Pidgins and creoles in Asia

Pidgins and creoles in Asia. Ed. by Umberto Ansaldo. (Benjamins current topics 38.) Amsterdam: John Benjamins, 2012. Pp. ix, 170. ISBN 9789027202574. $128 (Hb).

Reviewed by Kanavallil Rajagopalan, State University at Campinas

This book is a collection of five papers, all previously published in the Journal of pidgin and creole languages, 25.1. In his editorial foreword to the book, Umberto Ansaldo highlights the sheer size and diversity of Asia and the resultant difficulty of addressing language-related issues on the continent, noting that the book ‘is intended to whet our appetites’ (viii).

The five chapters that comprise the book include ‘Chinese Pidgin Russian’ by Roman Shapiro; ‘China Coast Pidgin: Texts and contexts’ by Umberto Ansaldo, Stephen Matthews, and Geoff Smith; ‘The African slave population of Portuguese India: Demographics and impact on Indo-Portuguese’ by Hugo Cardoso; ‘Vestiges of etymological gender in Malacca Creole Portuguese’ by Alan N. Baxter; and ‘Bazaar Malay topics’ by Bao Zhiming and Khin Khin Aye. The book ends with a two-page index of key terms and names.

Ch. 1 presents a most curious but ‘much-understudied’ (1) case of a pidgin language formed by an inflecting language (Russian) as its lexifier and an isolating language (Chinese) as its substrate. Ch. 2, on the other hand, looks at a well-known case, aptly referred to as the ‘mother of all pidgins’ (59) by placing it in the context of the China Trade, which famously served as its breeding ground.

Ch. 3 is an in-depth study of the slave trade that flourished in Portuguese India and its impact on Indo-Portuguese. Ch. 4 examines the nature of etymological gender inflection in Malacca Creole Portuguese and its place in the diachrony of the language. Finally, Ch. 5 is concerned with a Malay-lexified pidgin, which was widely spoken in the Malay peninsula and the Indonesian archipelago before the British East India Company annexed Singapore in 1819.

While Chs. 1 and 2 are testament to the role of Chinese as ‘one of the big players in the region long before Western colonization’ (viii), Chs. 3 and 4 deal with Portuguese, the most influential of the colonial languages. Ch. 5 addresses the most widespread and scattered among the contact languages in the region.

The arguments presented in each of the chapters are well supported with documentary evidence. Far from exhausting the topics, they do succeed in arousing the curiosity of the reader and in inciting interest in the topics, as promised early on in the foreword.

This book is sure to be an eye-opener to many new to the field of pidgins and creoles, who have been led to believe that the field consists mostly of its Atlantic varieties. The five papers here assembled shed light on Asian contexts of language contact that have occurred over a period of centuries and continue to do so, for example, the case of the recent phenomenon of Singlish, or Singapore Colloquial English.