Dialects, Pidgins, & Creoles
Hello! Welcome to Further Learning, a little project of mine where I continue my education outside of school and post about what I’m learning. Right now, I’m learning about language! To start from the beginning with A History of Language – Part I, click here.
Now, the topics of dialects, pidgins, and creoles are a little hard to understand, and I’m still learning about each more in depth right now, so this post is just going to cover the briefest explanations of each.
I’ve been reading primarily from John McWhorter’s The Power of Babel, but I have several books in line to learn from. Information in this post will primarily be from this source, unless otherwise stated.
What are dialects? What are pidgins? What are creoles?
Commonly confused with a synonym for accent, dialects are actually just…different versions of the same language. For example, American English (which can be further subdivided into other dialects) and British English (which can be further subdivided) are two different languages that overlap, having both come from Modern English. We can, for the most part, understand each other. They’re both in the larger family of “English.” Another example is Italian, as there are many regions of Italy that are all different dialects of “Italian” and are not the same as the unified, more formal and official Italian that one would learn in an Italian class. But these dialects aren’t just different forms of Italian, they’re all derived from Vulgar Latin (like in an earlier post, French derived from Latin in the region of France) but all in different ways depending on the region they were in. These dialects are all part of the same family of Italian, but are different in ways that it’s possible that a person in one region of Italy could understand another person from a region close to theirs, but might not be able to understand someone from a region further away.
Not the bird. That’s pigeon. A pidgin is a simplified version of languages in order for two or more different-speaking groups can communicate on a regular basis but don’t necessarily need to fully learn each other’s language. An example of this in The Power of Babel is in the 1800s, Russians would bring timber to Norway and in order to communicate with each other, they together formed an informal language, a mix of words from each language, in order to get by. This mix was around 50/50 in words, because they had an equal position with trading and met halfway. Most pidgins are formed, however, where a dominating group’s vocabulary makes up the bulk of the words.
A creole is basically what happens when a pidgin evolves. Like a Pokemon. It becomes not just a simplified in-between language created to be able to communicate, it becomes a complex, fully-formed language that is spoken as a native language by a group of people, often times this is the children of those who spoke the pidgin regularly. The creole with the largest number of speakers is Haitian Creole, a combination of African languages and Romance languages, specifically French.
Favorite Facts & Tidbits
- Languages often borrow words not just from different dialects, but from different times! The Norman conquered England and brought their specific dialect of French with them. This is why, for instance, we have the word “castle” from the Norman castel, rather than the Parisian French dialect word which was chastel. We later adopted the word “chateau” which came from chastel. This also happened with Japanese borrowing from (Mandarin) Chinese, sometimes the same word at different times to after centuries of evolution, to become two different words with a similar meaning.
- In the United States, there is influence of English on Spanish-speakers from Mexico, Puerto Rico, and Cuba. Often called “Spanglish,” some words are intermixed like saying brekas for “brakes” instead of the original Spanish word frenos.
- Remember that Russian and Norwegian pidgin I mentioned earlier? Well, it’s called Russenorsk, but to its speakers, they refer to it as Moja pa tvoja, which roughly means “Me in yours.”
Again, not the bird
A quick recap! Dialects are not different accents, but small subdivisions within a main language family. Pidgins are not birds, but simple fusions of languages of two or more groups of people, used in order to communicate without having to learn each other’s whole languages. And creoles are pidgins evolved into a full-fledged, complex language and spoken by a group as their native tongue.
So! This was a very simplified, probably mostly wrong explanation of what the heck dialects, pidgins, and creoles are! Again, I’m still learning and they are very complex concepts to grasp. I mean, there’s literally like 100 pages in The Power of Babel about them alone. It’s a lot.
And of course, if you know what you’re talking about (I’m doing this to learn and share, not teach — I’m an amateur here) please feel free to comment with more information or correction! So long for now!