Pidgins are “on-the-spot” languages that develop when people with no common language come into contact with each other. Nobody speaks a pidgin as their first language. Usually a pidgin language is a blend of the vocabulary of one major language with the grammar of one or more other languages. The major languages are usually the languages of the former major colonial powers, such as English, French, and Portuguese. For example, the establishment of plantation economies in the Caribbean, with large groups of slaves from different language backgrounds who came from West Africa, gave rise to a number of pidgins based on English, French, Spanish, Dutch, and Portuguese. However, there are also pidgins spoken in parts of Africa, South America, and southeast Asia that are based on languages other than those of the colonial powers. A good example of a non-European pidgin is the Chinook Jargon that was once used by American Indians and European traders in the Pacific Northwest.
The term pidgin has nothing to do with birds. The word, first attested in print in 1850, is thought to be the Chinese mispronunciation of the English word business. There are other theories about the origin of the term.
Because of their limited function, pidgin languages usually do not last very long, rarely more than several decades. They disappear when the reason for communication diminishes, as communities either move apart, one community learns the language of the other, or both communities learn a common language (usually the official language of the country). For instance, Pidgin Russian spoken in Manchuria disappeared when Russian settlers left China after World War II. The same is true of Pidgin French which disappeared from Vietnam after the French left the country. However, this is not always the case. Chinese Pidgin English (Chinglish), developed in the 17th century in Canton (Guandong), China,and survived for almost three centuries. Its use spread from master-servant relationships to those between English and Chinese traders and bureaucrats. It continued in use until about the end of the 19th century, when the Chinese started to switch to standard English.