Pidgins and Creoles: The Formation of Nonstandard Language | FCHS AP HUMAN GEOGRAPHY |

What do popular English colloquialisms like “long time no see”, “lose face”, and “no can do” have in common? Far from neologisms, these simple, staccato utterances all originated centuries ago as a means of facilitating trade between the English and Chinese. Beginning in the 17th century, as English merchants crossed the Indian Ocean and sailed upwards through the South China Sea, they met with their Asian counterparts and, out of necessity, developed a means of communication that melded English words with Chinese sentence structure. The result was a pidgin language that would be the mercantile lingua franca for over two centuries.

Pidgin languages – originally a business vernacular – are characterized by a limited vocabulary, simplified grammar and syntax, and an unfussy disregard for subject-verb agreement. Allegedly, the name comes from the mispronunciation of the word “business” by those selfsame Mandarin speakers that introduced so many colorful phrases into everyday English. While a rudimentary sort of communication was necessary, Chinese merchants of the 17th and 18th centuries held the English language in low esteem and did not feel compelled to learn it fully. The 19th century, however, saw an upswell in English-language education as pidgin came to be viewed as degrading.

Pidgin languages are nobody’s native tongues. They arise out of necessity and survive so long as they are needed. Examples of pidgin languages exist in several African

Via Charles Tiayon