Features of Pidgin Languages
- Many pidgin languages share similar origins. They tend to originate when people from several different cultures are brought into contact in a multilingual environment. For instance, Chinese Pidgin originated among Chinese merchants dealing with traders from several different European nations, while Tok Pisin developed among natives of several different Austronesian communities working on plantations in Australia. In both cases, speakers of several different languages used a small English vocabulary, together with grammar from their own languages, to create a means of communication.
- Because they are learned quickly and spoken by people with different linguistic backgrounds, pidgin languages usually have simple grammar. For instance, modern Tok Pisin, which is descended from pidgin languages spoken in Papua New Guinea, has only two prepositions, "blong," which means "of" or "for," and "long," which is used for all other prepositions. Chinese Pidgin abandoned the complex inflections of spoken Cantonese for a simple grammatical system based on word order.
- Pidgin languages tend to have a very small vocabulary compared to other languages. The vocabulary of Chinese Pidgin, for instance, has been estimated at only 700 words. Concepts that are single words in many languages are expressed as phrases in pidgin. In the pidgin languages of Melanesia, the words "eyebrow" or "eyelash" were expressed as "gras blong ai," literally "grass of the eye." This usage is so common that hair, known as "gras blong het," is almost always simply called "gras." The limited vocabulary makes it possible to learn pidgin languages easily.
Effect on Other Languages
- Because they are spoken by trading communities, pidgin languages often have far-reaching effects. In some cases, they turn into more sophisticated creole languages, such as Tok Pisin, which is now one of the official languages of Papua New Guinea, and spoken as a first language by over a million people. Pidgin languages often have effects on related languages: Chinese Pidgin contributed phrases such as "long time no see" and "no can do" to the English language.