Earlier generations believed that pidgins and creoles were wrong versions of English. It is only comparatively recently that linguists have realized that pidgins and creoles were rather new languages. Their words were largely taken from an older language during a period of linguistic crisis to fill an urgent need for communication (Holm, 2000, p. 25). This makes them appear to be deformed versions of that older language. If, however, one examines them as linguistic systems, analyzing the structure of their phonology, syntax, and word formation, it becomes evident that these systems are quite different from those of the language from which they drew their lexicon i.e. base language. Their systems are so different, in fact, they can hardly be considered as dialects of their lexicon. They are new language, shaped by many of the same linguistic forces that shaped English and other proper languages. This paper explores the development of the Early African American pidgin-common language.
Holm defines a pidgin as a reduced language that results from extended contact between groups of people with no language in common; it evolves when they need some means of verbal communication, perhaps trade, but no groups learns the native language of any other group for social reasons that might include lack of trust or close contact (2000, p. 29). The African American pidgin was a product of several creoles within the African community. The phonology of the pidgin can be best understood by looking into the various creoles in Africa. The Upper Guinea varieties of Creole Portuguese played a pivotal role in the construction of the African American pidgin. They do not follow the same phonotactic rules as those spoken in the gulf of Guinea islands (Deumert & Durrleman, 2006, p. 30). The upper Guinea constraints have no constraint against words ending with a consonant e.g. Cape Verdean rapaz or Guine-Bissau CP rapas . This can be attributed to the fact that the two groups of Portuguese creoles have different substrate languages within the Niger-Congo family: the Gulf of Guinea creoles were mostly influenced by Kwa and Bantu languages, while Upper Guinea creoles were influenced by Mande and West Atlantic languages (Siegel, 2008, p. 18). The latter permit final nasal consonants and final consonants respectively, and vowel elision in Mande languages results in consonant sequences not permitted in many other West African languages.
The French colonies also had an influence in the construction of the African American pidgin. The French based creoles showed very few phonotactic constraints as disused above except for those spoken in the colonies that later became officially Anglophone, the French creoles remained in closer contact with their lexical source language than did the ‘conservative’ creoles of the gulf of guinea and Suriname. A further explanation might be that the seventeenth century pidgin French was more influenced by the West Atalantic languages(spoken in Senegal, where the French established their first trading post early in the century) (Deumert & Durrleman, 2006, p. 12).
As aforementioned, most of the African American slaves were obtained from West Africa. The formation of the African American pidgin therefore relied a lot on the vowels from the west African groups. Holm posits the following forms the predominating vowel pattern in West African languages: i, e, Ɛ, a, Ɔ, o, u. (2000, p. 169). The seven vowel system is found not only in Kwa languages like Yoruba, Bini and Ewe, but also in Mande languages like Bambara and Susu. However, it should be noted that there are a number of languages with eight to ten vowels, ranging from Ibo to Dyola. In many of these [Ɛ] and [Ɔ] are sub-phonemic, conditioned by vowel harmony, etc (McWhorter, 2000, p. 22; Siegel, 2008, p. 30). Moreover, Kongo and a number of north-Western Bantu languages have a five-vowel system in which [Ɛ] and [Ɔ] are allophones of /e/ and /o/ respectively. Given these facts, it might be expected that the original vowel systems of the Atlantic creoles consisted of either seven vowels as above or five vowels with [Ɛ] and [Ɔ] as all allophones.
The seven-vowel system was probably characteristic of many varieties of creolized English in the eighteenth century. However, some linguists argue that the reduced five-vowel system for Early Jamaican CE, one form of the African American pidgin, lies in the fact that Sierra Leone Krio (McWhorter, 2000, 29), which probably influenced by the speech Jamaican Maroons and North American blacks at the end of the eighteenth century, has seven oral vowels, as does West African pidgin English. Besides the vowels, the African American pidgin also had a great deal of the consonants of the West African languages (Siegel, 2008, p. 56). The construction of any pidgin required a close interaction between the parties involved. Working as slaves in the plantations provided a platform for the development of a common language.
A common language is essential for communication purposes within a given group of people. The shipping of slaves into America in the seventeenth and eighteenth century brought together Africans from different parts of the African continent, which later formed the African Americans (Deumert & Durrleman, 2006, p. 40). To be able to communicate effectively, the Africans (mainly from the West African Countries) constructed a language, pidgin, which they used as their mode of communication. The diversity of the languages brought in different aspects. The French Creoles and the Upper Guinea creoles played a pivotal role in the development of the language.
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