On the periphery of language

Although numerous studies have been devoted to bilingualism, relatively few have focused on the phenomenon of the pidgin languages. Philologists, theorists and historians of these languages tend to ignore them and prefer to focus on the primary languages. This is especially surprising since there are many forms of pidgin used daily in the world, particularly in ethnically diverse areas.

Pidgin is considered to be a very basic and simplified form of speech, an auxiliary and contact language, which means it is used for communication between different cultures and speakers of mutually unintelligible languages and dialects.
The term ‘pidgin’ originally referred to Chinese Pidgin English, a variety of English spoken by the Chinese and British as a trade language. With the passage of time, the term became generalized and now refers to any kind of simplified, combined language. The origin of the name itself is not clear. It probably derives from the Cantonese pronunciation of the English word business or from the English word pigeon, thereby referring to the use of birds for carrying messages.

Although pidgin languages are simple, they are neither broken nor inconsistent. They are based on evolved rules, making them easy to understand and learn, even if they sometimes sound a bit bizarre. The structure of pidgin languages is reduced and as uncomplicated as possible. They are tonally and grammatically simplified, so they usually lack the notion of gender, inflection, conjugation, declination, agreement, syntactic complexity, etc. Their vocabulary is simplified and they use separate words to indicate tenses; for example: one boy go, two boy go tomorrow, three boy go yesterday.

There are numerous factors that can influence the formation of pidgin languages, most importantly migration, immigration, slavery and insufficient education. They are formed by combining or modifying of words and concepts from at least two existing languages. In most cases, they are derived from the language of the group that controls a territory, such as colonizers (Spanish, English, French, Portuguese, German, Russian, etc.), or of the group that predominates in a vast area (like Arabian, Swahili and Zulu). The creation of pidgin languages is conditioned by lengthy and regular contact between the different language communities, which provokes necessity of communication between them and an absence of a widespread, accessible interlanguage.

Pidgin languages are not native languages of any speech community, but rather learned as a second language in every instance. They are usually used by immigrants in their new place of residence or carry the status of lingua franca in multilinguistic zones. They arose in response to the need for communication, making it possible to converse without translators, but they cannot serve as a long-term solution because they do not allow for the expression of complex concepts. That is why pidgin languages disappear. As time passes and the pidgin-speaking community evolves, pidgin loses its prestige and usefulness, dies out or evolves into a Creole language.
Pidgin languages are often viewed as incomplete, broken, corrupt and of low prestige. Many linguists treat them as unworthy of serious attention, while others consider them evidence of linguistic and mental deficit. That is why they are so poorly studied. Nonetheless, the registration of various processes related to the phenomenon of their creation – acquisition, primarization, piginization, creolization, decreolization, etc. – can provide us with a wide range of information on the evolution of language in general. Moreover, they can be extremely relevant in tense situations when it is difficult to find a translator, which still applies today in a world that seems smaller and smaller.

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