Thursday, March 5, 2009

Long Time No See – China Coast Pidgin?

I’m editing Carl Crow’s unpublished manuscript for his planned book about his trip up the Burma Road and to Chongqing in 1939 to cover the war. He uses some pidgin English, China coast version I assume, in the text which has had me reaching for my ancient pidgin English dictionaries. Crow claimed to be “fluent” in China coast pidgin which could, as well as other versions of pidgin English, be very useful and rather interesting to listen to I suppose. Certainly Amitav Ghosh puts it to good use in his excellent Sea of Poppies.

One expression I wasn’t aware of as being derived from pidgin is the phrase ‘Long time no see’. However, there’s a lot of argument about the origin. Most seem to agree it is China Coast pidgin and derived from ho noi mou gin in Cantonese which literally means “very long-time no see”. However, there are some that argue it comes from Native American pidgin English, but the evidence seems scant. More likely the phrase came back to England from Royal Navy sailors and merchant seamen who had been to Canton (the Canton Factories of the Europeans and Americans above) and the China Coast and from there moved to America.

I hear the phrase all the time but had never thought much about where it came from – now it seems I do.

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