ENGB3 – Pidgins & Creoles &The Great Vowel Shift

And the the third of my email exchanges from over the weekend.

What I’d really like to see happening is this kind of interchange happening as a matter of course across the groups, and it would be better to do it on here, or via Edmodo,  so that everyone can get the benefit without me having to spend ages cutting and pasting!

I’m a little confused about the difference between a creole and a pidgin?
A pidgin is a kind of ‘reduced’ language caused by contact between speakers of mutually incompatible languages. Lots of the grammatical words and inflections are ‘stripped out’, so that communication consists largely of a mix of the lexical words from the languages concerned. If the two communities remain in the same place, and continue to mix socially & culturally, they will have children. As children acquire language they ‘construct’ the grammatical rules as they assemble the language(s) they hear around them, so that a new language is born that is a hybrid of the two (or even more) languages that made up the pidgin of their parents’ generation. This new, fully fledged language, with its full complement of grammatical structures, is known as a ‘creole’. It is of course possible (indeed most common) for the creole to exist as a colloquial, often socially stigmatised, language alongside the original language(s). So, for example, you have various West Indian creole languages alongside the ‘official’ colonial languages (such as English.)
Good introduction on a horrible looking page here:
Cassandra and I were both wondering about what actually changed in the Great Vowel Shift. We understand that it affected long vowel sounds, but having compared Bill Bryson and Crystal’s explanations, we’re still unsure about what is meant by the ‘chain reaction’ of sounds that ‘moved forward and upward in the mouth’. I don’t really understand what exactly moves forward and upward; is it the place in the mouth people blocked the escape of air when making the sound? Evidently I’m still a little hazy when it comes to the science of speech–place of articulation etc! The example that Bryson gives is that the ‘o’ sound of ‘spot’ became the ‘a’ of ‘spat’, before ‘spat’ became ‘speet’ and ‘speet’ became ‘spate’. Does this mean that ‘spot’ eventually came to be pronounced ‘spate’ over time??
For exam purposes, don’t get bogged down in the detail of this. But it is fascinating, especially as it may account for a lot of the regional differences we here in English today. Want to tell the difference between a Canadian & a US American? Listen out for the vowel in words like ‘out’ and ‘about’. Typically, a Canadian will pronounce them with a vowel sound that would have been heard in mainstream British English part way through the GVS, and which you can still also here in British West Country accents today. Where most of us say [aut] and  [əbaut] in those dialects you will hear something like  [əut] and [əbəut].
I have to confess, I don’t fully get Bryson’s example if it is as you have written it, but it certainly doesn’t mean what you suggest. I suspect he’s trying to give an indication of pronunciation without using phonetic symbols and that makes it confusing. These diagrams may help to explain the GVS. The first allows you to track the pronunciation of key vowel phonemes through time, while the second shows the physical positions of the vowels in the mouth, showing how each step in the ‘great’ shift was caused by a kind of knock-on effect from a previous shift in the pronunciation of a single vowel (or pair of vowels with some phonological similarity:
This entry was posted in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s