country of Moab, and continued there. 1:3 And Elimelech Naomi’s husband died; and she was left, and her two sons. 1:4 And they took them wives of the women of Moab; the name of the one was Orpah, and the name of the other Ruth: and they dwelled there about ten years. 1:5 And Mahlon and Chilion died also both of them; and the woman was left of her two sons and her husband. 1:6 Then she arose with her daughters in law, that she might return from the country of Moab: for she had heard in the country of Moab how that the LORD had visited his people in giving them bread. 1:7 Wherefore she went forth out of the place where she was, and her two daughters in law with her; and they went on the way to return unto the land of Judah. 1:8 And Naomi said unto her two daughters in law, Go, return each to her mother’s house: the LORD deal kindly with you, as ye have dealt with the dead, and with me. 1:9 The LORD grant you that ye may find rest, each of you in the house of her husband. Then she kissed them; and they lifted up their voice, and wept. 1:10 And they said unto her, Surely we will return with thee unto thy people.

1:1 Wen di jojdem wena ruul Izrel, wahn famin wehn tek di lan. So waa man fraa Betliem ina Juuda guop ina Muab fi lib. Im wehn guop de fi lib wid im waif ahn im tuu sondem. 1:2 Nou, di man niem Elimelek, im waif niem Niomi, ahn im sondem niem Maalan ahn Kilian. Dem wena Efratait fraa Betliem ina Juuda. Wen dem riich Muab, dehn tap de.1:3 Likl muo, Niomi ozban, Elimelek go ded, bot shi wehn til mekop ar main fi tan a Muab wid ar tuu sondem. 1:4 Som taim aafa dem faada ded, Maalan ahn Kilian marid tuu Muabait uman; di fos wan niem Arpa, ahn di sekan wan niem Ruut. Aafa di wedn, dem tan a Muab fi bout ten muo yier.1:5 Den Niomi tuu bwaidem, Maalan ahn Kilian, go ded aaf jos laik dem faada. So di puo uman wehn di de aluon a Muab widout ar tuu pikni bwaidem ahn widout ar ozban. 1:6 Wan die Niomi ahn ar tuu daatahn-laadem pakop fi lef Muab, bikaaz shi wehn ier se Yaawe behn pie Im piipl a vizit, dat fi se, Im behn gi dem fuud fi niam. 1:7 So shi lef fraa we shi de wid ar tuu daatahn-laadem; ahn di chrii a dem tek di ruod fi gaa Juuda. 1:8 Den Niomi se tu ar daatahn-laadem, “Kom kom, di tuu a unu gwaan bak a unu mada yaad. 1:9 Mie Yaawe chriit unu az nais az unu wehn chriit unu ozbandem bifuo dehn ded ahn az unu chriit mi. Mie Yaawe mek unu hiich fain res ina ous wid niuu ozban.”Shi den gi dem a gud-bai chups, ahn bwai, dem did pudong a piis a cou-baalin. 1:10 Dem se tu Niomi, “Nuo sa, wi a kom wid yu go lib wid yu piipldem.”

 

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