English / History / Language / Study

Pidgin and Creole

Pidgin is a term for languages which are used  by people who do not have a language in common. It is interesting to explore because in spite of the lack of elaborate grammar the users understand each other easily.

According to R.L. Trask and Peter Stockwell, “A pidgin is nobody’s mother tongue, and it is not a real language at all: it has no elaborate grammar, it is very limited in what it can convey, and different people speak it differently. Still, for simple purposes, it does work, and often everybody in the area learns to handle it” (Language and Linguistics: The Key Concepts, 2007).

Pidgin is a contact language. It is built on rudimentary grammar, simple structure and limited vocabulary. The users learn it orally as second language.


The origin of pidgin comes from colonialism, trade and slavery. Pidgin languages started to develop in areas where the colonists and traders came and settled. Pidgin is a mix of local languages with influences of English, French, Portuguese, Spanish, Dutch, Arabic, Chinese etc. At that time pidgin was the lingua franca for trading and a communication tool for slaves.

Have you heard of this expression ‘Long time no see‘? That is a simple example of Pidgin based on English. People understand it right away although the elaborate version of it is It has been a long time that I have seen you.

englishEnglish-speaking regions including English-based Pidgins and Creoles

frenchFrench-speaking regions including French-based Pidgins and Creoles

dutchDutch speaking regions including Dutch-based Pidgins and Creoles

portuguesePortuguese speaking regions including Portuguese-based Pidgins and Creoles

spanishSpanish-speaking regions including Spanish-based Pidgins and Creoles

All maps are courtesy of Muturzikin A website of language maps in Basque language.

Due to their limited function, pidgin languages usually do not last very long, rarely more than several decades. They disappear when the reason for communication diminishes, as communities either move apart, one community learns the language of the other, or both communities learn a common language (usually the official language of the country). Or the speakers pass away without teaching the younger generations the pidgin language.

Pidgin vs Creole

According to linguistic, a pidgin language can transform into a fully-fledged language. This language form is called creole. Underneath you see the different features of both Pidgin and Creole. Only after pidgin languages develop into creoles, does the need for a writing system arise.

creole-as-a-language-3-728This image is taken from slideshare.

A creole comes into being when children are born into a pidgin-speaking environment and acquire the pidgin as a first language. What we know about the history and origins of existing creoles suggests that this may happen at any stage in the development of a pidgin.”
(Mark Sebba, Contact Languages: Pidgins and Creoles. Palgrave Macmillan, 1997)

Examples of Creole languages that still exist and are actively spoken now:

  • Tok Pisin, one of the official languages of Papua New Guinea. Tok pisin is derived from talk pidgin. Tok pisin consists of primarily English influences but it has also absorbed influences from German, Malay, Portuguese and their own Austronesian languages .
  • Papiamento or Papiamentu, one of the official languages in Aruba, Bonaire en Curaçao. It is a mix of local language with Spanish, Portuguese, Dutch, English and American Indian languages.
  • Hawaiian Pidgin or Hawaiian Pidgin English or simply called Pidgin is spoken in Hawaii. This creole language is a mix of Portuguese, Hawaiian, American English, Cantonese and Japanese languages.
  • French based creoles are widely spoken in the Caribbean (Guadeloupe & Martinique), Indian Ocean (Seychelles, Réunion & Mauritius).

Examples of Pidgin and Creole

Capt. Jack Sparrow in The Pirates of the Caribbeans ends his sentences often with savvy. This word is a pidgin one. It might be derived from French Savez-vous (Do you know?) or Spanish Sabe (usted) You know. At that time, the French, Spanish, English, Dutch and Portuguese were present in that area. Now savvy in English means practical knowledge and ability. Familiar with the term Tech savvy?

A sentence in English based, Costa Rican Creole: Mi did have a kozin im was a boxer, kom from Panama Do you recognize any words? The sentence means I had a cousin who was a boxer from Panama.

Babah Malay is a language of the Peranakans (descendants of Chinese – Malay intermarriages). It is a mix of Malay and Chinese languages from Hokkien, also known as Fukien, Fujian, or Southern Min.

To readers from Indonesia Babah Malay sounds perhaps exotic but without realizing it Indonesians or Chinese Indonesians use the following form daily. Indonesian language or Bahasa Indonesia itself is a modernised variation of Malay language.

Gua, lu & dia are Hokkien/Min words, semua (all) and orang (people) are Malay words.

In Bahasa Indonesia gua & lu is informal. It is mostly used between friends. However this is also common in Jakarta language for the Betawi (indigenous people of Jakarta). Back to Baba Malay. It is still used in Malacca and Singapore although it is experiencing the growing pressure from Malay and other Chinese languages.

This is the subject form in Tok Pisin. Here it is clear that most Pidgin words are phonetically spelled.

It is obvious that some Pidgin words are phonetically pronounced and spelled. The plural form ends with pela which is derived from the word fellow. If you are interested in knowing more about Tok Pisin Grammar, visit Unilang Tok Pisin for beginners.

Reading some books, websites and scientific publications about Pidgin and Creoles languages where I based this post upon, opened my eyes as this subject covers history, language and sociolinguistics. Those three are my passion. The legacy of history of a couple of centuries ago is very much alive now. I hope you enjoyed reading this.


The Atlas of Languages by Bernard Comrie, Stephen Matthews & Maria Polinsky
A Grammar of Baba Malay with sociophonetic considerations by Nala Huiying Lee PhD
Pidgin and Creole by P. Mühlhäusler

19 thoughts on “Pidgin and Creole

  1. Saya tahu tentang Tok Pisin waktu baca blog Agustinus Wibowo yang menyusuri perbatasan Papua barat dan Papua new guniea, penjelasan detailnya baru dari mbak yo ini. Thanks for sharing mbak Yo.

  2. Thank you Mbak Yo. Love the post very much. Pwrnah dengar beberapa kali tentang pidgin dan creole ini tapi baru tahu artinya. Menarik sekali perkembangan bahasa yang diadopsi jadi pidgin dan creole ini.

    • Sekarang tahu ya Dan. Sebenernya ngga diadopsi sih menurut sociolinguistics, pidgin muncul karena ada needs kalo ngga orang waktu itu ngga bisa berkomunikasi.

  3. Dari postingan ini saya bisa menyimpulkan, bahwa bahasa menunjukkan interaksi manusia dalam sejarah yang akhirnya menjadi penduduk suatu daerah dan membentuk bahasa baru sesuai kebutuhan ya. Dilihat dari sejarahnya memang betul banget ya Mbak, akibat perdagangan internasional, percampuran bangsa penjelajah dengan bangsa-bangsa lokal membutuhkan medium komunikasi yang bisa dimengerti kedua belah pihak. Wah, sejarah bahasa ini menarik buat diselami… terima kasih sudah berbagi!

  4. Wow!! Informasi yang sangat berharga sekali ini Mbak. Aku musti baca pelan2 sampai berulang2 buat menelaah. Menarik sekali. Jadi Pidgin itu adalah pemendekan kalimat ya. Iparku dari Curacao, tapi karena aku baru tahu info ini, jadi ga mengamati apa dia pakai Creole. Untuk bikin tulisan ini riset berapa lama Mbak? Penasaran 🙂

    • Jadi Pidgin itu adalah pemendekan kalimat ya Bukan. Deskripsi Pidgin lebih tepatnya: bahasa yang terdiri dari kata-kata pinjaman dari beberapa bahasa yang digunakan dan diucapkan berdasarkan fonetis. Bukan berarti ini menyingkat kalimat ya. Karena satu kalimat dalam bahasa Pidgin berdasarkan bahasa apapun, dasarnya ya apa yang didenger si pembicara, digabung dengan beberapa bahasa lain. Struktur bahasa Pidgin itu hampir ngga ada grammar, misalnya aja juga sangat basic. Kadang ada kata infinitif atau seperti contoh pembicara Costa rican pidgin bilang: Mi did have, maksudnya dia I had. Dalam bahasa Jamaican creole normal orang Jamaica bilang Welcome to I island (maksudnya welcome to my island). Orang yang ngga tahu Pidgin & Creole akan mikir ini orang Jamaica grammarnya ngaco tapi memang itulah struktur Pidgin.

      Coba aja Google Our father pray dalam Tok Pisin, kamu pasti bisa mengenali beberapa kata dalam bahasa Inggris yang dieja secara fonetis. Fonetis maksudnya: seperti Tok Pisin itu fonetisnya dari Talk Pidgin. Savvy dari savez-vous (pronouncenya save-vous) atau sabe. Hampir mirip kan sekilas kedengerannya?

      Orang Curacao pake bahasa Papiamento/Papiaments, ini termasuk Creole seperti tertera di pos diatas.

      Mulai baca-baca yang serius sejak Oktober tahun lalu. Nulis draft ini 2 bulan sambil cari dan buat gambar-gambar pendukungnya.

      • Aahhh oke oke, sekarang lebih paham aku. Sudah lebih jelas gambarannya. Menarik sekali ini Mbak. Pengetahuan baru. Thanks Mbak Yo untuk penjelasannya 🙂

  5. Oh wow, this is new knowledge to me!! Very interesting! 🙂

    Anyway, a few days ago I got asked from a lady whether I came from South Africa based on the “accent” in my Dutch. I certainly didn’t expect that 😛

  6. Wah mbak, aku sama sekali gak tahu tentang ini. Terimakasih sudah berbagi. Btw, ini agak OOT, karena lihat Costa Rican Creole di atas. Di Irlandia orang2 suka pakai me untuk menggantikan my. E.g Me mother, me father. Pusing aku.

    • Dulu sebelum tahu ciri-cirinya Creole aku tahunya bahasa Creole itu bahasa penduduk asli di beberapa pulau di Karibia Tje. Ternyata Creole itu istilah linguistik. Menarik banget memang baca informasi tentang ini. Dan yang aku penasaran apakah masa sekarang masih ada bahasa pidgin baru yang muncul ya karena dunia kan makin kecil? Tapi disisi lain, makin banyak orang bisa bahasa Inggris.

      Hmm, menarik itu Me dipake untuk menggantikan My. Apakah karena secara fonetis kedengerannya sama kalo pronouncenya cepet? Believe it or not, di Belanda juga beberapa tahun terakhir ini terjadi pergeseran penggunaan My jadi Me; Mijn (bacanya main, tapi kalo pronouncenya cepet jadi men) ejaanya jadi Me. Menurut tata bahasa ini membingungkan karena fungsinya berubah dari Possessive Pronoun (kata kepunyaan) jadi ke Personal Pronoun (kata ganti subyek/orang menjadi obyek).

  7. Pingback: MM: Jamaica Farewell | Chez Lorraine

  8. Pingback: Banish these words in 2016, university says | PRG HAWAII NEWS WITH RUSS ROBERTS

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