Printable Version
Pronunciation: pi-jin Hear it!

Part of Speech: Noun

Meaning: A simplified jury-rigged system of verbal communication based on the nouns, verbs, and adjectives of one language, excluding grammatical or function words and affixes (the likes of the, of, this, -ing, -s), constructed for the purpose of conducting commerce between two peoples speaking different languages.

Notes: Commerce and trade between nations require a common language or exceptionally good translation companies. In colonial times, before translation companies like our own Lexiteria appeared, traders had to create a working language, usually based on that of the colonizer: pidgin English, pidgin French, pidgin Portuguese and so forth. In pidgin English, "Dat-man wok haad" is the equivalent of "He is/was/will be working hard" in standard English. Function words and affixes that define the grammar of the language are omitted. (Dat-man is treated as one word.)

In Play: When a generation begins speaking a pidgin as its native language, the pidgin becomes a creole. A creole is a real language with all the grammatical markers of a regular language (pronouns, tense markers, plural markers, etc.). However, the children speaking this language for the first time make these function words from regular nouns, verbs, and adjectives. "Dat-man don wok haad" in a creole would be "He worked hard" where don(e) has become a past tense marker (function word).

Word History: Today's interesting word is an old Chinese corruption of the English word business. Chinese syllables cannot end on any consonant except N, so the final Ss in this word are out from the start. The medial S was apparently taken to be a J by early Chinese traders. So, it is not a word for the birds but a word that means "business" quite literally. That makes sense since, as mentioned above, pidgins are makeshift communications systems for the purpose of conducting trade. (Our thanks to Mark Angney for flying to the rescue of today's oft-misunderstood word.)

Dr. Goodword,

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