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Creole and pidgin languages, and how they differ from one another

Creole and pidgin are mixtures of two different languages. This kind of fusion occurs when people speaking different languages come into contact for a short or long time, establishing trade, social and political relations. Unfortunately, these ‘service’ languages were once considered unworthy of linguistic studies, and academics often believed them to be ‘second-class languages’ due to the low social class of the people who spoke them.

You’ll be happy to hear that a lot of progress has been made in academia and the field of linguistics since then, paving the way for a renewed interest in creole and pidgin, which we still know very little about. But what exactly is creole and how does it differ from pidgin?

The (fundamental) difference between pidgin and creole

As mentioned, pidgin and creole are ‘bastard’ languages born from the fusion of two languages that come into contact. One of the main features of this type of fusion is that neither language is predominant over the other, although one often belongs to a coloniser and the other to colonised local communities.

A pidgin language is a service language that plays a key role in the functioning of a diverse community. That being said, pidgin languages don’t always develop when two communities come into contact. Occasionally, the speakers of two languages have a third language in common (i.e., a lingua franca).

The reason why pidgin languages haven't developed in Europe between say, German and Italian, and Bulgarian and French, is that people involved in international relations in Europe tend to speak English, which is a lingua franca in much of the Western world. It’s also important to note that pidgin languages aren’t considered ‘real’ languages as they do not have any fixed grammatical rules or literary traditions.

As you might have guessed, a pidgin language can only be learned in adulthood by coming into contact with people who speak it. When a pidgin language stabilises enough to acquire a fixed grammatical and syntactic structure and becomes the native language of a community, it is said to have undergone creolisation. When a language becomes a creole, it develops more complex syntactic structures, giving rise to certain literary traditions, thereby completing the process of transforming pidgin into a real language.

Should you study creole?

Creole languages have flourished recently and have acquired renewed respect among the academic community. Long gone are the days of applying Darwinism to linguistic studies and ‘downgrading’ certain languages deemed unworthy of study.

What’s more, speakers of Creole languages have begun to use them more widely, and with great pride, contributing significantly to their diffusion and use in increasingly diverse fields of interest. As such, taking the time to study a creole language can be a great choice for a professional translator who wishes to specialise in an expanding linguistic field.

Redazione Eurotrad

June 25, 2021

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