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Defining Simplicity: Jamaican Patwa
Defining Simplicity: Jamaican Padwa
In sociolinguistics there is often a need to define phases of language development that are neither discrete nor simple. Yet it is also clear that these same terms, the best example being Pidgin and Creole were adopted from popular culture and are therefore loaded to some degree in usage. The degree to which these words are "loaded" depends a great deal on context. Sociolinguistics defines Pidgin as a language of lingua franca, derived from the mixing of two languages by a group of people who have a need to communicate on some level but speak two varied languages. This work will explore the terminology, accepted internal and external definitions of it, including pidgin, creole and linguistic simplicity, looking finally at a modern example of a creole language, Jamaican Patwa in the context of the definition of simplicity.
The development of a pidgin language is often as a result of massive immigration and/or business, where one population has cause and need to speak and understand foreigners. There is also some sense that pidgin is, in common usage a loaded term, supported in part by the fact that it usually has a very simple structure and in a postcolonial sense offers the idea that those who speak it are also "simple." To take the weight out of the term one must more closely examine the development of such a language and eliminate the colonial ideation of superiority that dominates popular culture with regard to common usage of "pidgin" language.
One manner in which this phenomena of "loading" pidgin with the ideation of simplicity has to do with the fact that pidgin often develops in a situation where both language speakers must reduce their own language to its most basic level so the other might understand. Making the language itself similar to the manner in which an adult would speak to a child, leaving out many modifiers and causing the language to lose a great deal of nuance. The issue is entirely mutual for both speakers as each will find the other particularly silly sounding when he or she speaks the other's language in this manner and will themselves find it rather silly to speak in this manner. Yet, the issue of "superiority" comes in to play when one speaker believes that his or her language is superior to the others and the "others" inability to speak it proof of the "others" inferiority. This to a large degree is simply a product of social and political dominance and even xenophobia on the part of usually the dominant political player (Olade Aboh & Smith, 2009, p. 321).
Pidgins have often come into existence as a result of colonial conquest and/or situations where there is a need for one culture to enter the other's culture often for economic reasons. Some have even used the example of liking pidgin to a language that is similar to how a foreigner would speak to a native speaker if he or she were not proficient in the native language. (McWhorter, 2005, p. 168) having said all of this one must then allow sociolinguistics to neutralize the term pidgin to simply mean a necessary form of communication between that develops so that two individuals who speak two different languages can communicate.
Second the term creole, not to be confused with Creole (a term used to describe both a culture and individuals of foreign decent that are born in a foreign land and therefore are a sociocultural amalgam of the two locals) should be discussed. The term creole when used in reference to a language is described by most as a language that has developed from a lingua franca, or pidgin that then evolves into a language that is accepted as the regional language and becomes the language learned by native speakers from birth. Additionally one must be clear that a creole language does not represent a simplification of another language and though it might borrow from two or more languages to come into existence it becomes a language independent from both or all of those that it borrows from with a complex syntax and grammar. The defining difference then between these two developmental stages in language formation is the level of complexity between the two and one must necessarily precede the other. It must also be made clear that pidgin languages can take more than one demonstrative turn, they can evolve to become a creole language (often requiring isolation) or die out as the other is assimilated into the dominant culture or the need for communication between the two linguistically variant groups suddenly ends. Lastly, one must point out that the evolution of every human language was likely to have taken place through the development of a pidgin and then possibly a creole, as one can fully attest to the fact that English is a Germanic language but its main lexifier is a romance language, probably Latin. This example is important going into the next aspect of this discussion because in the case of the language of choice for the discussion English is both the lexifier and the substrate, meaning that the language receives its lexicon (vocabulary) from mostly English sources and that the grammar and usage rules (substrate) is also derived from English. Having made these distinctions one can then move on to discuss the concepts in context of a particular language. To do so this researcher will attempt to define simplicity and create from that definition the comparison needed to better understand Jamaican Patwa, a complex creole vernacular language of Jamaica.
The measuring of simplicity can be relatively difficult as one discusses these two terms, pidgin and creole, in the context of a particular language partly because there is also a sense that creole though developed to some degree is a simpler language than its lexifier or its substrate. Having said this one must associate the concept of simplicity to a sociolinguistic theory. Though there are several variations on the theory of the development of a creole language which could create greater understanding of the phenomena of creole language development. Yet this researcher finds the most agreement with the theory variance that claims that creole language development is not a developed simplification of the lexifier or substrate languages but is instead a stage in the development of an independent linguistic identifier.
The other view of the origin of simplicity is that it represents a lack of development of complexity, rather than a reduction of complexity. This view holds that one cannot simplify what is not yet complex -- and therefore, the simplicity found in child language and second language acquisition is not the result of any productive process, but rather a reflection of an early stage of linguistic development… I take the point-of-view that simplicity and pigeons in creoles reflects, for the most part, the lack of expansion rather than a reduction in complexity. (Siegel, 2008, p. 22)
It is clear that Siegel is defending a theory that to some degree represents the simplicity must be separated from any assumption that it is less than a comparative model. In other words simplicity should be defined as a product of linguistic development and be viewed through the lens of neutrality rather than superiority.
Again having better define the terms associated with this analysis this work will look at the language known as Jamaican patwa or patois. The language itself is defined as a creole language as it is the accepted (though not the official) first language of the Jamaican Island and was developed from the interactions between English speaking colonizers and African slaves. (Cooper, 2009, 16) Though the social history of the language on the island will have only very brief discussion in this work the basic premise is that the regional African dialects of the slaves served as their native language until such time as the British English and the slaves had greater reason to communicate in a lingua franca, mostly for the purpose of plantation agriculture of sugar.
Jamaican patwa is therefore a creole language associated with the development of a necessity by the dominant culture (colonizers) to communicate with the workforce. Most assume that the greatest reason why English is the dominant language in this creole language is because the African slaves all came from different places in Western Africa who all had varied languages and dialects. So for the most part Jamaican patwa is seen as a largely English language with some limited western African lexicon. Jamaican patwa is an extremely interesting sociolinguistic case study as it is a living an evolving example of language development. Yet as most creole languages it has not developed without controversy as many linguists believe that it is a simplification of English and others believe that it is an independent language derived from English. While some claim that Jamaican patwa will eventually disappear as the necessity to assimilate and speak and write "proper English" especially on a professional…[continue]
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