Pidgins and Creoles: Attitudes

Pidgins and Creoles: Attitudes


Language is a multipurpose and indispensable instrument for communication in every human endeavor. However, some languages, apart from performing more functions than the others, are also seen as more prestigious than the others. This study focused on the attitudes of people to Pidgin/Creole worldwide. The purpose was to find out to what extent people’s attitudes towards P/C have affected their growth. To explore the possibilities, the researcher used a structured questionnaire. Theoretical and empirical studies on the subject were also presented. All these were analyzed using Daniel Karlz’s Functionalist Theory of Attitude. The findings revealed that all over the world, the majority of people still have negative attitudes towards P/C.


Language is one of the major vehicles of cultural experience. Language is also understood by the people who use it because it is assumed that people develop their kind of language, and the use of such language is unique to the society in which it is spoken or used. The concern of this study is Pidgin/Creole. Pidgins and Creoles, are the many languages of the world but often assigned to somewhat, marginal positions. Although they have existed since time immemorial, in comparison with “fully-fledged” languages, little is known about them. (Wardhaugh 54).

The question is, why have P/C not gained such recognition even though the speakers/users cut across the globe? A need has arisen for the study of the attitudes exhibited towards P/C by society at large.

The following Research Questions guided the study.

(1) What are the attitudes of the uneducated Nigerians towards Nigeria’s Pidgin/Creole languages?

(2) To what extent have the attitudes of the educated Nigerians affected the growth of Pidgin and Creole languages in Nigeria?

(3) To what extent have the attitudes of the Nigerian government affected the growth of Pidgin/Creole languages in Nigeria?


1. Concept of Pidgin

Note that the words “Pidgin and Creole” are technical terms used by linguists and not necessarily the speakers. That is why speakers of Jamaican Creole call their language “Patwa” (from Patois) and speakers of Hawaii Creole English call theirs ‘pidgin’ and in Nigeria ‘pidgin’. Pidgins are looked at by Esquire as start-up languages, restricted to specific social domains or seasonal events such as trading. They are essentially pragmatic means of communication and remain limited in their structure and vocabulary, in as much as interactive needs are met.

They are languages that developed to enable contacts between colonial masters/supervisors and workers/slaves ). They are languages that represent speech forms that do not have native speakers and are therefore primarily used as means of communication among people who do not share a common language whose degree of development and sophistication attained depends on the type and intensity of communicative interaction among its users. (Muysken and Smith. For Bakker, they are languages lexically derived from other languages but structurally simplified, especially in their morphology. They come into being where people need to communicate but do not have a language in common. Pidgins have no (or few) first language speakers, they are the subject of language learning, they the structural norms, they are used by two or more groups and they are usually unintelligible for speakers of the language from which the lexicon derives ).

Wardaugh (57) also sees pidgin as a language with no native speakers, no one’s first language but a contact language. By extension, pidgin is the product of a multilingual situation in which those who wish to communicate must find or improve a simple code to enable them to do so. This is why a pidgin is sometimes regarded as a ‘reduced’ variety of a ‘normal’ language with simplification of the grammar and vocabulary of that language considerable phonological variation, and an admixture of local vocabulary to meet the special needs of the contact groups.

2. Concept of Creole

Creole languages are mother tongues that arise out of pidgins which by definition are not mother tongues. It is important to note here that pidgin languages are the crucible out of which Creole languages arise. When pidgin language is pushed on to the next generation as a mother tongue and becomes the language of a community, they turn into creoles (Frank Sil Int.). If a pidgin operates as a lingua franca, as in trade situations, it may persist in its simplified form for a long time. In a plantation situation, though the children of the original pidgin speakers may learn the pidgin as a first language, it may become the native language of the new community, when this happens, the pidgin becomes a Creole (Grady et al, 503). When children start learning the pidgin as their first language and it becomes the mother tongue of a community, it is called Creole. Examples are Gullah, Jamaican Creole, and Hawaii Creole English (Whorter @ Educational cyber play brand).

Given the above, it is not a hidden fact as stated previously and widely acknowledged that Pidgin and Creole are on a par with other languages, that in fact, they meet all the systematic structural, lexical, and communicative requirements for an operational language. Yet they hold a unique position apart from non-creoles, mostly because they are young, fast, growing, and based on several linguistic systems. They are also distinctive because they originated and developed not through child native language acquisition, but adult constructive processes under emergent stressful conditions. They testify to the resilience of the human spirit in the face of adversity and the creativity and organization of the human brain. It is their unique properties that distinguish Pidgin/Creole from other languages.

3. Concept of Attitude

According to the definition suggested by Fasold, attitudes are all kinds of behavior concerning language (148). It includes attitudes toward the language itself (Annika qtd in and attitudes towards speakers of a particular language. (Hohenlohe qtd in Agbedo 47). Attitudes are crucial in language growth or decay, restoration or destruction. The status and importance of a language in society and within an individual derive largely from adopted or learned attitudes. (Agbedo 47).


We adopted the functionalist theory of attitude proposed by Daniel Karlz as our theoretical framework.

The functionalist approach focuses on the responses speakers of a language make about the social function of a language (Fasold qtd in Akande and Salami 75). According to Karlz, attitudes are determined by the functions they serve for us and people hold given attitudes because these attitudes help them achieve their basic goals (135).

Research Question 1:

What are the attitudes of the uneducated Nigerian towards Nigeria Pidgin/Creole languages?

The Attitudes to P/C by People

1. Uneducated Nigerians:

A sizeable percentage of the speakers of NP in Nigeria are uneducated. This assertion was made by Elugbe and Omamor (140) who observe that NP offers the uneducated Nigerians a chance to communicate with their educated fellow Nigerians who may or may not themselves be speakers of NP. To such uneducated users/speakers especially in the areas that are not traditionally associated with NP, they have a feeling of pride, positive and healthy attitudes towards NP. They feel they have an advantage over those who are uneducated and cannot speak pidgin. Examples of this are to be found in Garki (Ugwuoba), some butchers in an abattoir, motor-parks, Abakiliki farmers and laborers, and even some old men and women in the villages. At times, such people are appointed secretaries for their groups. On the other hand, there are the uneducated speakers of NP who simply give no thought to its social or other implications. As far as they are concerned, it is just another language they speak. Examples of these are to be found mostly in those areas traditionally associated with NP – Warri, Sapele, Port Harcourt and other parts of the Niger Delta, police, Army, and other service barracks, Sabon Gari (the stranger-settlements). In these communities, NP has a prominent role and is expanding into Creole with a small, but enlarging, a community of native speakers who may or may not have another Nigerian language alongside it. NP speakers of this category have the healthiest attitude to NPE (Elugbe and Omamor 141).

Other uneducated NP speakers belong to one of the major tribes-Hausa, Igbo, Yoruba. It is worthy of note that any major tribe speaker of NP generally does not use it as a first language. He uses it only as a means of communication with other Nigerians. For him, it is a pity that others cannot speak his language he speaks NP only when his language has failed.

Igbo-speaking areas are fertile ground for NP. This is because the average speaker of Igbo is also a speaker of NP. The Igbos of the uneducated category are mainly traders in all the major markets. Besides, the Igbo land is surrounded by minority groups. These markets attract many people from all over Nigeria. Elugbe opines that since the average stall-owner (an Igbo) has acquired some basic education to enable him to read and write, “he can carry on a conversation in some kind of English which gradually crystallizes into NP as he comes more and more in contact with non-Igbo-speaking customers”. The usual case is that a prospective customer is first addressed in Igbo. It is only when it becomes clear that he cannot speak Igbo that NP is tried. Among all the major tribes in Nigeria, Igbo have a more progressive attitude to NP. Hausa and Yoruba if we access them based on accommodation, we will rank them as least progressive in attitude to NP.

In summary, it can be seen that the only uneducated Nigerians with a negative attitude to NP are those who belong to the major tribes. Their negative attitudes do not stem from any obvious, conscious group decision, it is, in fact, no different from the attitude they would have towards other Nigerian languages (Elugbe & Omamar 143).

On the international scene, the issue of attitudes of people toward PC (Pidgin and Creole) has attracted many opinions and comments from language scholars. A noted West Indian linguist Mervyn Alleyne (1-10) researched the language situation in St. Lucia and came out with the conclusion that the general attitude toward the Creole spoken there was one of hostility. How would one expect a language to survive, if the general attitude toward it were one of hostility? Douglas Midgett corroborated with Alleyne who did a similar survey that made him conclude that “A very negative evaluation has continued to be placed on Patois (a Creole in St Lucia) equating its use with all that is backward, rural, negro, and unsophisticated. Patois is seen as an inferior language capable of obstructing progress (160).

Pat Sharpe, a linguist who worked with Gullah (another Caribbean Creole language) from about 1979 until her death in 2002 reported that the Gullah couple she worked with expressed thus about Gullah, “when we were young, it was drilled into us that if we expected to get ahead, we must get rid of the Gullah”. (qtd in.

Frank (20) expressed disappointment at the treatment of Creole. He asserted that what linguists understand as Creole languages are popularly derided as corrupted and inferior forms of a “standard” language like English or French. According to him, for a long time, St Lucian Creole has been called “broken French”, and Gullah and other English Creoles have been called ‘broken English’. He pointed that speakers of the standard languages and particularly members of the education establishment would rather see the patois wiped out and replaced by the standard language.

Research Question 2:

To what extent have the attitudes of the educated Nigerians affected the growth of Pidgin and Creole languages in Nigeria.

1. The Educated and P/C

This set of Nigerians contribute unconsciously to the “linguistic genocide” of NP as a result of linguicism and linguistic imperialism. Uzozie (105) in these words captures:

Linguicism is concerned with how language can be used to create unequal access to economic, military, and political power while linguistic genocide is a deliberate killing of a language using agents of linguicism.

He explains further that linguistic imperialism referred to above gives English pride of place vis-à-vis indigenous languages, and creates in the minds of the colonized peoples the impression of linguistic inferiority complex that makes them and their governments not care about the indigenous language and promotion (C/P inclusive). Educated Nigerians kill C/P by

  1. Perpetuating the colonial mentality of thinking that P/C and other languages are inferior to English, they, therefore, feel that speaking English alone will bring them or their children economic, political, and social power in the country.
  2. Prohibiting their children from speaking pidgin at homes.

This is because they feel that if their children master pidgin or LI, it will debar them from mastering English or doing well in other school subjects.

iii.  Many educated parents and their children associate the English language with upward social climbing, good jobs, bureaucratic and political power as well as higher and better education. They, therefore, discourage their children and themselves from using the codes. This attitude can also be noticed in the haste with which they withdraw their children from schools where English is not spoken. These negative attitudes to any other language in Nigeria by educated Nigerians have led some authors like Uzozie and Skutnabb to refer to the English language respectively as “language cannibal” (107) and “the foremost killer language” (46).

Admittedly, some of the prejudice to P/C is universal. A typical example is Papua New Guinea where Tok Pisin is the pidgin. A nine-year-old school girl when asked by this author what the teachers did if a child spoke pidgin answered:

Paitim em. EM bai paitim em. EM bai krosin new blem long ol sa speak pidgin. Olsem ol speak pidgin bai headmaster bai bel kat na olsem paitim ol na raitim new bilong ol. EM bai punisem em; interpreted – Hits them. He‘ll hit them. He‘ll scold them for speaking pidgin. If they speak pidgin, the headmaster will write their names (down on a list). He will punish them (Skutnabb-Kangas 306).

The above is a confirmation of the reports by children in Papua New Guinea to this author that they received various punishments for speaking Tok Pisin at school.

In a diglossic situation such as in Haiti, there are traditional power relationships exemplified in the distributions of the two varieties of language, e.g Haitian Creole and the local variety of standard French. Everyone, speaks the former, but the latter is known additionally among the ‘upper levels of Haitian society. The reason is that Creole is associated with ignorance, poverty, and inferiority, even by those who speak it, but at the same time, it provides a feeling of solidarity as a people; it is what makes Haitians distinctively Haitians. The standard variety of French, though quite alien to well over three-quarters of the population, is the preferred variety for education and access to the outside world (Wardaugh 82).

The same phenomenon in Haiti presents itself in Jamaica. In the words of Decamp (26), “there is a strong social prejudice against the Creole, a prejudice which inhibits even the middle class, many of whom lead lives of desperate linguistic anxiety loudly proclaiming the superiority of their own “standard” English while nursing inward doubts about whether their English is sufficiently standard. “The use of a standard variety of English by a Jamaican serves as a social marker. The truth is that in the Jamaican speech community, Creole is inseparably associated with poverty, ignorance, and lack of moral character.

Research Question 3:

To what extent have the attitudes of the Nigerian government affected the growth of Pidgin/Creole languages in Nigeria?

1. Government and P/C:

Elugbe and Omamor opined that the Nigerian Government, both at the federal and state levels, never mentions NP. And yet, if what is a major language is determined by the population of the speakers, then NP is a major Nigerian language. However, they gave the following as the reasons why the government are not interested in NP:

  1. It is educated Nigerians that are in government, their prejudices are carried there. Whether they speak NP or not with colleagues, they know they did not attend the academic height that brought them there by speaking/using NP. Therefore, in any policy matter relating to language then, they cannot be counted on to suggest a (meaningful) role for NP in government or education
  2. They see NP as inferior to English.

iii. Lack of development. Without orthography and any literacy material or literature of any kind, it cannot effectively compete with other Nigerian languages for government recognition.

In Hawai Island, most people speak pidgin, Hawai’ English, or both. However, the negative ideologies surrounding pidgin have far-reaching consequences. (Drager, et al.). For example, in 1987 the Board of Education tried to pass legislation that effectively banned the use of pidgin in the classroom, and teachers were encouraged to use only English in the classroom. This attitude of the government to P/C is universal, but for time constraints, we stop here.

2. Linguists and P/C:

Hynes (3) has pointed out that before the 1930s, pidgins and creoles were largely ignored by linguists who regarded them as ‘marginal languages’ at best. Some linguists were even advised to keep away from studying them lest they jeopardize their careers. Because of their origins, however, their association with poorer and darker members of society, and through the perpetuation of misleading stereotypes …most interest, even where positive, have considered them merely curiosities. He adds that much interest and information, scholarly as well as public, has been prejudiced. These languages have been considered, not creative adaptations, but degenerations; not systems in their own right, but deviations from other systems. Their origins have been explained, not by historical and social forces, but by inherent ignorance, indolence, and inferiority.

Fortunately, in recent years, such attitudes have changed; linguists have discovered many interesting characteristics about them. Characteristics which appear to bear on fundamental issues to do with all languages, ‘fully fledged’ and ‘marginal’ alike; have become an important part of the sociolinguistic study, with its literature and, of course, its controversies. The speakers to some extent, have come to realize and recognize that what they speak is not just a “bad” variety of this language or that, but a language with its legitimacy, i.e its history, structure, array of functions, and the possibility of winning recognition as a “proper’ language (Wardaugh 55).


In this study, we have made use of the structured – questionnaire approach to elicit information on the attitudes of Nigerians towards NPE. We sampled 50 subjects randomly from Nnamdi Azikiwe University. The questionnaire contains 7 items focusing both on the use, the attitudes, and the identities of the subjects to the code. The subjects were from the diverse linguistic background.

In this method, the informants’ attitudes to NPE were inferred from the responses they have towards the language, their responses also were calculated in percentage.


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