I am new to exploring Creole languages, after seeing them compared to "Riau Indonesian":

The dialect of Malay spoken in Riau Province is considered by linguists to have one of the least complex grammars among the languages of the world, apart from creoles, possessing neither noun declensions, temporal distinctions, subject/object distinctions, nor singular/plural distinction.

Then Wikipedia says Creoles possibly develop from Pidgin, which is a language for getting two different languages to communicate with each other. I have never really had to communicate with someone (where we didn't share any of the same languages) for long enough to need to do more than hacked together hand gestures and grunts basically. But I can imagine like in a shipping/trading/agriculture scenario, you eventually might need to start getting more detailed than just grunts and points and start speaking. So then I imagine a Pidgin starts developing (don't know anything about them yet). There is some basic grammatical structures that just happen about and you can get your points across. Then when new children come to learn to speak, they get whatever is simplest first, which becomes standardized eventually into a "Creole". That's at least (it seems) one suggestion of how Creoles start.

But if that's the case, that a Creole is basically the simplest grammar a child needs to communicate (or at least is a simple grammar), I wonder why we don't all just speak Creole, and why there is instead these "more complex" grammars like the Indo-European languages or the other non-Creole languages of the world (I guess you could call them "more formal", but that doesn't seem right either). Not sure if there is a clear distinction between Creole and non-Creole.

So my question is why we don't speak Creole instead of these non-Creole languages (at a high level). If Creole is simpler it seems it would be better. I wonder if one could briefly outline what is lacking in Creole languages that are not lacking in non-Creole languages. That is, why there needs to be (or ends up being if that's the case) non-Creole languages. If this is a really complicated topic, knowing of a good resource or paper to look into would be helpful.

In this on common traits of Pidgins, they basically sound like isolating languages like English or Chinese, so it makes me wonder if Chinese could be comparable to a Creole (even though it doesn't seem to have arisen by merging two other languages), and same with English. It also makes me wonder why things like tense and conjugation evolve if they are more complicated rules to the language and don't start off in the Pidgin. So this applies to the reasons why non-Creoles develop, and what benefits or simplifications they have that the Creoles lack.

Also just thinking, maybe it's partly because, while Pidgins/Creoles may be much simpler than non, they aren't as efficient, so you end up not being able to express as much as quickly, or things like that. Just maybe a reason why non-Creole languages arise.

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    That's like asking why we don't all speak Basic English, which is essentially an artificial creole. We could. We could limit all sentences to one clause. We could always put adverbs after the first auxiliary and nowhere else. We could do a lot of things. We could make our beds every day. We could eat healthy food and exercise daily. Guess what? We don't. We do things our own ways and these change, and so does our language. And it's always more complicated when it does.
    – jlawler
    Oct 20, 2018 at 17:33
  • Doesn't help much.
    – Lance
    Oct 20, 2018 at 19:03
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    Executive Summary: "Speaking a more simple language" does not appear to be a conserved attribute, perhaps because it has no demonstrable value to humans who use language.
    – jlawler
    Oct 20, 2018 at 19:44
  • 1
    Why does a Mack truck outcompete a tricycle? It's more useful; it's got more bells and whistles; it's more fun.
    – jlawler
    Oct 21, 2018 at 16:27
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    A creole is essentially a young language. As languages gets older, they grow extra things (if you like these things, you can call them "a treasure trove acquired through history"; if you prefer creoles, you can call them "historical cruft", detracting from creoles which "spring fresh and pure from the fountain of language"; but reality doesn't care for our preferences, it's just how it is). Creole languages aren't the default because languages tend to stick around for a while; if we made a new language every couple generations, creoles would be the norm. Nov 5, 2018 at 17:04

1 Answer 1


Why aren't Creole languages the default?

For the same reason that many (most? all?) living creatures have more than one eye. They live in environments which select for plurality of eyes, so natural selection means that's what they get. The same thing happens in language! We get intricate and beautiful and useful language, because the diverse environments we live in calls for that, and because we easily have the capacity to learn to use intricate and beautiful and useful languages.

is basically the simplest grammar a child needs to communicate (or at least is a simple grammar)

You're right; Creoles have, by some measure at least, simple grammars. And sometimes, there arise situations that call for that. For example, for some reason, for example trade, people are brought together who have no language in common. A simple, usually isolating grammar is going to be easier to learn, so a new language is innovated which has these features. Examples:

  • Russenorsk
  • Chinook Wawa
  • Nicaraguan Sign Language (and I mean the very very early stages)

That is, why there needs to be (or ends up being if that's the case) non-Creole languages.

This is why I gave Nicaraguan Sign Language as an example. Deaf children from all over Nicaragua were brought together who had no language in common, which put pressure on them to innovate a language quickly. The language they made up was made from simple gesticulations and had a very simple grammar, since the environment was selecting for anything which enabled someone to get even basic ideas across. And it had I think an alphabet for fingerspelling Spanish words.

See? Now the environment is different, because they have a language in common. Now there are different pressures, which are selecting for different features. The pressure is now to increase the efficacy of the language. This could happen by sound change (for example systematic contractions like "wanna" or "won't" in English) or by creating or deriving more nuanced vocabulary and constructions. For example, NSL now has a feature called perspective, which is essentially turning your torso one way or the other, or doing the mirror image of a sign, for reported speech. A way to say he said/she said, which is more convenient and more nuanced than a simple gloss HE SAY or PERSON THERE SAY. And that alphabet I mentioned earlier has persisted, since it's still really handy.

The thing is, and the reason I'm describing a little about the evolution of NSL is, that these features are not really anything anyone associates with pidgins. It's a fully-fledged language now, and the reason is that it can be. There is a fascinating talk on the evolution of NSL if you're interested.

As for your quote about Riau

So there's a language that "possess[es] neither noun declensions, temporal distinctions, subject/object distinctions, nor singular/plural distinction". This language is in an environment that selects for "something that's easy to pick up", since it's used as a lingua franca.

But in our society, and in whatever you or I would consider a "default" society, it seems like those distinctions would be useful to be able to make, succinctly and not clunkily, doesn't it? And that's why most societies end up with a language that does that.

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