Pidgin languages

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The term pidgin language or pidgin refers to a reduced form of language that serves as a lingua franca for people who speak different languages . A pidgin language is therefore not a mother tongue, but is learned by its speakers as a foreign language.

“Pidgin” is a makeshift language with a simplified grammatical structure that developed under colonial conditions, e. B. in Africa, West Indies , America. Its purpose is to make yourself communicatively understandable with simplified forms of the other languages. The basis was English , French , Spanish , Portuguese (rarely also German) as the languages ​​of the colonial rulers and merchants, to which the weaker group adapted rudimentary. In many cases the pidgin of the first generation became a regularly functioning language in the second, the "Kreol" ( Creole language ).

In linguistics it was and is discussed whether this development process is determined by universals of human language ability. Pidgin is learned and follows its own norms. The inadequate second language of migrants is not a target language for learning processes, but merely a transition phenomenon during the phase of language change .


The etymology is not clear. Various theories have been put forward on this. The assumption that the word pidgin comes from the Chinese pronunciation of the English word business has found widespread recognition . Accordingly, business in the Chinese language developed into bigeon , which in turn became pigeon and finally pidgin in English . This theory can also be found in the renowned Oxford English Dictionary .

A reference from 1826 is considered to be the first occurrence of the pigeon form . Pidgeon English (documented since 1859) was then the name for a simplified language with English, Chinese and Portuguese components, which was used as a commercial language in Canton . The spelling pidgin has been traceable since 1876 . Early evidence of the more general meaning of “simplified form of a language” dates from 1891 .


Pidgins generally develop in environments in which at least two - mostly not closely related - languages ​​come into contact . A typical context for the creation of pidgins is trade (trade pidgins). Historically, a large number of pidgins researched today arose during the time of colonization . The vocabulary and grammar of pidgin are strongly influenced by the languages ​​in contact. The basis was mostly the language of the ruling colonial power .

Pidgins develop from jargons and usually only serve very few purposes, such as rudimentary communication for trade, work or forced social contacts, for example in labor camps. You therefore have a limited functional area. Their grammar is greatly simplified, the language code is restricted . A large part of the poorly comprehensive vocabulary is borrowed from the language that is the dominant language in the language contact situation (e.g. the language of the rulers in the context of colonization). Initially, a pidgin has no native speakers. In the course of a few generations, pidgins can develop into grammatically fully developed Creole languages , provided they have existed stably long enough.

The relexification hypothesis of Creole research states that speakers of the substrate languages - during colonization were the languages ​​of the slaves - replace the vocabulary of their language with words of the dominant language, while they used the grammar of their mother tongue. However, phenomena have been detected in both pidgins and creole languages ​​that cannot be traced back to any of the previous contact languages.

The lifespan of a pidgin is mostly tied to a specific purpose, for example the commercial relationship between two language communities or the adoption of the pidgin as a mother tongue, i.e. H. its development to the creole language .

According to some explanatory approaches, the training of a pidgin instead of acquiring a second language is supported by the effect that native speakers often use a simplified and overemphasized language, a xenolect (foreign language, " foreigner talk " ).



  • long time no see (= long time not seen) comes from the Chinese "好久不见 hao jiu bu jian" (good - long - not - see).
  • look-see (= look; literally: look + see) comes from the Chinese "看见 kanjian".



Web links

Wiktionary: Pidgin language  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations
Wiktionary: Pidgin  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations

Individual evidence

  1. ^ Duden online: Pidgin
  2. Oxford English Dictionary, Supplement (1982)
  3. Online Etymology Dictionary: pidgin (English)