What Does the Word ‘Pidgin’ Mean? - Part 1

By Stacey
Aug 13, 2016 · 3 min

The word ‘pidgin’ denotes a simplified form of language, and is usually used by a non-native speaker.

What Does the Word ‘Pidgin’ Mean? - Part 1 | One Hour Translation

The word ‘pidgin’ denotes a simplified form of language and is usually used by a non-native speaker. It’s a language that’s developed over a period of time from a mixture of two or more languages and is used as a way of communication for people who don’t speak each other’s language. Elements are taken from local languages, resulting in a simplified form of one of the languages, producing a language of reduced grammatical and vocabulary structure, with variations in pronunciation.

Why We Have Pidgin Languages

The resulting ‘pidgin’ language can be based on many languages, and is designed to serve both immediate and practical purposes. A pidgin language usually arises in diverse situations where two groups of people are required to communicate with each other even though they don’t share a common language: in the past, this might have been for purposes such as slavery or trade. Interestingly, a pidgin language can develop from sounds, words, or body language from many other cultures and languages. Even though a pidgin language may start out as a trade language, like Tok Pisin, it could well evolve into a fully developed language in its own right, like Swahili, which became quite distinct from the languages it was originally influenced by.

Pidgin languages are often confused with Creole languages. Whereas a pidgin is a reduced language used by people who have no common language with which to communicate, a Creole language is a natural language which has developed from a mixture of different languages. An example of a Creole language is Haitian Creole, which, although based on 18th-century French, absorbed elements of West African languages, Spanish, and Portuguese. Then we have Semi-Creole languages, for example, Afrikaans, which share even more traits with their vocabulary-source languages.

The Origin of the Word ‘Pidgin’

Some people believe that the word pidgin derived from the inability of 19th century Chinese to correctly articulate the word ‘business’. They were saying Bigeon, or Bidgin, which finally resulted in Pidgin. Others believe that ‘Pidgin’ comes from the word ‘Pidian’, which is a word that refers to the indigenous people who lived on the border between Guyana and Brazil in the early 17th century. Who knows! Although the origin of the word pidgin is uncertain, we know that it was in 1850 that pidgin first appeared in print.

Pidgin languages arose because of social disorder created by the exploitation of labor on plantations and in mines, by colonization, and by the trafficking or trade of goods. This explains why the languages which serve as the basis for many pidgin languages are from colonialist countries, particularly countries involved in the slave trade – French, Dutch, English, Spanish, and Portuguese.

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