Here are the important defining features of a pidgin language:

  • A Pidgin is a language variety that arises from contact between two or more languages with complementary distribution.

  • In the context of European colonialist expansion these languages were the languages of the European colonizers and the non-European indigenous language(s) of those being ‘colonized’ around the Atlantic and in the Pacific and Indian Oceans, e.g. West-African languages.

  • Languages involved in the formation of pidgins and creoles are also referred to as superstrate and substrate. The terms are connected to the extent of socio-political power ascribed to the groups of speakers in a language contact situation. The European colonizers had socio-political power and their language, as the dominant language in contact situations, constitutes the superstrate. The indigenous non-European languages are the substrate which is the less dominant language in a contact situation. The speakers of the substrate languages were regarded socially inferior to the European colonizers. They had little or no socio-political power.

  • The process in which a pidgin develops is referred to as pidginization.

  • A pidgin has no native speakers.

  • Pidgins usually draw most of their vocabulary from one language, the lexifier. The lexifier is usually the language of the European colonizer, e.g. English, Spanish, French or Dutch (= the superstrate).

  • Although they are lexically and grammatically influenced by their input languages, pidgins are not mutually intelligible with these languages.

  • Pidgins have grammars which are simplified and reduced in comparison with the grammars of their input languages. Mark Sebba (1997) speaks of typical design features characterizing pidgin (and creole) grammars.

Design Features of Pidgin Grammars

  • Pidgins have been described to show characteristic stages of development.

Stages of Pidgin Development

  • In their early developmental stages pidgins characteristically show a restriction as concerns the range of social functions for which they are used (e.g. limitation to trade). This may change with the development into an extended or expanded pidgin.

Two Examples:
(1)Tok Pisin
(2) Fanakalo

(Information taken and adapted from Sebba , 1997)