This article has multiple issues. Please help improve it or discuss these issues on the talk page. (Learn how and when to remove these template messages) This article may contain excessive or irrelevant examples. Please help improve the article by adding descriptive text and removing less pertinent examples. (April 2024) This article needs additional citations for verification. Please help improve this article by adding citations to reliable sources. Unsourced material may be challenged and removed.Find sources: "Pidgin" – news · newspapers · books · scholar · JSTOR (April 2024) (Learn how and when to remove this message) (Learn how and when to remove this message)

A pidgin[1][2][3] /ˈpɪɪn/, or pidgin language, is a grammatically simplified means of communication that develops between two or more groups of people that do not have a language in common: typically, its vocabulary and grammar are limited and often drawn from several languages. 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.[4][5]

A pidgin may be built from words, sounds, or body language from a multitude of languages as well as onomatopoeia. As the lexicon of any pidgin will be limited to core vocabulary, words with only a specific meaning in the lexifier language may acquire a completely new (or additional) meaning in the pidgin.[citation needed]

Pidgins have historically been considered a form of patois, unsophisticated simplified versions of their lexifiers, and as such usually have low prestige with respect to other languages.[6] However, not all simplified or "unsophisticated" forms of a language are pidgins. Each pidgin has its own norms of usage which must be learned for proficiency in the pidgin.[7]

A pidgin differs from a creole, which is the first language of a speech community of native speakers that at one point arose from a pidgin. Unlike pidgins, creoles have fully developed vocabulary and patterned grammar.[citation needed] Most linguists[according to whom?] believe that a creole develops through a process of nativization of a pidgin when children of speakers of an acquired pidgin learn it and use it as their native language.[citation needed]


Pidgin derives from a Chinese pronunciation of the English word business, and all attestations from the first half of the nineteenth century given in the third edition of the Oxford English Dictionary mean "business; an action, occupation, or affair" (the earliest being from 1807). The term pidgin English ('business English'), first attested in 1855, shows the term in transition to referring to language, and by the 1860s the term pidgin alone could refer to Pidgin English. The term came to be used in a more general linguistic sense to refer to any simplified language by the late 19th century.[8][9]

A popular false etymology for pidgin is English pigeon, a bird sometimes used for carrying brief written messages, especially in times prior to modern telecommunications.[8][10]


The word pidgin, formerly also spelled pigion,[9] used to refer originally to Chinese Pidgin English, but was later generalized to refer to any pidgin.[11] 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.[12][13] 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;[14] 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 language, such as Tok Pisin. Trade languages can eventually evolve into fully developed languages in their own right such as Swahili, distinct from the languages they were originally influenced by. Trade languages and pidgins can also influence an established language's vernacular, especially amongst people who are directly involved in a trade where that pidgin is commonly used, which can alternatively result in a regional dialect being developed.[citation needed]

Common traits

This section does not cite any sources. Please help improve this section by adding citations to reliable sources. Unsourced material may be challenged and removed. (September 2020) (Learn how and when to remove this message)

Pidgins are usually less morphologically complex but more syntactically rigid than other languages, and usually have fewer morphosyntactic irregularities than other languages.

Characteristics shared by most pidgins:


The initial development of a pidgin usually requires:

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,[15] 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.[16]

List of notable pidgins

This section may contain excessive or irrelevant examples. Please help improve the article by adding descriptive text and removing less pertinent examples. (April 2024)

Many of these languages are commonly referred to by their speakers as "Pidgin".

See also


  1. ^ Muysken, Pieter; Smith, Norval (2008). "The study of pidgin and creole languages" (PDF). In Arends, Jacques; Muijsken, Pieter; Smith, Norval (eds.). Pidgins and Creoles: An Introduction. John Benjamins. pp. 3–14.
  2. ^ Özüorçun, Fatma (2014). "Language varieties: Pidgins and creoles" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 2018-07-12. Retrieved 2017-05-24.
  3. ^ Bickerton, Derek (1976). "Pidgin and creole studies". Annual Review of Anthropology. 5: 169–93. doi:10.1146/ JSTOR 2949309.
  4. ^ See Todd (1990:3)
  5. ^ See Thomason & Kaufman (1988:169)
  6. ^ Bakker (1994:27)
  7. ^ Bakker (1994:26)
  8. ^ a b "pidgin, n." OED Online, Oxford University Press, January 2018, Accessed 23 January 2018.
  9. ^ a b Online Etymology Dictionary
  10. ^ Crystal, David (1997), "Pidgin", The Cambridge Encyclopedia of Language (2nd ed.), Cambridge University Press
  11. ^ Bakker (1994:25)
  12. ^ Smith, Geoff P. Growing Up with Tok Pisin: Contact, creolization, and change in Papua New Guinea's national language. London: Battlebridge. 2002. p. 4.
  13. ^ 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.
  14. ^ Bakker (1994:25–26)
  15. ^ For example: Campbell, John Howland; Schopf, J. William, eds. (1994). Creative Evolution. Life Science Series. Contributor: University of California, Los Angeles. IGPP Center for the Study of Evolution and the Origin of Life. Jones & Bartlett Learning. p. 81. ISBN 9780867209617. Retrieved 2014-04-20. [...] the children of pidgin-speaking parents face a big problem, because pidgins are so rudimentary and inexpressive, poorly capable of expressing the nuances of a full range of human emotions and life situations. The first generation of such children spontaneously develops a pidgin into a more complex language termed a creole. [...] [T]he evolution of a pidgin into a creole is unconscious and spontaneous.
  16. ^ "Salikoko Mufwene: "Pidgin and Creole Languages"". Archived from the original on 2013-06-03. Retrieved 2010-04-24.


Further reading