pid·​gin | \ ˈpi-jən How to pronounce pidgin (audio) \

Definition of pidgin

: a simplified speech used for communication between people with different languages

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Other Words from pidgin

pidginization \ ˌpi-​jə-​nə-​ˈzā-​shən How to pronounce pidginization (audio) \ noun
pidginize \ ˈpi-​jə-​ˌnīz How to pronounce pidginize (audio) \ transitive verb

The History of Pidgin

The history of pidgin begins in the early 19th century in the South China city of Guangzhou. Chinese merchants interacting with English speakers on the docks in this port adopted and modified the word business in a way that, by century's end, had become pidgin. The word itself then became the descriptor of the unique communication used by people who speak different languages. Pidgins generally consist of small vocabularies (Chinese Pidgin English has only 700 words), but some have grown to become a group's native language. Examples include Sea Island Creole (spoken in South Carolina's Sea Islands), Haitian Creole, and Louisiana Creole. The word pidgin also gave us one particular meaning of pigeon—the one defined as "an object of special concern" or "accepted business or interest," as in "Tennis is not my pigeon."

Examples of pidgin in a Sentence

Recent Examples on the Web American English is meant to grow wild and woolly on our shores, spawning dialects and pidgins, wantonly consuming foreign words and locutions, anarchically legitimizing slang and warped grammar. Virginia Heffernan, WIRED, "The Delicate Art of Creating New Emoji," 28 June 2018 In the traditional account of this process, a creole most often arose from a pidgin: a simple, improvised argot drawing most of its words from the (usually European) languages of the masters. The Economist, "JohnsonThe painful origins of many creole languages," 1 Feb. 2018 Hapa is a Hawaiian pidgin word used to describe mixed-race people (usually those who are half Asian and half white). Danielle M. Wong, Harper's BAZAAR, "The Ethnic Odd Girl Out," 17 Oct. 2017 The White House has released a statement confirming its intention to end the payments, written in the pidgin-English indicating the president’s own authorial hand: Congress is not going to repeal and replace Obamacare. Jonathan Chait, Daily Intelligencer, "Trump Unveils Full-Bore Obamacare Sabotage," 12 Oct. 2017 Many cats and their human companions seem to develop a pidgin language in order to communicate better. National Geographic, "What Are Cats Trying to Tell Us? Science Will Explain," 28 Mar. 2016 Where Spicer was a career cog in the Republican machine, Scaramucci is a swaggering New Yorker who speaks in the same clunky business pidgin as the president and can drop names nearly as prodigiously too. David A. Graham, The Atlantic, "Anthony Scaramucci Is the Right Answer to the Wrong Question," 21 July 2017 Sometimes her Native American characters speak a cigar-store pidgin to one another, only to drop it further down on the same page. William T. Vollmann, New York Times, "Review: Annie Proulx’s ‘Barkskins’ Is an Epic Tale of Logging and Doom JUNE 16, 2016," 17 June 2016 Many cats and their human companions seem to develop a pidgin language in order to communicate better. National Geographic, "What Are Cats Trying to Tell Us? Science Will Explain," 28 Mar. 2016

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'pidgin.' Views expressed in the examples do not represent the opinion of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback.

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First Known Use of pidgin

1869, in the meaning defined above

History and Etymology for pidgin

pidgin English

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Time Traveler for pidgin

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The first known use of pidgin was in 1869

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Cite this Entry

“Pidgin.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 17 Feb. 2020.

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More Definitions for pidgin


How to pronounce pidgin (audio)

English Language Learners Definition of pidgin

: a language that is formed from a mixture of several languages when speakers of different languages need to talk to each other

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