Pidgin Explained

For other uses see Pidgin (disambiguation).

A pidgin is a simplified language that develops as a means of communication between two or more groups that do not have a language in common, in situations such as trade. Pidgins are not the native language of any speech community, but are instead learned as second languages.[1] [2] Pidgins usually have low prestige with respect to other languages.

Not all simplified or "broken" forms of language (patois) are pidgins. Pidgins have their own norms of usage which must be learned to speak the pidgin well.


The origin of the word pidgin is uncertain. The first time pidgin appeared in print was in 1850, while there are many sources from which the word may be derived. For example:


The word pidgin, formerly also spelled pigion, originally used to describe Chinese Pidgin English, was later generalized to refer to any pidgin. Pidgin may also be used as the specific name for local pidgins, in places where they are spoken. For example, the name of Tok Pisin derives from the English words talk pidgin, and its speakers usually refer to it simply as "Pidgin" when speaking English.

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; 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; but trade languages are often full blown languages in their own right such as Swahili, Persian, or English. Trade languages tend to be "vehicular languages", while pidgins can evolve into the vernacular.

Common traits among pidgins

Since a pidgin strives to be a simple and effective form of communication, the grammar, phonology, etc, are as simple as possible, and usually consist of:

Pidgin development

The creation of a pidgin usually requires:

Also, Keith Whinnom (in) 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 whose parents speak pidgin to each other teach it to their children as their first language. Creoles can then replace the existing mix of languages to become the native language of a community (such as 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.

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 heavily 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.[4]

See also


Notes and References

  1. See
  2. See
  3. Encyclopedia: pidgin. The Cambridge Encyclopedia of Language. Cambridge University Press. 1997.
  4. Salikoko Mufwene: Pidgin and Creole Languages