What is Creole Language? - Definition & Phrases

Instructor: Duane Cloud

Duane has taught teacher education courses and has a Doctorate in curriculum and instruction. His doctoral dissertation is on ''The Wizard of Oz''.

Creole language is a language that forms from two parent language merging together into a new language. Learn more about Creole language and see an example of how Haitian Creole developed.

Creole Language Development: Pidgin

When different groups of people want to open relations with each other, language can be as tremendous an obstacle as geography or distance. Typically, the initial contact is handled through sign language and a lot of patience. After enough contact, the groups begin to use similar terms to communicate with one another. One group's word for 'wool' might be used, while the other group's word for 'oats' might be used, especially if those commodities are being traded. The two languages that combine to form a pidgin are referred to as parent languages.

With enough exposure, this exchange of language forms what is known as a pidgin, or trade language. A pidgin (pronounced like 'pigeon') is a form of language with limited vocabulary, useful for trade and other practical matters. Pidgins are rarely used outside specific situations and the vocabulary is geared toward concepts like trade goods, amounts, and other relevant information. Discussing more in-depth things like philosophy or emotions are difficult or even impossible with such a limited vocabulary.

Creole Language Definition & Explanation

With enough exposure to one another, people can develop pidgin dialects into languages in their own right. This typically happens when children begin to favor the pidgin dialect over the parent language. This kind of language is called a creole. Not every pidgin will become a creole, as some relationships between groups do not require more nuanced communication. Some pidgins die out if no one needs to speak them anymore (for instance, if trade stops). By the same token, not every creole develops from a pidgin language. If there is enough contact between groups from the beginning, it is possible that a creole will form more quickly without the need for a pidgin.

The form that creoles (and often pidgins) take generally depends on the type of contact between the parent groups. Fairly egalitarian types of contact, like that between trading partners, will tend to blend the languages more evenly. Contact between two groups with an obvious differential in power, like that between masters and slaves, tends to skew the amount of each language that is spoken. For instance, field slaves will be expected to understand the master's language, while there is less reason for the master to learn the language spoken by the slaves. Since most pidgins and creoles were formed during the colonial expansion era, they often have much in common with European languages, like Dutch, English, French, and Spanish.

Example: Haïtian Creole

Haïtian Creole is one of the official languages of Haïti, a nation in the Carribean. The other official language there is French. Haïtian Creole arose from the French colonization of Haïti. During the process of colonization, many of the native inhabitants of the island died from disease. In order to work the plantations they had planned, the French imported African slaves. Composed of French and several African languages, Haïtian Creole arose from the necessity of communication between the French and their slaves.

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