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What is Pidgin?

Mary McMahon
By
Updated May 23, 2024
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Pidgin is a very basic language that is used to communicate between cultures. It is never the first language of a speaker, and it usually involves a blend of words and concepts from at least two, and sometimes more, cultures. Pidgin is characterized by being simple and easy to understand, although it can sometimes surprisingly be a challenge to learn to communicate clearly in the langugage, since it is so simple. Numerous forms are used daily all over the world, and many people speak some form of it, especially in ethnically diverse areas of the world.

The word itself is a pidgin word, derived from the Chinese pronunciation of the English word “business.” Originally, it referred to “pidgin English,” a slang term used to talk about the unique type of English that was spoken by Chinese people when they dealt with English trade clients. Over time, the “English” was dropped, and the word was used generically to refer to any sort of simplified, blended language.

Some people think of pidgin as a colonial language, since this form of communication often arose so that colonists could communicate with native communities. However, native peoples also developed variations to communicate with each other, a vital skill when people spoke widely different languages or dialects. Generally, pidgin is treated as a contact language, meaning that it facilitates basic communication and trade, but it may not be a long term solution to the communication problem because it does not allow room for complex concepts.

Many people think of pidgin as a broken or erratic form of language. This is not, in fact, the case. These languages have highly evolved rules so that they are easy to understand and learn, although they may sound strange. For example, most sentences take the form of subject, verb, object, such as “you go store.” Additional words may be used to convey tense, so one might hear “you water garden tomorrow.” Basic vowels and sounds are used, and the language is not usually tonal.

A pidgin language can serve as a form of lingua franca, or common language, between a disparate group of people. Using it eliminates the need for translators, and it ensures that communication is rapid, since it is assumed that everyone in a region can quickly learn the language for basic communication. This can be extremely important in tense situations, when people may be confused or upset without a chance to seek a translator to explain the situation. In some cases, learning pidgin encourages someone to learn an additional native language to further communication skills.

Language & Humanities is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a Language & Humanities researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments

By anon86934 — On May 27, 2010

Anon, I am doing my research on this subject particularly, so as I got that people from other countries when they go for work maybe then need to communicate with the native speakers so they try to use a simplified language either by them or by the native speakers to understand each other.

And also in trading, e.g., a person sells his stuff then wants to tell how much the price is, so he may use his hands and fingers to explain because he does not know the numbers of that language. the second part of your question is that if it has grammatical rules, the answer is no. it does not have that kind of rules for it is just for communication i suppose. A. M. K.

By anon77590 — On Apr 14, 2010

we know that pidgin is a created language between some people who don't have any language to communicate. but i want to know that how they create it and is there any grammatical rule for it?

Mary McMahon

Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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