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Chinese Pidgin English

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Title: Chinese Pidgin English  
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Subject: Chinglish, Pidgin, Languages of China, List of English-based pidgins, Ibis trilogy
Collection: Chinese-Based Pidgins and Creoles, English-Based Pidgins and Creoles, Languages of China
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Chinese Pidgin English

Chinese Pidgin English
Region China
Extinct Extinct in China; survives in Nauruan Pidgin English
English pidgin
  • Chinese Pidgin English
Language codes
ISO 639-3 cpi
Glottolog chin1253[1]
Linguasphere 52-ABB-da

Chinese Pidgin English (also called Chinese Coastal English[2] or Pigeon English,[3] simplified Chinese: 洋泾浜英语; traditional Chinese: 洋涇濱英語; pinyin: yáng jìng bāng yīng yǔ) is a pidgin language lexically based on English, but influenced by a Chinese substratum. From the 17th to the 19th centuries, there was also Chinese Pidgin English spoken in Cantonese-speaking portions of China. Chinese Pidgin English is heavily influenced by various Chinese languages with variants arising among different provinces (for example in Shanghai and Ningbo).

A separate Chinese Pidgin English has sprung up in more recent decades in places such as Nauru.


  • History 1
  • Features 2
    • Phonology 2.1
    • Lexicon 2.2
    • Morphology and Syntax 2.3
      • Pronouns 2.3.1
      • Topic–comment 2.3.2
      • Copula 2.3.3
      • Piece/Piecee 2.3.4
  • Influence on English 3
  • See also 4
  • References 5


English first arrived in China in the 1630s, when English traders arrived in South China. Chinese Pidgin English was spoken first in the areas of Macao and Guangzhou (Canton), later spreading north to Shanghai by the 1830s.[4] "Yangjing Bang English" in Chinese (洋涇浜, or 洋泾浜) derives from the name of a former creek in Shanghai near the Bund where local workers communicated with English-speaking foreigners in pidgin (broken English); (Yangjing Bang has since been filled in and is now the eastern part of Yan'an Road, the main east-west artery of central Shanghai).

Historically, it was a modified form of English developed in the 17th century for use as a trade language or lingua franca between the English and the Chinese. Chinese Pidgin started in Guangzhou, China, after the English established their first trading port there in 1664. Pidgin English was developed by the English and adapted by the Chinese for business purposes. The term "pidgin" itself is believed by some etymologists to be a corruption of the pronunciation of the English word "business" by the Chinese.[5] Chinese Pidgin continued in use until about the end of the 19th century, when Pidgin came to be looked upon by the Chinese as humiliating (because English speakers considered it ridiculous) and so preferred to learn standard English instead.

Chinese Pidgin English began to decline in the late 19th century as standard English began to be taught in the country's education system.[6] English language teaching has been widespread throughout modern Chinese history- it was made the country's main foreign language in 1982.[7]

Chinese Pidgin English spread to regions beyond the Chinese Coast. Many attestations of the language being spoken come from writings of Western travelers in China. Among these are scattered reports of the pidgin being spoken farther inland, such as in Chungking (Chongqing) and Hankow (Hankou), and farther north, in Kyong Song and even Vladivostok.[8] CPE was also taken beyond China: the large numbers of CPE speakers in Nauru influenced the shaping of Nauruan Pidgin English [9] and there is evidence that it was also taken to Australia, where it altered due to the influence of Australian English and other pidgins. [10] It is also reported to have been spoken in Singapore and Java. [11] Kim (2008) says that there is debate among linguists, including Baker, Mühlhäusler, and himself, about whether or not CPE was taken to California by 19th century immigrants. Many features present in California Chinese Pidgin English overlap with features of CPE, but also overlap with many other pidgins. Furthermore, some diagnostic features of CPE are missing or different from California Chinese Pidgin English. On the other hand, because many migrants came from the Canton province in China, where CPE was relatively well-known, it is likely that many migrants to the United States from China had knowledge of the pidgin. At the very least, it is clear that California Chinese Pidgin English should be treated as a distinct variety from CPE as spoken in Coastal China, because it has morphological and syntactic features not found in CPE. [12]



Robert Hall (1944) gives the following phonemic inventory:

  • Vowels: [i, ɪ, e, ɛ, œ, ɑ, ə, ɔ, o, U, u]
  • Consonants: [p, t, k, b, d, g, m, n, ŋ, f, v, θ, ð, s, z, š, ž, č, ǧ, l, r, h, j, w]

Native speakers of English use this inventory. Because most lexical items in CPE are derived from English, native English speakers simply use the pronunciation familiar to them. For non-native English speakers, who were largely Cantonese speakers, [f, v, θ, ð, r, š, ž] are not present, because these sounds are not present in Cantonese. [13]

Hall also describes a few morphophonemic alterations. Many verbs ending in consonants may optionally add a vowel, as in [tek(i)] 'to take' and [slip(a)] 'to sleep'. Words ending in [r] and [l], and sometimes [d], optionally omit the final consonant, as in [litə(l)] 'little' and [mo(r)] 'more'. Certain stems also frequently lose their final consonant when before certain suffixes, as in [hwat] 'what?' ([hwasajd] 'where?,' [hwatajm] 'when?,' [hwafœšan] 'how?'), [ðœt] 'that' (ðœsajd 'there'), awt 'out' (awsajd 'outside').[14]

Baker and Mühlhäusler point out that Hall's data was taken entirely from native speakers of English, several decades after CPE was widely used. For this reason, they are skeptical of the data presented.[15] Nonetheless, their own presentation of phonology in CPE is largely the same as Hall's. They state that [s] and [š] were not phonemically contrastive for Cantonese speakers. Words ending in [f] in English often had an added [o] as in thiefo. Aside from these additions, Baker and Mühlhäusler have few revisions to make to the phonological claims Hall made.[16]


The overwhelming majority of the words used in CPE are derived from English. There are also influences from Portuguese and Cantonese, as well as some lexical items coming from Malay and Hindi.

  • pidgin < business (English)
  • two muchee < too much (English)
  • sabbee < saber (Portuguese, 'to know')
  • Joss < Deus (Portuguese, 'God')
  • taipan < taipan (Cantonese, 'supercargo', a classification of shipped goods)[17]

Morphology and Syntax

The misconception that Chinese Pidgin English is simply “nothing but English words spoken with Chinese syntax” is grossly inaccurate. Constructions, both at the phrase level and sentence level, vary widely in taking English or Chinese structure. Generally speaking, pidgin languages have isolating morphology and so do not inflect nouns and verbs; CPE is no exception.[18] Some notable morphological and syntactic phenomena, which frequently appear in linguistic literature, are listed below.


Prior to 1800, pronouns conformed largely to British and American English paradigms. Over time, my came to be the only first person singular pronoun in CPE, replacing both I and me. He was used for subject and non-subject referents alike (Baker and Mühlhäusler 1990: 104). Plural pronouns were expressed as in English by native English speakers;[19] we have too little data from native Cantonese speakers to determine if they pluralized pronouns.[20]


In CPE, once a noun has been explicitly stated, it does not need to be stated again in following sentences where that item would normally be found. This means that in a given sentence, the subject or object may be omitted. In the example below, “very poor people” is the subject for the following clauses, although they do not explicitly state it.

  • “this have very poor place and very poor people: no got cloaths, no got rice, no got hog, no got nothing; only yam, little fish, and cocoa-nut; no got nothing make trade, very little make eat” [21]

The omitted noun may also be loosely related to the predicate, rather than a subject or object. In the sentence below, meaning 'He won't sell at that price,' the omitted “that pricee” is neither a subject nor an object.

  • “(that pricee) he no sellum” [22]


A word derived from English have was the usual copula in CPE until 1930. It usually appears as hab or hap. Belong is also used, as well as a zero copula (that is, nothing where a copula would normally go). The latter became the most common copula after 1830.[23]

  • “Chinese man very great rogue truly, but have fashion, no can help”

‘Chinese men are real rogues but that’s how it is, can’t help it’ [24]


This lexical item seems to have be an influence of Cantonese grammar on CPE. Cantonese uses classifiers on nouns described by a number or demonstrative. The word piecee is used where Cantonese would expect a classifier. Chop is another classifier, used only in demonstrative constructions.[25] Places where Cantonese does not use a classifier, as with the words for 'year' and 'dollar,' likewise do not have a classifier in CPE.[26]

  • “You wantchee catchee one piecee lawyer”

‘You will have to engage a lawyer’[27]

  • “Thisee chop tea what name”

‘What is the name of this tea?’ [28]

Influence on English

Certain expressions from Chinese English Pidgin have made their way into colloquial English, a process called Calque. The following is a list of English expressions which may have been influenced by Chinese.

((very) (long time) (not) (see) (Mandarin traditional), (very) (long time) (not) (see) (Cantonese), (very) (long time) (not) (see) (Mandarin simplified), meaning "haven't seen [you] in a long time", further meaning "we have not seen each other in a long time"). The Oxford English Dictionary states that "long time no see" originated in the United States as "a jocular imitation of broken English." .[30]
  • look-see[31]
((look) (see)) This phrase is attributed to Chinese pidgin English by the Oxford English dictionary.[32]
  • No this no that
No ____, no ____ predates the origin of Chinese Pidgin English,[33] but is also a notable example of fabricated pidgin English: ((no) (ticket) (no) 襯衣(shirt)) meaning "If you don't have a laundry receipt, I won't give you your shirts", said to be a fabricated pidgin English inaccurately attributed to the Chinese laundry proprietors. In 1886, a New York City bill cited this phrase in reference to Chinese-owned dry cleaning establishments. In 1921 a movie titled "No Tickee No Shirtee" further popularized the saying. Another famous use of this phrase is "No money, no talk" ((no)(money)(no)(chance)(talk)), which simply means "If you don't have the money, don't try to bargain with me".

See also


  1. ^ Nordhoff, Sebastian; Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin, eds. (2013). "Chinese Pidgin English". Glottolog 2.2. Leipzig: Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology. 
  2. ^ Ansaldo, Umberto, Stephen Matthews, and Geoff Smith. "China Coast Pidgin: texts and contexts." Journal of Pidgin and Creole languages 25.1 (2010): 63-94.
  3. ^ 東方日報 亂世達觀:白鴿英語現代篇
  4. ^ Yamuna Kachru and Cecil L. Nelson, World Englishes in Asian Contexts. Hong Kong University Press, 2006
  5. ^ Online Etymology Dictionary 
  6. ^ McArthur, Tom. (2002). Oxford Guide to World English. Oxford: Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-866248-3 hardback, ISBN 0-19-860771-7 paperback.
  7. ^ Kam, A. (2002). English in education in China: policy changes and learners’. experiences. World Englishes, 21(2), 245-256
  8. ^ Baker, Philip, and Peter Mühlhäusler. "From business to pidgin." Journal of Asian Pacific Communication 1.1 (1990): 111
  9. ^ Kim, Ronald I. "California Chinese Pidgin English and its historical connections: Preliminary remarks." Journal of Pidgin and Creole languages 23.2 (2008):
  10. ^ Siegel, Jeff. “Chinese Pidgin English in Southeastern Australia: The notebook of Jong Ah Siug” Journal of Pidgin and Creole Languages, 24.2, (2009):
  11. ^ Baker and Mühlhäusler 1990: 111)
  12. ^ Kim 2008: 329-339
  13. ^ Hall, Robert A. "Chinese Pidgin English grammar and texts." Journal of the American Oriental Society (1944): 96
  14. ^ Hall 1944: 96
  15. ^ Baker and Mühlhäusler 1990: 90
  16. ^ Baker and Mühlhäusler 1990: 97-98
  17. ^ Ansaldo et al. 2010: 80
  18. ^ Hall Jr, Robert A. "Pidgin English and linguistic change." Lingua 3 (1952): 137-146.
  19. ^ Hall 1944: 97
  20. ^ Baker and Mühlhäusler 1990: 104
  21. ^ Keate, 1788; quoted in Baker and Mühlhäusler 1990: 100
  22. ^ Instructor IV.77; quoted in Ansaldo et al. 2010: 88
  23. ^ Baker & Mühlhäusler 1990: 103
  24. ^ Anonymous 1748; quoted in Baker & Mühlhäusler 1990: 103
  25. ^ Ansaldo et al. 2010: 81
  26. ^ Baker & Mühlhäusler 1990: 101
  27. ^ Instructor IV.32; quoted in Ansaldo et al. 2010: 81
  28. ^ Instructor VI. 15; quoted in Ansaldo et al. 2010: 81
  29. ^ Wiktionary phrase
  30. ^ Oxford English Dictionary, long time no see
  31. ^ Wiktionary phrase
  32. ^ Oxford English Dictionary, look-see
  33. ^ Oxford English dictionary, no ___ no ____ and variants
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