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Some half-talk

Posted on June 3, 2004 in Words

square279.gifI have only experienced Pidgin vicariously — through books, web sites, and a brief excerpt spoken on a television program — but I love it as a language. Pidgins are languages which combine English vocabulary with local native grammar and additional words.

I am not with those who feel pidgin is inferior, a kind of dumbed-down version of English. For one thing, the people — white people as well as Pacific islanders — who speak it are not idiots. For another, it possesses a complicated grammar of its own, distinct from English. There are, in fact, many different kinds of pidgin, some resembling English more and others less.

In his book Words, lexicography hobbyist Paul Dickson notes that pidgin

came into being some 300 years ago along the China coast as an intensely loose, linguistic shorthand with a severely limited vocabulary. The words were English and the syntax Chinese, which provided enough common ground for Western sailors and Chinese merchants to talk with one another. It was called a business language, but it was hard for Chinese to pronounce business, which came out as something that sounded like bijin. It eventually became known as pidgin.

Dickson collected a few pages — transliterated into readable English — of pidgin expressions. Among my favorites:

  • Beard: Grass belong face
  • Butcher: Man-belong-bullanacow
  • Elbow: Screw belong arm
  • Frenchman: Man-a-wee-wee (man who says “oui, oui”)
  • God: Big Name
  • Helicopter: Mixmaster belong Jesus Christ
  • Intellectual: Think fella too much
  • Is the water drinkable: Good fella water?
  • Onion: Apple belong stink
  • Piano: Hit ‘im in teeth, out come squeal allsame pig
  • Secret: Talk he-hide
  • Sun: Lamp belong Jesus Christ
  • Toe: Finger belong leg
  • Word: Half talk
  • You need a bath: Skin belong you ‘im stink

Pure poetry.

To test your new found skills in reading this crossroads language, see if you can guess what famous poem this is:

Big Name watchem sheepysheep:

watchum black fella.

No more belly cry fella hab.

Big Name makum camp alonga grass,

taken black fella walk-about longa,

no fightem no more hurry watta

Big Boss longa sky makum inside glad

takem walk-about longa too much good fella.

ANSWER: The Twenty-Third Psalm


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