Creole (language)

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This article is about the type of language. For other uses of the term creole, please see creole (disambiguation).

A creole is a type of contact language, i.e. one that has emerged as a result of at least two groups of speakers with no common language needing to communicate. Many emerged as the victims of slavery were thrown together on plantations in the Caribbean and elsewhere in the Americas; others have come about through migration and trade. The precise definition of creole is controversial, but usually it is described as a nativised pidgin, i.e. a language that has become as sophisticated as any other due to children acquiring it as a first language. Creoles are studied within the cross-disciplinary field of creolistics, which involves research from linguistics and anthropology, among others, because the creation of a creole invariably involves cross-cultural contact.[1] Well-researched examples of creoles include Hawaiian 'Pidgin' (actually a creole), Haitian Creole, Sranan (spoken in Suriname) and Jamaican Creole.

Disagreements exist over what languages or varieties can be labelled a 'creole' and what the 'life cycle' of these varieties is (e.g. 'Is a pidgin a necessary prerequisite for a creole to form?' 'Does creole genesis usually lead to a post-creole continuum, in which varieties differ relative to the broadest forms of the creole and the language(s) from which most vocabulary is derived?'). The language from which most vocabulary originates is known as the lexifier language; however, the grammar of creoles comes from elsewhere, and accounts of this creolisation phenomenon, in which grammatical structures emerge which are absent in any preceding pidgin, are varied and controversial.[2] For example, the language bioprogram hypothesis (LBH)[3] of Derek Bickerton claims that creole genesis supports ideas about the nature of language associated with Noam Chomsky; as creole grammars are remarkably similar across the world,[4] this reflects the existence of an innate faculty for language. Bickerton does, however, go further than most creolists in explaining creole genesis as being largely biologically-based, and the LBH has been strongly critiqued.[5] Other controversial theories, such as relexification,[6] form part of current enquiry but as yet there is no widely-accepted account of creole genesis that satisfactorily explains most of the data.

See also


  1. Siegel (2005: 141).
  2. Siegel (2008: 3-7).
  3. e.g. Bickerton (1984).
  4. Sebba (1997: 70-72).
  5. e.g Siegel (2008: 8; 66-78; 91-104; 133-134).
  6. e.g. Lefebvre (1998, 2004).