pidgin (pĭjˈən) [key], a lingua franca that is not the mother tongue of anyone using it and that has a simplified grammar and a restricted, often polyglot vocabulary. The earliest documented pidgin is the Lingua Franca (or Sabir) that developed among merchants and traders in the Mediterranean in the Middle Ages; it remained in use through the 19th cent. Other known pidgins have been employed in different regions since the 17th cent. An example is the variety of pidgin English that resulted from contacts between English traders and the Chinese in Chinese ports. In fact, the word pidgin supposedly is a Chinese (Cantonese) corruption of the English word business. Another well-known form of pidgin English is the Beach-la-Mar (or Bêche-de-Mer ) of the South Seas. The different kinds of pidgin English have preserved the basic grammatical features of English, at the same time incorporating a number of non-English syntactical characteristics. The great majority of words in pidgin English are of English origin, but there are also Malay, Chinese, and Portuguese elements. As a result of European settlers bringing to the Caribbean area large numbers of slaves from West Africa who spoke different languages, other pidgins evolved in that region that were based on English, Portuguese, Dutch, French, and Spanish. Examples of pidgins based on non-European languages are Chinook, once used by Native Americans in the Pacific Northwest, and Lingua Gêral, based on a Native American language and used in Brazil. The Krio language of Sierra Leone and Tok Pisin of Papua New Guinea are examples of creoles, pidgins that have acquired native speakers. See also creole language.
See D. Hymes, ed., Pidginization and Creolization of Languages (1971); E. B. Carr, Da Kine Talk: From Pidgin to Standard English in Hawaii (1972); W. A. Foley, The Papuan Languages of New Guinea (1986); S. Romaine, Pidgin and Creole Languages (1988).