Pidgin is a term for languages which are used by people who do not have a language in common. It is interesting to explore because in spite of the lack of elaborate grammar the users understand each other easily.
According to R.L. Trask and Peter Stockwell, “A pidgin is nobody’s mother tongue, and it is not a real language at all: it has no elaborate grammar, it is very limited in what it can convey, and different people speak it differently. Still, for simple purposes, it does work, and often everybody in the area learns to handle it” (Language and Linguistics: The Key Concepts, 2007).
Pidgin is a contact language. It is built on rudimentary grammar, simple structure and limited vocabulary. The users learn it orally as second language.
The origin of pidgin comes from colonialism, trade and slavery. Pidgin languages started to develop in areas where the colonists and traders came and settled. Pidgin is a mix of local languages with influences of English, French, Portuguese, Spanish, Dutch, Arabic, Chinese etc. At that time pidgin was the lingua franca for trading and a communication tool for slaves.
Have you heard of this expression ‘Long time no see‘? That is a simple example of Pidgin based on English. People understand it right away although the elaborate version of it is It has been a long time that I have seen you.
All maps are courtesy of Muturzikin A website of language maps in Basque language.
Due to their limited function, pidgin languages usually do not last very long, rarely more than several decades. They disappear when the reason for communication diminishes, as communities either move apart, one community learns the language of the other, or both communities learn a common language (usually the official language of the country). Or the speakers pass away without teaching the younger generations the pidgin language.
Pidgin vs Creole
According to linguistic, a pidgin language can transform into a fully-fledged language. This language form is called creole. Underneath you see the different features of both Pidgin and Creole. Only after pidgin languages develop into creoles, does the need for a writing system arise.
This image is taken from slideshare.
A creole comes into being when children are born into a pidgin-speaking environment and acquire the pidgin as a first language. What we know about the history and origins of existing creoles suggests that this may happen at any stage in the development of a pidgin.”
(Mark Sebba, Contact Languages: Pidgins and Creoles. Palgrave Macmillan, 1997)
Examples of Creole languages that still exist and are actively spoken now:
- Tok Pisin, one of the official languages of Papua New Guinea. Tok pisin is derived from talk pidgin. Tok pisin consists of primarily English influences but it has also absorbed influences from German, Malay, Portuguese and their own Austronesian languages .
- Papiamento or Papiamentu, one of the official languages in Aruba, Bonaire en Curaçao. It is a mix of local language with Spanish, Portuguese, Dutch, English and American Indian languages.
- Hawaiian Pidgin or Hawaiian Pidgin English or simply called Pidgin is spoken in Hawaii. This creole language is a mix of Portuguese, Hawaiian, American English, Cantonese and Japanese languages.
- French based creoles are widely spoken in the Caribbean (Guadeloupe & Martinique), Indian Ocean (Seychelles, Réunion & Mauritius).
Examples of Pidgin and Creole
Capt. Jack Sparrow in The Pirates of the Caribbeans ends his sentences often with savvy. This word is a pidgin one. It might be derived from French Savez-vous (Do you know?) or Spanish Sabe (usted) You know. At that time, the French, Spanish, English, Dutch and Portuguese were present in that area. Now savvy in English means practical knowledge and ability. Familiar with the term Tech savvy?
A sentence in English based, Costa Rican Creole: Mi did have a kozin im was a boxer, kom from Panama Do you recognize any words? The sentence means I had a cousin who was a boxer from Panama.
Babah Malay is a language of the Peranakans (descendants of Chinese – Malay intermarriages). It is a mix of Malay and Chinese languages from Hokkien, also known as Fukien, Fujian, or Southern Min.
To readers from Indonesia Babah Malay sounds perhaps exotic but without realizing it Indonesians or Chinese Indonesians use the following form daily. Indonesian language or Bahasa Indonesia itself is a modernised variation of Malay language.
Gua, lu & dia are Hokkien/Min words, semua (all) and orang (people) are Malay words.
In Bahasa Indonesia gua & lu is informal. It is mostly used between friends. However this is also common in Jakarta language for the Betawi (indigenous people of Jakarta). Back to Baba Malay. It is still used in Malacca and Singapore although it is experiencing the growing pressure from Malay and other Chinese languages.
This is the subject form in Tok Pisin. Here it is clear that most Pidgin words are phonetically spelled.
It is obvious that some Pidgin words are phonetically pronounced and spelled. The plural form ends with pela which is derived from the word fellow. If you are interested in knowing more about Tok Pisin Grammar, visit Unilang Tok Pisin for beginners.
Reading some books, websites and scientific publications about Pidgin and Creoles languages where I based this post upon, opened my eyes as this subject covers history, language and sociolinguistics. Those three are my passion. The legacy of history of a couple of centuries ago is very much alive now. I hope you enjoyed reading this.
The Atlas of Languages by Bernard Comrie, Stephen Matthews & Maria Polinsky
A Grammar of Baba Malay with sociophonetic considerations by Nala Huiying Lee PhD
Pidgin and Creole by P. Mühlhäusler