In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Creoles

  • Introduction
  • Introductory Works
  • Early Creolists and the History of the Field
  • Book Series
  • Bibliographies
  • Atlases
  • Reference Resources
  • Journals
  • The Pidgin/Creole Life Cyle Theory
  • Creole Continuum and Decreolization
  • African American Vernacular English
  • Grammaticalization
  • Variation
  • Creole Exceptionalism and Complexity and McWhorter’s Creole Prototype Hypothesis
  • Computer Modeling
  • Formal and Universalist Approaches
  • Creole Phonology
  • Creole Pragmatics
  • Acts of Identity
  • Education
  • Descriptions of Individual Languages

Linguistics Creoles
Pieter Muysken, Margot van den Berg
  • LAST REVIEWED: 28 October 2011
  • LAST MODIFIED: 28 October 2011
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199772810-0011


Languages in contact can result in the emergence of several new languages, ranging from pidgins and Creoles to intertwined or mixed languages and world Englishes. This article focuses primarily on Creoles and only marginally on pidgins. Pidgins are languages used in contacts between members of different language groups who have no language in common. They are often reduced in their structure and vocabulary and are primarily used as an intergroup means of communication in a particular domain, for example, trade. Creoles, which are often (but not always) derived from pidgins, are full-fledged languages with native speakers that can (but might not) be used in all aspects of life. Despite their ordinariness, Creoles may be considered a class apart, because they did not develop gradually like other languages but rather at a specific period and hence rather suddenly. Pidgin and Creole studies have become a diverse and lively subdiscipline within linguistics, with links to contact linguistics, sociolinguistics, historical linguistics, language acquisition, and linguistic theory and typology. The main question in this area of study is whether the specific origin of pidgins and Creoles is reflected in their grammatical properties and, if so, how. However, a number of other questions are also debated in the field, including variability in the Creoles, their relation to the (often European) colonial languages, and their place in education.

Introductory Works

A number of books have appeared over the years that bring together what is known about Creoles. The first and still one of the best is Reinecke 1975. Holm 1988 and Holm 1989 were a second attempt to provide maximal coverage of the domain in terms of topics, languages, and references. Also a number of introductions have appeared. Different books stress different aspects or have a different regional focus. Arends, et al. 1995 is particularly focused on the Atlantic area, while the introductions Mühlhäusler 1997 and Romaine 1988 offer richer data on the Pacific. Kouwenberg and Singler 2008 is an up-to-date overview of the field for scholars; Todd 1974, Sebba 1997, and Siegel 2008 are the more basic introductory texts. Holm and Michaelis 2009 samples the history of the field through a selection of its most influential articles.

  • Arends, Jacques, Pieter Muysken, and Norval Smith, eds. 1995. Pidgins and Creoles: An introduction. Creole Language Library 15. Amsterdam: Benjamins.

    Introductory multiauthor textbook that combines overviews of theories of Creole formation with descriptions of individual languages and discussions of linguistic features that are typically associated with the study of pidgins and Creoles. Focus is on grammatical issues and the Atlantic. Contains a list of all the known pidgins and Creoles as well as maps with their locations.

  • Holm, John A. 1988. Pidgins and Creoles. Vol. 1, Theory and structure. Cambridge Language Surveys. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge Univ. Press.

    Detailed overview of the history of Creole studies, the main theories of Creoles’ genesis, and a comparative survey of their structural features.

  • Holm, John A. 1989. Pidgins and Creoles. Vol. 2, References survey. Cambridge Language Surveys. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge Univ. Press.

    A very useful overview of a large series of pidgins and Creoles, with references, sociolinguistic information, and sample texts.

  • Holm, John A., and Suzanne Michaelis, eds. 2009. Contact languages: Critical concepts in language studies. 5 vols. London: Routledge.

    With reprints of some of the most influential articles that shaped the field of pidgin and Creole studies from the late 19th century onward, including some that are hard to find.

  • Kouwenberg, Silvia, and John Singler, eds. 2008. The handbook of pidgin and Creole studies. Blackwell Handbooks in Linguistics. Chichester, UK: Wiley-Blackwell.

    DOI: 10.1002/9781444305982

    An authoritative collective volume containing state-of-the-art overviews by many leading specialists in the field.

  • Mühlhäusler, Peter. 1997. Pidgin and Creole linguistics. Expanded and rev. ed. Westminster Creolistics 3. London: Univ. of Westminster Press.

    This author is a specialist in the pidgin and Creole varieties, notably Tok Pisin, spoken in New Guinea and northern Australia. One of his key contributions is his work on the notions of simplification and of lexical expansion. Originally published in 1985 (Oxford: Blackwell).

  • Reinecke, John E. 1975. A bibliography of pidgin and Creole languages. Oceanic Linguistics Special Publication 14. Honolulu: Univ. of Hawaii Press.

    A massive 876-page bibliography of pidgins and Creoles; given its publication date, mostly useful for the older sources it supplies.

  • Romaine, Suzanne. 1988. Pidgin and Creole languages. Longman Linguistics Library. London: Longman.

    Romaine carried out fieldwork on Tok Pisin. The main interest of this volume consists of the links this author establishes among Creole studies, historical linguistics, and language acquisition.

  • Sebba, Mark. 1997. Contact languages: Pidgins and Creoles. Modern Linguistics. London: Macmillan.

    This is a very accessible introduction to the field, with interest in sociolinguistic issues, variation, education, and literacy.

  • Siegel, Jeff. 2008. The emergence of pidgin and Creole languages. Oxford Linguistics. Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press.

    Introductory textbook on pidgins and Creoles that focuses on the emergence of these languages. Written from the perspectives of second-language acquisition and use as an alternative to the bioprogram hypothesis. Many data from the Pacific.

  • Todd, Loreto. 1974. Modern Englishes: Pidgins and Creoles. London: Routledge and Kegan Paul.

    DOI: 10.4324/9780203381199

    Particularly interesting for the observations on Cameroon Pidgin. Todd later published a second introduction, Pidgins and Creoles (London: Routledge, 1991).

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