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Title: Pidgin  
Author: World Heritage Encyclopedia
Language: English
Subject: Sign language, Singlish, Creole language, Fanagalo, Pidgin Hawaiian
Collection: Interlinguistics, Pidgins and Creoles
Publisher: World Heritage Encyclopedia


Not to be confused with the Pigeon bird. For the instant messaging client, see Pidgin (software).

A pidgin , or pidgin language, is a simplified version of a language that develops as a means of communication between two or more groups that do not have a language in common. It is most commonly employed in situations such as trade, or where both groups speak languages different from the language of the country in which they reside (but where there is no common language between the groups). Fundamentally, a pidgin is a simplified means of linguistic communication, as it is constructed impromptu, or by convention, between individuals or groups of people. A pidgin is not the native language of any speech community, but is instead learned as a second language.[1][2] A pidgin may be built from words, sounds, or body language from multiple other languages and cultures. They allow people who have no common language to communicate with each other. Pidgins usually have low prestige with respect to other languages.[3]

Not all simplified or "broken" forms of a language are pidgins. Each pidgin has its own norms of usage which must be learned for proficiency in the pidgin.[4]


  • Etymology 1
  • Terminology 2
  • Common traits among pidgin languages 3
  • Pidgin development 4
  • See also 5
  • Notes 6
  • References 7
  • Further reading 8
  • External links 9


The origin of the word is uncertain. Pidgin first appeared in print in 1850. The most widely accepted etymology is from the Chinese pronunciation of the English word business.[5]

Another etymology that has been proposed is English pigeon, a bird sometimes used for carrying brief written messages, especially in times prior to modern telecommunications.[6]


The word pidgin, formerly also spelled pigion,[5] used to refer originally to Chinese Pidgin English, but was later generalized to refer to any pidgin.[7] Pidgin may also be used as the specific name for local pidgins or creoles, in places where they are spoken. For example, the name of the creole language Tok Pisin derives from the English words talk pidgin. Its speakers usually refer to it simply as "pidgin" when speaking English.[8][9] Likewise, Hawaiian Creole English is commonly referred to by its speakers as "Pidgin".

The term jargon has also been used to refer to pidgins, and is found in the names of some pidgins, such as Chinook Jargon. In this context, linguists today use jargon to denote a particularly rudimentary type of pidgin;[10] however, this usage is rather rare, and the term jargon most often refers to the words particular to a given profession.

Pidgins may start out as or become trade languages, such as Tok Pisin. Trade languages are often fully developed languages in their own right such as Swahili. Trade languages tend to be "vehicular languages", while pidgins can evolve into the vernacular.

Common traits among pidgin languages

Since a pidgin language is a fundamentally simpler form of communication, the grammar and phonology are usually as simple as possible, and usually consist of:

Pidgin development

The initial development of a pidgin usually requires:

  • prolonged, regular contact between the different language communities
  • a need to communicate between them
  • an absence of (or absence of widespread proficiency in) a widespread, accessible interlanguage

Keith Whinnom (in Hymes (1971)) suggests that pidgins need three languages to form, with one (the superstrate) being clearly dominant over the others.

Linguists sometimes posit that pidgins can become creole languages when a generation of children learn a pidgin as their first language,[11] a process that regularizes speaker-dependent variation in grammar. Creoles can then replace the existing mix of languages to become the native language of a community (such as the Chavacano language in the Philippines, Krio in Sierra Leone, and Tok Pisin in Papua New Guinea). However, not all pidgins become creole languages; a pidgin may die out before this phase would occur (e.g. the Mediterranean Lingua Franca).

Other scholars, such as Salikoko Mufwene, argue that pidgins and creoles arise independently under different circumstances, and that a pidgin need not always precede a creole nor a creole evolve from a pidgin. Pidgins, according to Mufwene, emerged among trade colonies among "users who preserved their native vernaculars for their day-to-day interactions". Creoles, meanwhile, developed in settlement colonies in which speakers of a European language, often indentured servants whose language would be far from the standard in the first place, interacted extensively with non-European slaves, absorbing certain words and features from the slaves' non-European native languages, resulting in a heavily basilectalized version of the original language. These servants and slaves would come to use the creole as an everyday vernacular, rather than merely in situations in which contact with a speaker of the superstrate was necessary.[12]

See also


  1. ^ See Todd (1990:3)
  2. ^ See Thomason & Kaufman (1988:169)
  3. ^ Bakker (1994:27)
  4. ^ Bakker (1994:26)
  5. ^ a b Online Etymology Dictionary 
  6. ^  
  7. ^ Bakker (1994:25)
  8. ^ Smith, Geoff P. Growing Up with Tok Pisin: Contact, creolization, and change in Papua New Guinea's national language. London: Battlebridge. 2002. p. 4.
  9. ^ Thus the published court reports of Papua New Guinea refer to Tok Pisin as "Pidgin": see for example Schubert v The State [1979] PNGLR 66.
  10. ^ Bakker & 1994 (pp25–26)
  11. ^ For example: Campbell, John Howland;  
  12. ^ """Salikoko Mufwene: "Pidgin and Creole Languages. Retrieved 2010-04-24. 


  • Bakker, Peter (1994), "Pidgins", in Jacques Arends; Pieter Muysken; Norval Smithh, Pidgins and Creoles: An Introduction, John Benjamins, pp. 26–39 
  • Hymes, Dell (1971), Pidginization and Creolization of Languages, Cambridge University Press,  
  • McWhorter, John (2002), The Power of Babel: The Natural History of Language, Random House Group,  
  • Sebba, Mark (1997), Contact Languages: Pidgins and Creoles, MacMillan,  
  • Todd, Loreto (1990), Pidgins and Creoles, Routledge,  

Further reading

  • Holm, John (2000), An Introduction to Pidgins and Creoles, Cambridge Univ. Press.

External links

  • Language Varieties Web Site
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