March 03, 2005


What with getting ready for Thanksgiving and all, I somehow missed Trevor's 11/15/2004 post entitled "Pirates and Kleinecke's etymology of 'pidgin'".

He starts from the multinational pirates known as pechelingues, pichilingues, or pechelingas in Spanish-American slang of the 16th and 17th centuries. Another point of reference is "a trade pidgin known as Pichingli" in the Canary Islands in the 19th century. There are several other intriguing historical notes, including a 1641 term for small change of diverse origin.

Trevor makes a suggestion about the origin of the word pechelingue (he finds the story about Spanish mispronunciation of the Dutch port of Vlissingen (Flushing) unconvincing), and a second suggestion about the origin of the word pidgin, namely that it was originally a term for the language of the pechelingues, which might originally have been spoken among the ethnically and linguistically diverse pirates of the Barbary coast (scroll down to "No hay nación de cristianos en el mundo de la cual no haya renegado y renegados en Argel"). He puts this up against the OED's story about the origin of pidgin, namely that it's

A Chinese corruption of Eng. business, used widely for any action, occupation, or affair. Hence pidgin-English, the jargon, consisting chiefly of English words, often corrupted in pronunciation, and arranged according to Chinese idiom, orig. used for intercommunication between the Chinese and Europeans at seaports, etc. in China, the Straits Settlements, etc.; also transf. (quot. 1891).

and a more recent suggestion by Kleinecke " that ‘pidgin’ may derive from a Yayo (South American) form ‘-pidian’, meaning ‘people’ and occurring in such tribal names as ‘Mapidian’, ‘Tarapidian’."

A useful introduction to the "Barbary pirates" can be found here. Last fall, on the occasion of "type like a pirate day", I pointed out their role as opponents in an earlier American-led global war on terror, complete with reluctant Europeans and other historical analogies.


Posted by Mark Liberman at March 3, 2005 08:34 AM