Pidgins and Creoles:
When people of two different language communities having little or no knowledge of each other’s language are compelled to keep communicating with each other for purposes of trade or for any other purpose of that nature, the makeshift language that evolves is known as a pidgin. Pidgins were evolved not only by merchants buying and selling things but also by buyers, mediators and slaves involved in the slave trade practised in Europe, Africa, and the Arab world.
If we think about the history of colonization, i.e., about how the British, the Dutch, the Spaniards, and the Portuguese, for example, colonized different parts of Asia and Africa, we can imaginatively visualize how during the initial stages a number of pidgins must have evolved out of the necessity for communication between the invaders ruling over their newly colonized territories and the people in those newly colonized territories.
As Crystal has pointed out in his Encyclopedia of Language (p. 336), “pidgins have a limited vocabulary, a reduced grammatical structure, and a much narrower range of functions, compared to the languages which give rise to them”.
A pidgin is not the mother tongue of anyone; it is a restricted language used only in situations for which it is meant. When a pidgin turns out to be the mother tongue of some people, as must have happened in the case of children born of parents displaced from their native habitat and sold to masters speaking a different language, that pidgin is said to have acquired the status of a creole.
During the nineteenth century and the first half of the twentieth century, Britain was one of the major centres of political power and the main centre for the trade network in different parts of the world. So traders from almost all over the world were obliged to communicate with the British.
Besides, Christian preachers from Britain, the United States and other English speaking parts of the world tried to reach people, particularly the tribal people in remote areas of Asia and Africa. All this led to the emergence of a large number of English-based pidgins. During the first two world wars English speaking soldiers staying in various parts of the world had to interact for long spans of time with people who had little or no English.
Similarly, during the Korean War and the Vietnamese war, American soldiers had to interact closely with the people in Korea and in South Vietnam. So these four wars also led to the emergence of a number of English-based pidgins. Some of these pidgins died an infantile death. But many of them survived and a number of the pidgins that survived were creolized.
For example, the English-based pidgin called Bamboo English that came into existence in Korea during the Korean war, the Madras Pidgin, which was a mixture of English and some South Indian languages, mainly Tamil, the English-based Japanese pidgin that evolved during the American occupation of certain areas of Japan during the 1940s and the English-based China coast pidgin, which was once widely used in Hongkong and also in coastal China, are now extinct.
But the pidgin that evolved in Suriname and other neighbouring areas was creolized and is now the first language of approximately 80,000 speakers. Krio started as a pidgin but was later creolized and is now the first language of more than 50,000 speakers in Sierra Leone. Similarly, the English-based pidgin that started in Cameroon more than a century ago was later creolized and is now the second language of about two million people in that country.
What is now known as Black English started as a number of pidgins spoken by slaves bought from Africa and sold to the European settlers in the Caribbean islands and the American coast. These pidgins were later creolized and then with the passage of time decreolized so as to be brought increasingly closer to the standard variety of American English.