rating: 0+x

"Loah, me him-fella fight-bokkus man. Me coma baloose-he-belonga sodawater this sun him get-up. This me-fella larn pidgin"

I looked him up and down, none the wiser and then turned to Cholmondley.

"He says he's the piano tuner you sent for and the chap with him is his apprentice. Apparently he arrived on the seaplane sometime around dawn."

Basic Information

When two or more groups of people come in contact with each other, at least one of three things happen: War, Sex or Commerce. (And often more than one of the above). And if they're going to do business with each other, they aren't going to let a little thing like not speaking the same language get in the way of turning an honest dime. So the people will often develop a Pidgin language, a simplified dialect borrowing words from each of the native tongues.

The name comes from the 17th Century and was a corruption of how Chinese speakers pronounced the English word "business". Chinese Pidgin English was widely used in commerce between Chinese and English-speaking merchants in the 18th and 19th Centuries, but fell into disuse because of it's stigma of ignorance. The term "pidgin" is used for other types of cobbled-together trade languages.

In North America, there were hundreds of tribes of American Indian tribes, most with their own distinct languages; and so they developed pidgin languages to trade with other tribes. When European traders came in contact with them, it was often easier for them to learn the regional pidgin than try to force English on the natives. In 1855, the Governor of the Washington Territory insisted that all treaties with the local Indians be negotiated in Chinook Jargon, under the mistaken impression that this trade pidgin was the native language of the Indians of the Northwest. Among the Indians of the Great Plains region, the predominant pidgin language incorporated a lot of gestures, leading to the Wild West trope of "Indian Sign Language."

The simplicity of pidgin languages make them easy for adults to learn, but difficult to convey complex ideas. This causes problems and misunderstandings for people trying to use pidgin to form treaties or evangelize the natives, and also reinforces stereotypes of the "ignorant savages" by making the pidgin-speaker seem less intelligent.

Sometimes a pidgin language can become established well enough to become a use-language of its own. For example, Pidgin English is still very much in use in Paupa New Guinea and the surrounding area as something of a lingua franca amongst over eight hundred indigenous languages and (under the name of Tok Pisin) has become an official language of state.

See Also


Game and Story Use

  • If the PCs travel to a different land, it makes sense that the natives would speak a different language. Having a pidgin language available lets you acknowledge that difference without having to deal with messy problems of translation.
  • It would make a great deal of sense for the "Common Tongue", so beloved of "certain RPGs" to be something like this. Some of the more congruent ones will even explain that their common tongue is some kind of pidgin and struggles to express complicated ideas.
    • By way of example the Coradian Trader's Argot from the Dragon Warriors RPG is a Pidgin of the various languages spoken around the Coradian Sea (an in world analogue to the Mediterranean) - it's noted as being adequate for discussing business but is nearly useless for anything complicated or abstract.
  • On the other hand, such dialects should be used sparingly. It's very easy for such a character to become at best annoying or at worst offensive.
    • Jar-Jar Binks. Need I say more?
  • In game systems with mechanics for languages, using pidgin offers wonderful opportunities for the sadistic GM to bedevil his players with miscommunications and faulty translations.
  • One way to characterize an NPC as a patronizing twit is to have him not bother learning a native language but rather speaking to every native he meets in crude pidgin.
    • And then have a native reply to him in a cultured, educated accent. Yeah, it's an old gag, but a good one.
  • In a Wild West campaign, it's common to have a fur trader or a scout who can understand Indian Sign Language.
Unless otherwise stated, the content of this page is licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 License