Pirates and Kleinecke’s etymology of “pidgin”

It is suggested that an old Spanish slang word has nothing at all to do with Dutch pirates but instead adds weight to David Kleinecke’s generally discarded South American etymology of the word “pidgin”.

Bernardito@Yotro quotes the following from Kris E Lane’s Blood and silver: a history of piracy in the Caribbean and Central America:

pechelingue: Dutch pirates and privateers, the term being apparently derived from the port of Vlissingen [English: Flushing]

Jan Rogozinski in Pirates! Brigands, Buccaneers, and Privateers in Fact, Fiction, and Legend tells the same story:

PECHELINGUE (Spanish-American slang; 16th and 17th centuries) The Spanish name (also spelled Pichilingue, Pechelinga) for Dutch pirates and privateers; it sometimes was broadened to include pirates of other nationalities. The word may be derived from the Dutch port of Vlissingen (Flushing).

Why pechelingues can’t have been Dutch or Flemish

This seems quite improbable for two reasons. Firstly, the Spanish had difficulties with some of the strange Germanic words they encountered in the Atlantic trade, but “Vlissingen” was not one of them: Alonso de Santa Cruz uses “Vlissingen” unaltered in his 1550 Crónica del Emperador Carlos V, and in the 17th century it turns up as “Flissinga” in Fray Prudencio de Sandoval’s Historia de la vida y hechos del Emperador Carlos V and Fernández de Medrano, Breve descripción del mundo. (Flemish:Vlaanderen|French:Flandres|English:Flanders > Spanish:Flandes is a similar example.)

Secondly, seventeenth century Spanish usage clearly suggests that, while they were certainly foreign heretics, pechelingues were neither Dutch nor Flemish, nor even English or Moorish:

  • Pedro Simón, OFM, Noticias historiales de las conquistas de Tierra Firme en las Indias Occidentales (1600): Duró esto con frecuencia, desde los primeros descubrimientos de aquella tierra, hasta que comenzaron a entrar en ella por el río ingleses, pichilingües, flamencos y otros extranjeros herejes
  • Juan Rodríguez Freyle, El carnero (1603): número de indios caribes de los Llanos, mulatos, mestizos y negros se intentaba el alzamiento. Tomó más fuerza adelante diciendo que con ingleses y pechelingues era la liga, y que por la vía de la Guayana entraba grande ejército, el cual comenzaba a subir por el río de Casanare para salir a la
  • Tirso de Molina, Marta la Piadosa: asaltan los vellocinos que en oro a España el Sur rinde, y, labrando en la Mamora un fuerte casi invencible, cortar esperanza y pasos a moros y pichelingües, juntó para aquesta empresa en las columnas de Alcides cien velas entre navíos, galeras y bergantines, comun & que pueden morar los
  • Tirso de Molina, La celosa de sí misma (1616): apellido le da quien se atreve a navegalle, y advierte que es esta calle la canal de Bahamá. Cada tienda es la Bermuda; cada mercader inglés, pechelingue, u holandés, que a todo bajel desnuda. Cada manto es un escollo. Dios te libre de que encalle la bolsa por esta calle.

The French also preyed on Spanish and Portuguese shipping in the period, as did, to a certain extent, free African-Americans, but then authors would surely have described them as franceses and africanos. So who were the pechelingues?

Why they may well have been the scum of the earth

I think it would be mistaken to look for one particular identifiable nationality or group, since, apart from the big three (Holland, France, England) just about everyone participated in piracy. Everyone except the Welsh, to judge from this un-named sixteenth century writer:

There is not a nation of Christians on this earth without renegades in Algiers. Beginning in the remote provinces of Europe, we find in Algiers renegade Moscovites, roxos [Russians?], rojaianos [sic], Vlachs, Bulgarians, Poles, Hungarians, Bohemians, Germans, Danes and Norwegians, Scots, English, Irish, Flemish, Burgundians, Navarrans, Biscayans, Castilians, Galicians, Portuguese, Andalusians, Valencians, Aragonese, Catalans, Mallorcans, Sardinians, Corsicans, Sicilians, Calabrians, Neapolitans, Romans, Tuscans, Genoans, Savoyans, Piedmontese, Lombards, Venetians, Slavonians, Albanians, Bosnians, Arnauts, Greeks, Candians, Cypriots, Surians, and Egyptians, as well as Prester John’s Abyssinians and Indians from the Portuguese, Brazilian and New Spanish Indies.

I think that with this description we might begin to see the pechelingues as a group united by diversity and, of course, evil; the copper-coloured small change of history, as the following passage from Thomas J Sargent’s The Big Problem of Small Change kind-of suggests:

In 1641, a difference was even made between the segovianos, coins minted in the Ingenio of Segovia like those of figure 14.1, and the other coins, variously called vellón grueso, pechelingues, or moneda de Cuenca.

The english:English = pechelingues:Pechelingue?

So what language did these people speak? Some kind of lingua franca, I assume, but with a much greater range of inputs than the mediaeval original used in the Mediterranean trade. My impression (I’ve lost the quote, I’m afraid) is that Atlantic creoles were highly diverse, both in terms of substrate and in addition of Romance, Germanic, African and Amerindian elements, the commonality being, as John Holm (Introduction to Pidgins and Creoles) notes, that “Atlantic creoles arose among speakers of partially similar African languages learning partially similar European languages under partially similar social conditions.”

You will have already guessed that I think that pechelingue–“[pidgin|little|pi$$y] language”, I will suggest–is one of the names given to this language cloud. Unfortunately I can find no early references to pechelingue being a language, and it disappears for several centuries after the mid-seventeenth. I wish I knew whether this is because of the limited amount of material available online, to the passing of that particular word, to the gradual reduction in pirates, or to the decline in Iberian naval activity in the Atlantic. However, a very similar word turns up in the nineteenth century in two key locations in the early slave trade. Samuel G Armistead writes that “several Canarian sources” maintain that “a trade pidgin known as Pichingli, flourished during the 19th and early 20th centuries”. It “seems to have been a mixture of English and Spanish”:

The word Pichingli (or Pichingle) is certainly an echo of the Pidgin English of the Far East. We could perhaps envision English ships coming around South America or Africa from the Pacific or Indian Ocean and stopping off at the Canaries on their way home, but I suspect that most ships whose crews and passengers used or heard Pichingli on reaching Tenerife or Las Palmas probably came direct from England. In any event, an essentially identical term is used in another Hispanic context (much nearer to the Canary Islands than the Far East) to designate a similar language. Fernandino Creole English
[see Ethnologue], spoken on the Island of Bioko (formerly Fernando Po) in the Gulf of Guinea, is known in Spanish as Pichinglis. The name of this English-based Creole could easily have reached the Canaries by way of Spanish ships coming from or going to the Spanish colony during the 19th century.

John M Lipski Spanish world-wide: the last century of language contacts (PDF) suggests that the English element in Fernando Po Creole was reinforced during the colonial period, when

nearly half of the island’s population consisted of Nigerian contract laborers (largely Ibos and Calabars), who worked on the cacao plantations, and although nearly all Nigerians were expelled by the Macías government (and few have returned), this group reinforced the English spoken by the Fernandinos, with the result that nearly all residents of Fernando Poo speak pidgin English, known as pichi, pichinglis or broken-inglis, which constitutes the true lingua franca of Fernando Poo/Bioko.

Manuel López in Un gorila con paperas. Historias de un veterinario entre monos (2001) takes it farther–probably too far:

Pichi is the abbreviation for pichinglis, a mixture of English and other languages spoken by many natives in African ports and which is customarily used as trading language across almost all the continent.

Etymologies of pidgin: the OED and Kleinecke

The OED:

1 pidgin, pigeon… Also pidjin, pidjun, pidgeon.

a 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).

1826 B. Hall Acct. Voy. Corea. 287, I come to see about your pigeon. 1826 B. Hall Acct. Voy. Coreaards learned that..’pigeon’, in the strange jargon spoken at Canton by way of English, means business. 1845 J. R. Peters Misc. Remarks upon Chineseon, is the common Chinese pronunciation of business.1850 Berncastle Voy. Chinainese not being able to pronounce the word ‘business’, called it `bigeon’, which has degenerated into `pigeon’, so that this word is in constant use.

Loreto Todd explained the problems with this and with David Kleinecke’s suggested solution in Pidgins and Creoles:

In 1959 Kleinecke [1959: An etymology for ‘pidgin’. International Journal of American Linguistics 25.271-2] suggested an alternative etymology and place of origin for ‘pidgin’. His hypothesis was welcomed because it involved only one very plausible sound change and because it helped to explain why ‘pidgin’ is international and not the sole preserve of the Chinese variety. Kleinecke claimed that ‘pidgin’ may derive from a Yayo (South American) form ‘-pidian’, meaning ‘people’ and occurring in such tribal names as ‘Mapidian’, ‘Tarapidian’. His claim is plausible on phonological, semantic and historical grounds. If ‘pidgin’ < 'pidian' can be traced back to the 1605-6 Oyapock settlement, its widespread use throughout the world might well be explained. Unfortunately, Kleinecke's theory rests on one solitary occurrence of 'Pidians'. Wilson wrote that when, in 1606, he joined Leigh, the commander of the expedition to South America, he found that the colonists were exhausted and even 'the Generall himselfe was very weak and much changed, which partly proceeded by reason of their great want of victuals, for that the Pidians could not at all times provide them that they wanted' (1625, p. 1260). A close examination of the 1625 text in which it occurs suggests that 'Pidians' might well be a misprint for 'Indians', a reference it clearly has in the context. In his account of the settlement Wilson uses 'Indian(s)' thirty-nine times, 'Pidians' once. The fact that other orthographic discrepancies appear, 'Arwakes', 'Arwalkes', 'Arwackes', lends weight to the suggestion that 'Indians' rather than 'Pidians' was intended. But, even allowing that the Oyapock colonists did refer to the variety of English used in dealing with the local people as 'pidian English', it is hard to explain why its usage then remains unrecorded for two hundred and twenty-five years until, in 1850, Berncastle uses 'pigeon' to designate the China coast variety of English.

Historical continuity/pidians and cognates

There is no reason, of course, why Chinese and Atlantic pidgin|pichi should not have arisen independently, but, although I’ve got only slightly more historical evidence than Kleinecke, and no more continuity, I think that this clearly tips the odds in favour of modern pichingli being a descendant of pechelingue, not a rapid adoption of Chinese idiom, and that the change may have come about as the Dutch and then the English came to dominate the Atlantic trade at the expense of the Spanish and Portuguese, ie:

peche + lingue > pechelingue > pichinglis

Where I think Kleinecke is probably wrong is in his suggestion of a Yayo suffix for “people” as the source of “pidgin”, since there are more plausible prefixes (ie childish/pi$$pants) to be found in Iberian, Amerindian and languages:

  • Papiamentu (Dutch Antilles): pishi = urinate (presumably related to other onomatopoeics like xixi in Portuguese creoles/pixar in Catalan/etc)
  • Mapudungu (Chile): pichi = boy, small (OK, Chile’s a bit out of the way)

Nope, not overwhelming. If only there were some pirates there I’d propose Pissingen as the next candidate, but I’ve already wasted four hours on this, so here are some unused oddities:

  • Peru: the Pichilimbíes (Juan de Velasco: Historia del Reino de Quito en la América Meridional (1760))
  • Pichilingo, coastal tongue in Guatemala
  • Pechelinga in Niassa province, Mozambique
  • Pichilingue region of Ecuador

And here is some completely irrelevant quasi-Pichilingua from a Spanish puzzle blog, Bitneriáceo:

¿Cuantos pajaritos ves?
¿y pueden ver al pájaro guía?
C, 11 BN
¿Qué hacen ahora?

Goodnight, ladies.

All uncredited historical quotes are from the Davies/NEH corpus.

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    1. Dungbeetle
      January 23rd 2005 22:43

      “Everyone except the Welsh, to judge from this un-named sixteenth century writer:” Try [C]Kapitan Henri[sir]Morgan and source of his ill gotten fortune. otherwise very enjoyable

    2. kalebeul
      March 21st 2005 21:05Pechelingues
      Someone has picked up on my pechelingue post and introduced it into the Spanish Wikipedia (“la expresión inglish pichinglish”, March 2005). A link back would have been cool, as would a scientific health warning.

    3. Carlos
      March 22nd 2005 15:41

      Sorry, they took off the the link I put

    4. Kimo
      March 22nd 2005 21:50

      Have you read BONILLA Y SAN MARTÍN, Adolfo. Pichelingue-Pechelingue. Disquisiciones histórico-geográficas (1910)? Librería Antonio Mateos in Málaga has got one in stock. http://antoniomateos.com

    5. Kimo
      March 22nd 2005 22:01

      Google also says:

      Inter-American Notes – The Americas 59:2 – [ Traduzca esta página ]
      … “The Word Pechelingue: its Derivation and Meaning,” HAHR, 24 (1944), pp.
      683-698. “Francisco López de Caravanes’ Historical Sketch of Fiscal …

      Unfortunately it’s subscription access. Can anyone get it for him?

    6. Carlos
      April 26th 2005 11:57

      Another idea: old French/Provençal pichier leads to quite old Spanish picher/pichel (same as your pitcher), pichel + lingue is someone who drinks a lot, e.g. a pirate

    7. kalebeul » Filibusters and boats on the Vlie
      June 8th 2005 21:27

      How do we know that Bush–for all his rhetoric–is soft on pirates? Because otherwise, surely, Bill Frist would have rebi […]

    8. D
      July 22nd 2006 21:24

      When I was growing up in Barcelona in the 1970’s my grandmother would say to me “Vamos a hacer inglis pitinglis” and we would talk nonsense. I don’t think people say this anymore.

    9. LangGuy
      November 18th 2006 20:15

      The Gentleman’s Magazine has “pigeon English” in 1790, 36 years before the OED’s first instance.

    10. Trevor ap Simon
      November 18th 2006 20:33

      Are you sure about that? I can’t see the date.

      (António de Morais Silva, Diccionario da lingua portugueza (1789) has pechelingue = cossario, ladráo, corruto de Flessingue, porto donde sahiáo corsarios)

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      ‘Pichinglis’ is how you say ‘speak English’ after you’ve drunk too much chaparán.

      Me go now.

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