LINGUIST List 16.433

Sat Feb 12 2005

Review: Historical Ling/Socioling: Tryon & Charpentier

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        1.    Hans Schmidt, Pacific Pidgins and Creoles: Origins, Growth and development

Message 1: Pacific Pidgins and Creoles: Origins, Growth and development

Date: 07-Feb-2005
From: Hans Schmidt <>
Subject: Pacific Pidgins and Creoles: Origins, Growth and development

AUTHORS: Tryon, Darrell T.; Charpentier, Jean-Michel
TITLE: Pacific Pidgins and Creoles
SUBTITLE: Origins, Growth and Development
SERIES: Trends in Linguistics. Studies and Monographs 132
PUBLISHER: Mouton de Gruyter
YEAR: 2004
Announced at

Hans Schmidt, Abteilung fuer Indonesische und Suedseesprachen,
Asien-Afrika-Institut, Universitaet Hamburg


Chapter 1 is an Introduction to the topic as well as an Introduction of
the two authors of this volume and their long acquaintance with the
Pacific, especially Vanuatu. Chapters 3 and 10 were written by Jean-Michel
Charpentier, researcher at the LACITO (Laboratoire de Langues et
Civilisations à Tradition Orale) and CNRS (Centre National de la Recherche
Scientifique), Paris, France. Chapters 4 to 9 mainly by Darrell T. Tryon,
Professor at the Research School of Pacific and Asian Studies, Australian
National University, Canberra, the remaining chapters jointly.

Chapter 2 is a short overview of nine present-day Pacific Pidgin
languages: the three Melanesian Pidgins, Hawaiian and Nauruan Pidgin
English, Broken and Australian Kriol, Pitcairn-Norfolk and the Ngatik
Men's language. They all have English as their lexifier; some of them have
become creolised. Their current status and number of speakers is given,
though not divided into first- and second-language speakers. The two
Australian varieties are not treated elsewhere in the book. At the end a
Bonin Islands Pidgin and Palmerston English are briefly mentioned, but
then declared to be "beyond the scope of this book, which has as its
primary focus the English-lexifier pidgins and creoles of Melanesia and
its close neighbours." Footnote 34 on page 149 extends this
taboo: "Hawaiian pidgin and pidgin Hawaiian are not treated in this study
as they are marginal ..." - Is that fair to the customer? The book's title
promises a treatise on "Pacific Pidgins and Creoles" and not only
the "Melanesian" ones.

In Chapter 3, Charpentier outlines previous theories of pidgin development
in the Pacific. A brief summary of Bickerton's "extreme universalist
theory" known as the Language Bioprogram Hypothesis is followed by the
presentation of the ideas of "partisans of the preponderance of substrate
influence": Mühlhäusler, Clark, Keesing, and Crowley. There is also a
section on Tom Dutton and Jakelin Troy whose work on Queensland Canefields
English (QCE) and New South Wales Pidgin (NSW) is presented as "the
missing link" in the genesis of Pacific Pidgins.

The following six chapters are arranged as three pairs: one relating the
history of contacts and the following one the language situation for a
given period of time. Contacts mean those between Europeans and Pacific
Islanders and Islander to Islander.

The first two "deal with the period 1788-1863, that is, from the first
European settlement of Sydney until the beginning of the Plantation period
in Queensland and the Pacific Islands, 1863." The next two with the period
1863-1906, that is, until the end of labour recruiting. The third time
frame is 1906-1975, "from the approximate founding of the British and
French colonies in Melanesia until the time when they became independent
sovereign states."

Chapter 4 is entitled "Early days: History of the contacts 1788-1863.
First the "Australian scene" is covered, detailing the growing interaction
between European invaders and Australian Aborigines. The second part is
devoted to maritime links between Australia and the South Pacific Islands.
Evidence is cited for shipping links between Sydney and the Pacific, esp.
Tahiti and Pohnpei.

In Chapter 5 we find an assessment of the language situation during the
same period (1788-1863). Again, the first section deals with Australia.
There is a sample of NSW Pidgin and a glossary of places and dates of
earliest recorded usage taken from Troy 1994. Examples of Pidgin from the
New Hebrides, Pohnpei, Kosrae, Ngatik, Tahiti and the Marquesas, the
Loyalty Islands and New Caledonia are quoted from early 19th century
literature on the Pacific. The last section is taken up by a Pacific
Pidgin glossary for the period, based mainly on Baker & Mühlhäusler 1996,
also listing places and dates of earliest recorded usage.

The next two chapters cover the period 1863-1906. Chapter 6 describes the
history of contacts on the plantations overseas (in Queensland, Fiji,
Samoa, New Caledonia, Hawaii and French Polynesia) and "at home", i.e. in
the three Melanesian countries of origin of the labourers. There are ten
tables listing the place of origin of the plantation labourers in various
countries, four tables listing the destinations of recruits from the three
Melanesian countries.

Chapter 7 is entitled "Jargon to pidgin: The language situation 1863-
1906". Examples of 19th century NSW Pidgin are contrasted with samples
from Melanesia and other Pacific areas. In the second part of this
chapter, the authors present transcripts of interviews recorded in the
1960s with the two last speakers of Queensland Canefields English (QCE)
and aged speakers of Bislama, presumably as specimens of Pidgins of the
period 1863-1906. 35 features are listed which differentiate this archaic
Bislama from modern speech, and 25 out of the 35 are also found in QCE.
The conclusion is that "there was a common Pacific Pidgin pool, with
variant forms (such as laik/olsem, onli/nomo) which gradually
differentiated into the three sister dialects Bislama, Solomons Pijin and
Tok Pisin."

The next two chapters cover the period 1906-1975. Chapter 8 describes the
History of contacts during the "Colonial days, 1906-1975". It is limited
to Melanesia, half of it devoted to the New Hebrides Condominium. Labour
recruiting shifted from overseas plantations to local ones. Tables are
given to show the destinations of recruits, the islands of origin of the
labourers on British and French plantations, even the size and the owner's
name of each plantation. Similar statistics of indentured labour are
presented for New Guinea and Papua and the Solomons including ten maps
giving the location of the plantations.

After the Second World War, urbanisation became the main force to bring
people speaking different languages together.

Chapter 9 is entitled "Differentiation: The language situation 1906-1975"
and begins with a brief overview of the "overall language situation at the
beginning of the 20th century."

In the section on the New Hebrides, we find a discussion of the various
source languages of the Bislama lexicon. It "went on to add a significant
number of borrowings from local Vanuatu vernaculars and French as the
[20th] century progressed." This is followed by Bislama utterances quoted
from different sources of that period, often reflecting the attitude of
the [white] writer towards the language. It is interesting to note that
Bislama was also the lingua franca between French and British planters in
the Condominium. In shorter sections Tok Pisin and Solomons Pijin are
treated similarly.

Finally some "differential elements" of the Pidgin varieties of the three
Melanesian colonies are presented: lexical differences and also
grammatical ones (although the authors had stated in footnote 69 on p.366
that "No commentary on the morphology and syntax of Bislama, Solomon Pijin
or Tok Pisin is provided ..."). The authors conclude that Melanesian
pidgins "had a long shared history in the 19th century" and their
differentiation really started at the end of the recruiting period.

Charpentier contributed Chapter 10 entitled "Today's world: 1975 to the
present". Here the role of the three Melanesian Pidgin varieties in
politics and education of each country is described, two thirds of the
chapter being devoted to Vanuatu's Bislama, one fifth to Papua New
Guinea's [PNG] Tok Pisin, the rest to Solomons Pijin.

The final chapter presents the overall conclusions on five pages: "the
unity of all English-lexifier Pacific Pidgins, all historically related in
one way or another ..." The summary includes a short sketch of "the
developmental path of English-lexifier Pacific pidgins and creoles" and
the difficulties are mentioned of assigning labels to their predecessors
such as "unstable jargon" or "stable pidgin". The "central role played by
[the port of] Sydney in the development of Pacific Pidgins" is stressed.
For the future, an "ever increasing creolisation and expansion" of the
Melanesian pidgins is predicted.

Appended are Vanuatu's Constitution of 1980 in Bislama, 30 maps, a list of
References and an Index.


This book provides a historical account of the development of Melanesian
Pidgin English, esp. Bislama of Vanuatu. I learned a lot about its history
and enjoyed reading it, e.g. a quote of Vanuatu's Prime Minister Walter
Lini (on p. 433): "The only reason to teach Bislama in schools would be to
read it and write it. This would require standardisation, and it would
take the life out of it." Or indirectly (on p. 423): "Walter [Lini] does
not care about the Constitution. Once he is in power, he will not be
bothered with it!" I also liked their comment (on page 470) that "...
overseas NGOs ... are often more concerned about proselytism than the
protection of local cultures."

Aside from a historical treatise I had also expected a linguistic analysis
or comparison of Pacific Pidgins. Tryon and Charpentier (T&C) "...have
attempted ... to demonstrate the unity of all English-lexifier Pacific
Pidgins ..." (page 479) and do so mainly by relating the "long shared
history [of the Melanesian pidgins] in the 19th century". It is laudable
that they brought the findings of Troy and Dutton about the influence of
the port of Sydney and the plantations in Queensland on Pacific Pidgins to
the attention of a broader audience. Figure 9 on page 376 (taken from
Mühlhäusler 1985) sums up the various influences on Tok Pisin. I would
have liked to see many more like this one.

I appreciated that the authors introduce themselves and their connection
with Melanesia right at the start of the book. Though it is a pity that
the second author did not include the "numerous articles and book
chapters" in this book's References which "he has published on Pacific
pidgins and creoles" (page 2) except Charpentier 1979a, 1982b and 1997.

But why didn't they introduce the topic equally carefully? The reader is
showered with technical terms like "trade language, contact language,
early pidgin vs. expanded pidgin, stable vs. unstable pidgin, jargon,
jargonised English, substandard variety of English, early Bislama or
sandalwood English, Queensland pidgin vs. Queensland Canefields English,"
etc. One has to read a long way until a definition is offered, if at all.
I found a definition of Tok Masta on p.382 and one of "stabilised pidgin"
in footnote 72 on p. 375. Other definitions I found rather confusing, like
Tok Pisin being called "a development of the trade jargons and Sandalwood
English ..." (p.457) and Solomons Pijin a "contact vernacular" and not a
vernacular (p.474). Elsewhere they speak of a "local vernacular" - what
then is a simple "vernacular"? On page 413 the local languages (as opposed
to Pidgin) are called "ancestral languages".

T&C call a Pidgin "not stabilised" while and because it has competing
forms (homonyms?) - Should we call English not stabilised because it also
has competing forms?

Table 25 on page 301 lists the names of the owners and the size of French
plantations in the New Hebrides - what is that good for? Tables
26+27+29+30+36 are similar - is all that detail really necessary? When
there are long lists of plantations in the text and their geographical
location is given on several maps, I would presume that their location or
ownership had an impact on the pidgin spoken there but the authors did not
elaborate on that. In general; I would have preferred to find the maps
close to the text they refer to instead of in an appendix at the end of
the book.

In a work of over 500 pages on Pacific Pidgins, I would have expected
tables with other statistics. I am curious about the growth of the number
of first and second-language speakers of these Pidgins/Creoles (only
figures for PNG 1977 quoted on p. 455) and the changes in the degree of
urbanisation, for instance. This point is briefly touched on page 480
("After about 1975, plantation life in Island Melanesia wound right down,
accompanied by significant migration from rural to urban areas."), but
again there are no figures to illustrate this statement. Similarly "an
opposition between the pidgin spoken in urban centers and that of the
islands and territory beyond, the rural zone" is claimed on page 480, but
I would have liked to see evidence of it.

On page 462, some PNG newspapers are listed, but only their titles, not
their contents or size nor the circulation. What about other media?
According to T&C, "Bislama is already written on a daily basis in certain
sectors (radio, agriculture)." (page 450). But even if people like me
cannot read the radio, to what extent is Pidgin spoken or sung on the
radio or TV? How does that compare to the vernaculars and English/French?

How large is the market for books and journals in Pidgin? On page 435 we
hear about "the abundance of publications which further helped the
national coverage achieved by Bislama" - but nowhere in the book did I
find any titles of these abundant publications except for the Bible.

As a reviewer I read a book more consciously and conscientiously which is
a good exercise. This book offered me numerous occasions that made me stop
and think: Pidgin is used as an inter-ethnic language (p.455) or for
intertribal communication in PNG (p.334); it is used for intercultural
communication (p.2) or inter-group communication (p.412), nationwide
communication (p.444) or even daily inter-communication (is there such a
word?) in Vanuatu (p.448); and Asian and Pacific immigrants in Hawaii use
it for their inter-ethnic communication (p.14).

When discussing the choice of a national language, T&C ask (on page
459): "In particular, should an Austronesian or Papuan language be
chosen?" - I doubt that any indigenous person in PNG ever asked that
question. One should not project the fundamental difference between the
Austronesian and Papuan (or rather non- Austronesian) language families
onto their speakers whose cultures cannot be kept apart along the same

First they relate someone's prediction before independence (on page 460)
that "Tok Pisin ... would founder because of the special nature of Papua."
[as opposed to the Territory of New Guinea] and on the same page they
assure us: "Even though it [Tok Pisin] had an Austronesian language as its
main lexical source, it remained associated with the Papuan world ..." -
On page 471 it is even "a Papuan universe."

On page 471 they state: "Of the three major Melanesian pidgins it [Tok
Pisin] is the one which is the most cut off from the Austronesian
substratum ..." - In what way? Earlier (on page 460) they had admitted
that "it [Tok Pisin] had an Austronesian language as its main lexical
source." And isn't Tok Pisin the variety with the largest identified
portion of its lexicon taken from an Austronesian language (Tolai)?

What about West New Guinea? Has Tok Pisin entered Irian Jaya? Is any other
kind of pidgin spoken there, e.g. Pidgin Indonesian or Pidgin Javanese? Is
it true that English instead of Tok Pisin is the lingua franca in the

I found somewhat unfortunate choices of terminology: "a deep Melanesian
culture" (on page 424) - what does that mean? Are there shallow cultures?

"The size of the languages and cultures ..." (on page 470) - How do they
measure it? By number of speakers or lexemes? The height of pyramids
compared to totem poles?

Page 456 "... and the language of Australia, English." - I wonder how
Australian Aborigines like that.

Page 7: I doubt that those ni-Vanuatu whose mother tongue is a Polynesian
outlier language would like to be called "migrants."

Page 351: "... there were some 32,000 indigenous New Hebrideans involved
as labour on British and French plantations ..." - What a nice way of
putting it.

Page 406: "... and the not less pseudo-Anglophones." = what does that mean?

Page 452: "To propose that Bislama become the sole official language for
budgetary reasons, rather than using English, French and Bislama, would be
too expensive in terms of the cost of translation required." - Awkward
wording since the proponents wanted to save money by doing away with

Page 484: "... all the peoples of Island Melanesia ..." - as opposed
to "mainland Melanesia" (the island of New Guinea)?

[To read the whole comments, please open the database version of this
review which you can access by searching for this review on:


Hans Schmidt, Abteilung fuer Indonesische und Suedseesprachen, Asien-
Afrika-Institut, Universitaet Hamburg, taught from 2000 to 2002 at the
University of the South Pacific, Emalus Campus in Port Vila, Vanuatu.
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