In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Pidgins

  • Introduction
  • Origin of the Term
  • General Overviews
  • Comparative Studies of Pidgins Worldwide
  • Comparative Studies of Pidgins with Specific Lexifiers
  • Textbooks
  • Teaching Materials
  • Catalogues
  • Collections
  • Databases
  • Journals and Book Series
  • Signed Pidgins
  • Genesis
  • Typology
  • Theoretical Issues
  • Grammatical Theories
  • Interaction
  • Language Change
  • Areal Studies
  • Regional Studies
  • Other Reduced Systems
  • Pre-Grammar
  • Second Language Acquisition
  • Compared with Lexifiers
  • Experimental Pidgin Creation
  • Social Issues
  • Educational Issues

Linguistics Pidgins
Mikael Parkvall, Peter Bakker
  • LAST REVIEWED: 19 September 2022
  • LAST MODIFIED: 30 September 2013
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199772810-0034


Pidgins are languages which have come about in situations where people needed to communicate but where no common language existed. They draw their lexicon from one or more languages (referred to as the “lexifier(s)”), and are typically heavily reduced in that the lexicon is small and the number of grammatical categories and rules are few. They are in principle nobody’s mother tongue. Pidgins are often mentioned and discussed together with creole languages and jargons. Jargons (also, and more transparently, known as “pre-pidgins”) precede pidgins in a stage in which the parties in contact try out various communication strategies, and are therefore very variable and unstable, in contrast to pidgins, which are relatively stable. Pidgins have norms, something that jargons only have in incipient form. In exceptional cases, pidgins may become primary languages and even mother tongues, and they are then referred to as creoles. The intermediate stage between a pidgin and a creole is sometimes labeled expanded pidgin or pidgincreole. This article focuses on nonnative and nonexpanded pidgins. There will be occasional references to pidgincreoles, accompanied by a note on their expanded status. The article also deemphasizes the use of “pidgin” for interlanguage idiolects, sometimes encountered in the literature. It must be said that the common name of the language used by speakers or linguists is not always the same as the most appropriate classification: Hawaiian Creole is locally called “Pidgin,” and so are the expanded varieties of Pidgin English in the Pacific that do not fall under the definition of pidgins used here. Meanwhile, many Amerindian pidgins in North America customarily include “jargon” in their names, despite many of them being stable pidgins.

Origin of the Term

The term “pidgin” is normally thought to derive from the Chinese Pidgin English word for “business,” but several other etymologies have also been proposed. Baker and Mühlhäusler 1990 and Shi 1992 discuss some of them.

  • Baker, Philip, and Peter Mühlhäusler. 1990. From business to pidgin. Journal of Asian Pacific Communication 1:87–115.

    This historical overview of Chinese Pidgin English is based on numerous historical sources and contains a discussion on the origin of the word “pidgin” in Chinese Pidgin English.

  • Shi, Dingxu. 1992. On the etymology of pidgin. Journal of Pidgin and Creole Languages 7:343–347.

    DOI: 10.1075/jpcl.7.2.11din

    Shi convincingly shows that the word “pidgin” is derived from a Chinese Pidgin English word, originally English “business.”

back to top

Users without a subscription are not able to see the full content on this page. Please subscribe or login.

How to Subscribe

Oxford Bibliographies Online is available by subscription and perpetual access to institutions. For more information or to contact an Oxford Sales Representative click here.