[Etymonline:] pidgin (n.)
1876, from pigeon English (1859), the reduced form of the language used in China for communication with Europeans, from pigeon (1826), itself a pidgin word, representing a Chinese pronunciation of business. Meaning extended 1891 to "any simplified language."

I cannot even conjecture how Chinese phonology might transform 'business' into 'pidgin'.


I'm a native speaker. This is my speculation, but I believe more or less it's the truth.

First, "business" was a little difficult (as it had three syllables) for most Chinese people at that time, so they would like to miss the third syllable, only pronounced it like "busin".

Second, both Mandarin and Cantonese (no matter now and then) did not have the exact /z/ sound, so we would transliterate it into the /tɕ/ sound (aka j in pinyin) – similar situation for Japanese, they say ビ(bi)ジ(ji)ネ(ne)ス(su) for "business" – Unfortunately, the /dʒ/ sound followed the same way because there's no /dʒ/ in Mandarin and Cantonese either. So, even today, when I hear "the letter /tɕiː/" from a Chinese native speaker, I have to ask whether it's a G, Z, or even J.

Finally, the Chinese people at that time would pronounce "business" like /ˈbɪtɕɪn/, and then Europeans could not distinguish it from "pigeon" with a similar Chinese accent (the reason for /b/ to /p/ might also be the influence of the "Wade–Giles system", which transliterated the b sound in pinyin back to "p". Peking vs. Beijing is a perfect example): as a consequence, "pigeon" and later "pidgin" was used for that pidgin word.


According to some scholars,"pidgin" derives from the word "皮钦", which is originally of a Cantonese (a South-China dialect) pronunciation. "皮钦" itself in Cantonese is an inaccurate transliteration of the English word "business",and may be distorted during its spread from person to person,place to place.

I personally guess it might be an erroneous pronunciation of the word "business", which to many Chinese at that time, was pronounced as a 'bisin(“皮钦”)' + an 'ess(it was mistakenly regarded as a dispensable suffix)'.

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