Creole Languages: What Are They?


Creole languages are languages that arise from speakers of multiple languages acquiring a common tongue. It is a stable, full-fledged language created through the mixing of different languages together within a comparatively short amount of time. An example of a creole language would be Singlish, the specifics of which you can refer to my earlier post about Singlish as a mother tongue.


Oftentimes, creole languages are evolved pidgins (a grammatically simplified language arising from two or more groups of people without a common language as a means to communicate) that have since become a fully-fledged language with its own vocabulary and grammar structure. They are also acquired by children as their native language, these three attributes marking it as a developed language and differentiating it from pidgins.


ETYMOLOGY


Creole originates from the French word créole, and its Spanish equivalent, criollo, was originally used to differentiate people of Spanish descent born in Spain and in Spanish colonies or parts of Spanish America.


This word was first used to describe language by French explorer Michel Jajolet in 1688, referring to a Portuguese-based creole language he encountered in Senegal on his travels. Linguistically, it was only officially applied to other languages around the late 18th century.


THE ORIGINS OF CREOLE LANGUAGES


The beginning of creole languages dates back to the European colonialism period. With the improvement of navigation and transport technology, more areas of the world were explored by the Europeans. The fastest and simplest way to communicate with natives of newly explored corners of the world, for them, was to develop pidgins based on European languages and the native language.


With colonialism and the Atlantic slave trade being extremely prominent around the time creole languages emerged, most creole languages are European-language based; for example, returning to our earlier example regarding Singlish, which is an English-based creole language originating from Bazaar Malay.


Global distribution of creole languages was also strongly influenced by the European trade routes: known European-based creole languages are largely located in coastal areas around the west coast of Africa, Southeast Asia, and India.


STATUS OF CREOLE LANGUAGES


Due to the European powers often considering natives “lesser” than them, creole languages were also seen to be of a lower standard or coarser than pure European languages. This, in some instances, has carried over to present society, in which the creole language is still looked down upon as inferior as compared to “proper” English, for example.


As such, the use of creole language may be frowned upon in formal or professional settings; however in more recent years, the use of creole language in advertising and media has increased drastically especially caused by decolonisation.


Creole languages have also been increasingly recognised by linguists as proper languages instead of a subset of another group of languages, and are now used as linguistic terminology without ethnic or geographical prejudices or restrictions.


DECREOLISATION


As the name suggests, decreolisation is a hypothetical phenomenon in which a creole language merges with one of the languages from which it was based. This means that it has reconverged with its source language and the influence of its base language is increasingly evident.


Though the term has come under fire in recent years, the phenomenon is suspected to have arisen from the fact that the base language is held in higher linguistic prestige (members of the community that speak the creole language consider the source language to be of a ‘higher class’) than the creole language, leading to more widespread use of vocabulary and other aspects of the source language.


In conclusion, (de)creolisation is a concept that combines many historic events, and something I would love to study in depth. Because the origins of creole languages differ from language to language, I think it’d be really interesting to read up more about individual languages, such as Singlish, for which I have already done so. Hopefully, your interest in creole languages has been piqued as well!



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