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

A pidgin (play /ˈpɪɪn/), or pidgin language, is a simplified 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 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. 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]



The origin of the word pidgin is uncertain. Pidgin first appeared in print in 1850 and there are many sources to which the word may be attributed. For example:

  • The Chinese pronunciation of the English word business.[5]
  • The English word "pay" and the Cantonese word "chien" for "money"; the combination of "pay money" became "pay-chien", pidgin.[citation needed]
  • 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] originally used to describe Chinese Pidgin English, 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 describe 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 full blown languages in their own right such as Swahili. Trade languages tend to be "vehicular languages", while pidgins can evolve into the vernacular.[clarification needed]

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:[citation needed]

  • Uncomplicated clausal structure (e.g., no embedded clauses, etc.)
  • Reduction or elimination of syllable codas
  • Reduction of consonant clusters or breaking them with epenthesis
  • Basic vowels, such as [a, e, i, o, u]
  • No tones, such as those found in West African and Asian languages
  • Use of separate words to indicate tense, usually preceding the verb
  • Use of reduplication to represent plurals, superlatives, and other parts of speech that represent the concept being increased
  • A lack of morphophonemic variation

Pidgin development

The creation 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

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

It is often posited that pidgins become creole languages when a generation of children learn a pidgin as their first language, 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.[11]

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. ^ pidgin, Cambridge University Press, 1997 
  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. ^ "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, ISBN 0-521-07833-4 
  • McWhorter, John (2002), The Power of Babel: The Natural History of Language, Random House Group, ISBN 0-06-052085-X 
  • Sebba, Mark (1997), Contact Languages: Pidgins and Creoles, MacMillan, ISBN 0-333-63024-6 
  • Thomason, Sarah G.; Kaufman, Terrence (1988), Language contact, creolization, and genetic linguistics, Berkeley: University of California Press, ISBN 0-520-07893-4 
  • Todd, Loreto (1990), Pidgins and Creoles, Routledge, ISBN 0415053110 

Further reading

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

External links

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Look at other dictionaries:

  • pidgin — [ pidʒin ] n. m. • 1924; pudgin 1902; pidjin English 1875; mot angl. (1851), altér. du mot business prononcé par les Chinois ♦ Ling. Langue seconde composite née du contact commercial entre l anglais et les langues d Extrême Orient, qui ne… …   Encyclopédie Universelle

  • Pidgin — Pidgin …   Википедия

  • Pidgin — Sn Mischsprache per. Wortschatz fach. (20. Jh.) Entlehnung. Entlehnt aus ne. pidgin, das aus der Bezeichnung der chinesisch englischen Verkehrssprache übernommen ist und auf andere Verkehrssprachen dieser Art übertragen wurde. Die Herkunft des… …   Etymologisches Wörterbuch der deutschen sprache

  • Pidgin — steht für: Pidgin Sprachen, eine reduzierte Sprachform Pidgin (Instant Messenger), ein Instant Message Client …   Deutsch Wikipedia

  • pidgin — PÍDGIN s.n. Limbă mixtă folosită în relaţiile comerciale maritime din Extremul Orient. (cf. fr., engl. pidgin) Trimis de tavi, 02.05.2005. Sursa: MDN  PÍDGIN s.n. Formă simplificată de vorbire care constă, de obicei, dintr un amestec de două sau …   Dicționar Român

  • pidgin — A pidgin is a simplified language containing vocabulary and grammatical elements from two or more languages, and is used mainly by traders who do not have a language in common. It differs from a creole in being improvised for a special purpose as …   Modern English usage

  • pidgin — 1876, from pigeon English (1859), the reduced form of the language used in China for communication with Europeans, from pigeon (1826), itself a pidgin word, representing a Chinese pronunciation of business. Meaning extended 1921 to any simplified …   Etymology dictionary

  • pidgin — (Del ingl. pidgin, y este quizá deformac. de business, negocio, según la pronunciación china del término). 1. m. Lengua mixta usada como lengua franca en puertos y otros lugares entre hablantes de diferente origen lingüístico. 2. Lengua franca… …   Diccionario de la lengua española

  • pidgin — [pij′in] n. [supposed Chin pronun. of BUSINESS] 1. a mixed language, or jargon, incorporating the vocabulary of one or more languages with a very simplified form of the grammatical system of one of these and not used as the main language of any… …   English World dictionary

  • pidgin — s. m. [Linguística] Língua resultante de contato entre línguas, usada como língua de comunicação, não sendo língua materna de nenhum falante.   ‣ Etimologia: palavra inglesa …   Dicionário da Língua Portuguesa

  • pidgin — ► NOUN ▪ a grammatically simplified form of a language with elements taken from local languages, used for communication between people not sharing a common language. ORIGIN Chinese alteration of English business …   English terms dictionary

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