They are called Gullah, Kreol morisien, Ngola, Chabacano, Nubi, Negerhollands or Unserdeutsch and are as varied as the languages out of which they emerged. We’re talking about Creole languages! Who speaks them? Where are they spoken? How did they develop? Come with us this week on an expedition into the world of these exciting languages!
About Creole languages
Generally, languages that emerged from the 17th century onwards in the overseas colonies of European countries are referred to as Creole languages, after the languages of the indigenous people mixed with those of the colonial rulers. Creole languages tend to be classified according to the European language on which they are based — these include French, English, Portuguese, Spanish, Dutch, Danish or Russian.
Necessity is the mother of invention
Slaves throughout the colonies were forced to communicate in highly unusual circumstances, brought about by their colonial masters. Coming from a huge variety of backgrounds, they had to work together but had problems understanding each other because of their different native languages. However, they felt compelled to try to communicate with one another. The result is as obvious as it is extraordinary: They used words they had learnt from the colonial languages and merged these together without any grammar (as this was unknown to them) into sentences as far as was possible.
Makeshift languages shaped future generations
“Makeshift languages” which emerge this way are called “Pidgin languages”. Pidgins are distinguished by the fact that they do not replace a native language and only emerge in multilingual environments. They serve as a second language and are not viewed as “complete” languages. However, children who grow up in this multilingual environment learn Pidgin languages as their mother tongue with an emergent set of grammatical rules. This new mother tongue is then called a “Creole language”. The term comes from the French “créole“ which comes from the Latin “creare/creatum” and means “care” or “cultivate” in this context.
Creole languages exist all over the world
Creole languages are primarily spoken languages which are used every day in informal conversations, in the family, and are sometimes used in art and music. Creole languages often have their own names, such as the Peruvian-based Bozal Spanish. They are spoken in many parts of the world and have even been able to claim the status of official languages in some countries. Here are a few examples of different Creole languages sorted according to their base languages:
- Gullah (Southern USA)
- Singlish (Singapore)
- Kreol morisien (Mauritius)
- Haitian (Haiti)
- Ngola (São Tomé and Príncipe)
- Barlovento (São Vicente)
- Chabacano (Philippines)
- Palenquero (Columbia)
- Berbice Dutch Creole (Guyana)
- Negerhollands (Caribbean)
- Namibian Black German (Namibia)
- Unserdeutsch (Papua New Guinea)
Creole languages are not a sign of ignorance
Creole languages have long been derided as “spoiled” or “degenerate” versions of their European base languages and research pays little attention to them. In recent decades, this image has become ingrained in the public consciousness due to the stereotypical representation of Pidgin and Creole languages in comics and films. The “Me Tarzan, you Jane” cliché is not only discriminatory but also far removed from reality. Pidgin and Creole languages are demonstrably creative adaptations of natural languages and have their own structure and rules. They prove the fundamental process of language change that takes place when languages come into contact with one another. They are clear proof that languages are created by societies for their own purposes and are formed when people adapt to new social realities. The emergence of Creole languages is therefore not only a fascinating topic in itself but also holds immense potential for linguistic research. Creole languages have also influenced Western culture in many places, something that is immediately obvious in New Orleans in the US state of Louisiana: visit the Mardi Gras in February on the banks of the Bayou and enjoy hearty Shrimp Creole in Mother’s Restaurant on Tchoupitoulas Street. By the way, “Bonzur, ki maniere” is Mauritius Creole and means “Good day, how are you?”
Wikipedia – Liste der Kreolsprachen (URL: https://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Liste_der_Kreolsprachen#Kreolsprachen_mit_englisch-basiertem_Wortschatz, Version: 30/11/2015)
Academic Universal-Lexikon – kreolische Sprachen (URL: http://universal_lexikon.deacademic.com/262653/kreolische_Sprachen, Version: 30/11/2015)
Christian Lehmann – Pidginsprachen, Kreolsprachen (URL: http://www.christianlehmann.eu/ling/wandel/index.html?http://www.christianlehmann.eu/ling/wandel/pidgin_kreol.html, Version: 30/11/2015)
Sprachenlernen24.de – Blog Kreolsprachen (URL: http://www.sprachenlernen24-blog.de/kreolsprachen-pidgin-kreol/, Version: 30/11/2015)
Weikopf.de – Welt der Sprachen (URL: http://www.weikopf.de/index.php?article_id=57, Version: 30/11/2015)