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Pidgins generally arise between interactions with merchants, traders, and the like, while the elites would be far away in the capital, not haggling for fish with the foreigners. They tend to simplify their phonology, morphology, and vocabulary significantly.

In my world, the situation causing two groups to interact is quite different: there are humans and demons (think standard D&D Tieflings rather than metaphysical spirits), who live in different dimensions. Humans have figured out how to summon demons, but unfortunately they can't actually magically compel a demon to do their bidding. However, both races recognize that a cultural exchange would be valuable, so they are willing to engage in bargains. Here are some details about the situation:

  • Typical magical high fantasy setting, both races have roughly equal technological/magical advancement, but they specialize in different schools of magic.

  • Only mages can perform a summoning and be summoned, and mages are an elite class in both races, so the participants are always high-class and well educated.

  • They are interested in the other race's knowledge and secrets, both arcane and scientific. So they need to be able to convey complex knowledge, and conduct very elaborate bargains.

    (The exchanges are not always purely about knowledge, they might also give resources or perform magical feats in exchange for knowledge.)

  • Both sides are also motivated to reveal as little as possible to the other side. They want to conserve fodder for exchange, and they don't want to give the other race too many advantages in case of an invasion. They would not let the other race send over an envoy to learn their language.

I envision that the interacting mages will devise some kind of pidgin/hybrid language. My question is, what kind of features might this language have, and where would it be similar or different to real world pidgin languages?

(I know about code-switching and mixed languages, but neither really apply since they occur when the speakers are fluent in both languages.)

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    $\begingroup$ When "elites" need to communicate across linguistic barriers they learn the foreign languages. This enables them "to convey complex knowledge, and conduct very elaborate bargains". Pidgins arise when the teeming multitudes want to communicate across linguistic barriers, but they don't want it hard enough to cause a linguistic shift; pidgins enable the conveyance of simple knowlege and straightforward deals. Since they won't accept foreign language teachers, that leaves two possibilities: learn from books, or use a pre-existing common language. I knew that Homeric Greek will make a comeback! $\endgroup$
    – AlexP
    Commented Mar 18, 2018 at 4:36
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    $\begingroup$ @AlexP your comment should be an answer. It is awesome. $\endgroup$ Commented Mar 18, 2018 at 5:08
  • $\begingroup$ @AlexP or they all learn a third language, like Latin. Every educated European knew it at one point... $\endgroup$
    – RonJohn
    Commented Mar 18, 2018 at 12:47
  • $\begingroup$ Maybe add a link to 5th Edition Tiefling or Pathfinder Tiefling for the benefit of those unfamiliar with them? $\endgroup$
    – G0BLiN
    Commented Mar 18, 2018 at 15:06
  • $\begingroup$ Also - this is a high-fantasy setting, are there no "translation magic", telepathy or other mystical aids available that will circumvent the need for a common language? $\endgroup$
    – G0BLiN
    Commented Mar 18, 2018 at 15:09

3 Answers 3

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If communications are complex and exacting then you won't develop a pidgin, one side or the other (or both) will have to learn the others language.

Pidgins develop where communication is general rather than precise. It's not formalised and doesn't develop much of a vocabulary of it's own.

You may develop a specialised language, we have those right now for example legal, medical and scientific latin derived terms. But these are well defined and formalised in whatever vernacular they're used in.

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Merchants develop pidgin, as do subcultures and criminal elements. This is because the ideas needed to be communicated are simple.

Pidgin often arises out of an economic need. It happens when one society bumps up against another society with the economic means to elevate individuals. So you get cab drivers, local guides, porters, restaurateurs and the like who learn it.

pidg·in ˈpijən/Submit noun a grammatically simplified form of a language, used for communication between people not sharing a common language. Pidgins have a limited vocabulary, some elements of which are taken from local languages, and are not native languages, but arise out of language contact between speakers of other languages.

The thing is, the more elite side of the equation doesn't generally speak pidgin, though they might understand it. They might learn to their benefit and pick up a few vocab words but...it's not an equal exchange generally. In the case of pidgin English, while their might be vocab from the other language, English will be dominant.

What you're talking about doesn't remotely fit in with this model, especially because you note it's going to be "complex." Both parties seem to be roughly equal in status, with neither having a gross socio-economic advantage, which is often found where pidgin is used.

I skimmed the comments, and they seemed to have picked up on exactly what I was going to suggest: a communication language that's entirely different from either side. Latin and French were used in this way in Europe. A sort of neutral language that both sides know.

They might pick up words here and there, but pidgin will only develop if there's a lot of "tourists" from one place to the other, making deals and the like. As secretive as everyone sounds, it's doubtful that either side would allow free passage like that.

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"How soon after "First Contact" would the stories be set?" is an important thing to answer about the details of the trade language that would arise between the "Human" and "Demon" sides.

The First Contactees on each side would likely contribute pieces of their own language to the trade language through necessity based on the primary language of the first traders. Words for objects, actions, and ideas that exist in the Human realm but not the Demon realm would be used in this trade language and vice versa. Things that exist in both could become an amalgam of each so that things could be more quickly understood by both sides. For example, the Human verb "sell" (as spoken by English-speaking Humans) equates to the Demon verb "kral" (as spoken by the Voorl clan Demons) and so the trade language initially uses the verb "sellkrall", but the Demon realm has no "apples" so that would simply be "apples".

Initial communications would likely be simple, "(Object) (Verb) (Subject)". After that, things would fairly quickly evolve to "(Adjective+Object) (Adverb+Verb) (Adjective+Subject)" and then into including conditionals and conjunctions. Also the amalgamated words might morph over time into simpler pronunciations to evolve into words unique to either original language. New terms would be added as needed and also by speakers of different languages on both sides as time goes by and trade expands.

If your intent is that neither side can learn the other's language in its entirety, there's not really much need to go further than that. Each side would continue to contribute new terms as needed over time. It's likely that some kind of Trade Association would arise on both sides if the Human/Demon trade becomes important enough to their societies and, depending on secrecy, might even decide to mix and match their native language chosen for the new words used just to keep things obfuscated from the other side. When one simple sentence in the trade language contains words originally taken from 3 different Human languages and 4 different Demon languages, it would make it very difficult to extract any kind of significant linguistic information that applies to anything outside of the trade language itself.

Over time, the Trade Language would continue to evolve, become more complex and could eventually be an entire language in itself. If the Human/Demon trade is important enough to modern society of either or both sides, it could even evolve into an important intermediary language that allows Humans to more easily speak with Humans of other languages, the same with Demons that speak different languages.

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