Decreolization is a postulated phenomenon whereby over time a creole language reconverges with the lexifier from which it originally derived.[1][2] The notion has attracted criticism from linguists who argue there is little theoretical or empirical basis on which to postulate a process of language change which is particular to creole languages.[3]


Decreolization is a process of language change a creole language may undergo when in contact with its lexifier. As languages remain in contact over time, they typically influence one another, especially if one holds higher linguistic prestige. In the context of creole languages, the lexifier tends to have higher prestige (though not always) and will exert a much greater influence on the creole, which has lower prestige. This leads to the reintroduction of linguistic material into the creole from the lexifier. Decreolization predicts that eventually the creole will resemble the lexifier to such a degree that it could then be called a dialect of that language rather than a separate language at all.[1] According to Peter Trudgill, if one views pidginization as a process of simplification, reduction, and admixture from substrate languages, and creolization as the expansion of the language to combat reduction, then one can view decreolization as an 'attack' on both simplification and admixture.[2]


Decreolization has been criticized by some linguists as lacking empirical and theoretical support. For example, Michel DeGraff writes:

"... it has not been rigorously defined what structural process is inverted or what structural properties are removed by this decreolization process. ... What historical linguists outside of creolistics study is language change, be it contact-induced or not, and language change is a process that is presumably based on universal psycholinguistic mechanisms that do not leave room for a sui generis process of (de)creolization."[4]

In other words, as other linguists have argued, there is no a priori reason to posit a special process of language change specific to creole languages.[3] Furthermore, it has been shown that linguistic changes resulting from contact between a creole and its lexifier do not always emerge in the way decreolization would predict. For example, changes such as grammaticalization may occur which result in the creole diverging from its lexifier.[5][6]


Portuguese creolesEdit

Decreolization processes occurred in creoles ranging from Brazil in South America as well in Africa, to Macau and Daman in Asia. The Asian and American creoles existed in continua with forms of Portuguese and underwent a process of decreolization when the Asian places were still overseas provinces of Portugal, and from the 18th century when the línguas gerais were forbidden by Marquis of Pombal to about one century after the Brazilian independence along in the Americas. These older processes can best be seen or studied in Daman and Diu Portuguese and Macanese Patois, which converged with Standard Portuguese.

In Africa, these are contemporary processes in post-independence Africa. In Cape Verde and Guinea-Bissau the creoles are dominant over Portuguese, but undergoing decreolization processes, leading to the development of "soft creoles" in both Cape Verde and Guinea-Bissau and post-creole continua with noncreolized Portuguese. In São Tomé and Príncipe, the situation is different from Upper Guinea as noncreolized Portuguese is dominant over the creoles, and children are intentionally raised in Standard Portuguese by their parents, leading to the younger generations in Principe Island not even being able to understand the island's creole or not valuing it.[7]


  1. ^ a b Aitchison, Jean, 1938- (2013). Language change : progress or decay? (4th ed.). Oxford: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 978-1-107-02362-8. OCLC 799025044.CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  2. ^ a b Trudgill, Peter. (2000). Sociolinguistics : an introduction to language and society (4th ed.). London: Penguin. ISBN 0-14-028921-6. OCLC 43880055.
  3. ^ a b Siegel, Jason (2010). "Decreolization: A critical review". IULC Working Papers. 10 (3). ISSN 1524-2110.
  4. ^ Degraff, Michel (2005). "Linguists' most dangerous myth: The fallacy of Creole Exceptionalism". Language in Society. 34 (4). doi:10.1017/S0047404505050207. ISSN 0047-4045.
  5. ^ Russell, Eric (2015). "Competences in contact: Phonology and lexifier targeted change". Journal of Pidgin and Creole Languages. 30 (1): 116–141. doi:10.1075/jpcl.30.1.04rus. ISSN 0920-9034.
  6. ^ Mayeux, Oliver (2019-07-19). Rethinking decreolization: Language contact and change in Louisiana Creole (PhD thesis). University of Cambridge. doi:10.17863/cam.41629.
  7. ^ Estudo do Léxico do São-Tomense com Dicionário Carlos Fontes - Universidade de Coimbra.