AskDefine | Define pidgin

Dictionary Definition

pidgin n : an artificial language used for trade between speakers of different languages

User Contributed Dictionary



From pigeon English, from a Chinese attempt to pronounce the English word business during trades in the Far East.




  1. an amalgamation of two disparate languages, used by two populations having no common language as a lingua franca to communicate with each other, lacking formalized grammar and having a small, utilitarian vocabulary and no native speakers.
    Middle English likely began as a pidgin between the Norman invaders and the Anglo-Saxon-speaking (Old English) occupants of Britain. Otherwise, how could they have gotten any business done?


amalgamation of two languages having no native speakers

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Extensive Definition

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. Pidgins usually have low prestige with respect to other languages.
Not all simplified or "broken" forms of language are pidgins. Pidgins have their own norms of usage which must be learned to speak the pidgin well.


The word pidgin, formerly also spelled pigion, derives from a Chinese Pidgin English pronunciation of business. Originally used to describe Chinese Pidgin English, it was later generalized to refer to any pidgin. Pidgin may also be used as the specific name for a local pidgin 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:
  • 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 ) 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.



  • The Power of Babel: The Natural History of Language
  • Contact Languages: Pidgins and Creoles
pidgin in Tosk Albanian: Pidgin-Sprachen
pidgin in Arabic: رطانة
pidgin in Belarusian: Піджын
pidgin in Breton: Pidjin
pidgin in Catalan: Pidgin (lingüística)
pidgin in Czech: Pidžin
pidgin in German: Pidgin-Sprachen
pidgin in Estonian: Pidžin
pidgin in Spanish: Pidgin
pidgin in Esperanto: Piĝino
pidgin in Basque: Pidgin (hizkuntza)
pidgin in French: Pidgin
pidgin in Irish: Nasctheanga
pidgin in Galician: Pidgins
pidgin in Korean: 피진 (언어학)
pidgin in Indonesian: Bahasa Pidgin
pidgin in Italian: Pidgin
pidgin in Hebrew: פידג'ין
pidgin in Lithuanian: Pidžinas
pidgin in Lojban: pidjni
pidgin in Hungarian: Pidzsin nyelvek
pidgin in Dutch: Pidgin (taal)
pidgin in Japanese: ピジン言語
pidgin in Norwegian: Pidginspråk
pidgin in Occitan (post 1500): Pidgin
pidgin in Low German: Pidgin-Spraak
pidgin in Polish: Języki pidżynowe
pidgin in Portuguese: Pidgin
pidgin in Russian: Пиджин
pidgin in Slovenian: Pidžin
pidgin in Finnish: Pidgin
pidgin in Swedish: Pidginspråk
pidgin in Ukrainian: Піджин
pidgin in Venetian: Pidgin
pidgin in Contenese: 洋涇浜
pidgin in Chinese: 皮钦语
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