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What Are Pidgin Languages?

A pidgin language is a language based on two or more languages and which has a practical and immediate purpose. It usually arises in diverse situations of contact between speakers, such as trade or slavery –where at least two groups must communicate with each other despite not sharing a common language.

While there is little consensus as to the origin of the word pidgin, it is said that it may come from the word pidian, a term that refers to the indigenous peoples living on the border between Brazil and Guyana in the early seventeenth century. It is also said to be a variant of the word “business,” as pronounced by speakers of the Anglo-Chinese pidgin language which developed in Guangzhou in the seventeenth century.

It is in the context of social disorder, such as those created by colonization, exploitation of labor in mines or plantations and trade or trafficking of goods, that there is contact between polyglots, as well as social imbalances, which give rise to pidgin languages. That’s why the languages ​​that serve as the basis for many of them are those of the colonialist countries, especially those involved in the slave trade: English, French, Dutch, Portuguese and Spanish.

A pidgin language emerges very unstably from contact between two languages of unequal prestige or social esteem and gradually adopts the grammar and phonology of the less prestigious language and the lexicon of the dominant one. When contact is prolonged and the pidgin language develops, becomes enriched, expands functionally and begins to be spoken as a native language by a community of people, it becomes what is called a creole language. The term creole comes from French, meaning “to raise,” and is a product of slaves born and raised in the homes of their masters. It later began to mean “offspring of European parents born in the colony.” The term was applied to the languages ​​used in the Caribbean and West Africa and later, all similar languages.

The slavers of the colonial era largely contributed, albeit unconsciously, to the creation of a host of pidgin languages by ​ loading the slave ships with speakers of different languages ​​with the ultimate goal of preventing them from organizing and mutinying while aboard the ship or upon arrival to the new world.

Is it possible that a new pidgin language will emerge as a result of the large influx of people fleeing hunger and poverty in Africa aboard confining boats bound for Europe?