written by Jeff Siegel
This page includes information on:
Melanesia is one of the most linguistically diverse areas of the world, with over 900 separate languages
spoken. Melanesians first had regular contact with Europeans (including Australians and Americans) in the early 1800s, when
whaling began in the area, followed by trading in sandalwood and bÍche-de-mer (the sea slug, which is supposedly an aphrodisiac).
In other areas of the Pacific, Europeans learned the local language to carry on trading, but they couldn't do so in Melanesia
because of the large number of languages. So they tried to use simplified English and a lot of mime. As a result, many Melanesians
picked up a bit of English -- but because of their limited exposure,they learned mainly vocabulary and not grammatical rules.
Their versions of English were highly influenced by their own first languages and simpler in comparison: a small vocabulary,
few grammatical rules and inflections, and regularity in what rules there were.
When the recruiting (and in some cases kidnapping) of islands labourers for plantations in Queensland
began in 1863, many Melanesians found themselves literally in the same boat. The only common language they had was the simplified
English they had learned, so they used that to communicate with each other on the ships and later on the plantations. With
continued use, norms began to emerge and a stable pidgin language started to develop -- early Melanesian Pidgin.
The earliest Queensland labourers were mainly from the New Hebrides (now Vanuatu) and the Solomon
Islands. Labourers from German-controlled New Guinea only went to Queensland in 1883-84. Many more went to plantations in
Samoa, from 1879-1912. Labourers from the other countries had also started going to Samoa in 1878, and many of these had already
worked in Queensland. So early Melanesian Pidgin was transported to Samoa. However, after 1885, no more labourers from the
New Hebrides or Solomons went to Samoa, and early Melanesian pidgin began to diverge into two slightly different varieties
-- one spoken in Queensland and one in Samoa.
When their contracts ended and labourers returned to their home islands, they brought the developing
pidgin with them. Previously, these islands had no lingua franca (common language), but the pidgin served this function well
and spread like wildfire. It was also used by the large-scale internal labour force which worked on the plantations of German
New Guinea, the New Hebrides and Solomon Islands after the external labour trade had ended. In each of these countries, early
Melanesian Pidgin stabilized and changed under the influence of the local indigenous languages. So today, Melanesian Pidgin
is spoken in different forms in each of these countries. It is known as Tok Pisin in Papua New Guinea, Bislama in Vanuatu,
and Pijin in Solomon Islands.
Tok Pisin differs from the other dialects because most of the returned labourers worked in Samoa rather
than Queensland. Also, nearly all of the New Guinea labourers were from New Britain and New Ireland and the neighbouring small
islands, where the internal German-owned plantations were also located. So Tok Pisin has many words from the languages of
these islands, as well as from Samoan and German (see vocabulary below).
After Tok Pisin stabilized, it began to be used for new functions, such as religion, newspapers and
radio broadcasting. As its use was extended into these new areas, it changed linguistically to become more complex -- e.g.,
acquiring more vocabulary and more grammatical rules and inflections. The same thing occurred with Bislama and Pijin. So today
Tok Pisin (and Melanesian Pidgin as a whole) is an expanded pidgin. When Papua New Guinea (PNG) was born in 1975, Tok Pisin
was recognized in the constitution as an important language of the new country.
In recent years, especially in urban areas of PNG like Port Moresby and Lae, people have been marrying
outside their traditional language groups. So often the common language of the parents is Tok Pisin and this is what their
children acquire as their first language. The process of a pidgin becoming spoken as a mother tongue or native language is
called nativization. Along with nativization comes even greater functional and grammatical expansion, so that the language
becomes just like any other. A pidgin that becomes the native language of a community is called a creole.
It is debatable, however, whether Tok Pisin (and Melanesian Pidgin as a whole) can be called a creole.
Those who call it a creole emphasize the fact that it has thousands of native speakers and has the functions and grammatical
features found in typical creoles. Those who say it is still a pidgin point out that more than 90%of its speakers have a different
Current use and attitudes
Today Tok Pisin is the lingua franca of the entire country of Papua New Guinea, known by an estimated
three quarters of the country's four million inhabitants. It is, in fact, the most widely used language of urban areas.
Tok Pisin is used to some extent in radio and television broadcasting, especially in interviews and
news reports. (It is also used in Radio Australia's Tok Pisin broadcasts.) The weekly Tok Pisin newspaper Wantok has a readership of over 10,000, and many government
publications are also in Tok Pisin. The language is widely used in religion, and there is a Tok Pisin translation of the New
Testament of the Bible.
The constitution recognizes Tok Pisin as one of the national languages of the country. Although English
is more widely used for government business, much of the debate in Parliament is in Tok Pisin.
Until recently, English was the official language of education in PNG, and used in all government
schools (although Tok Pisin was widely used in community and church-run pre-schools and vocational schools). However, with
the recent education reform, communities can choose the language to be used in the first three years of elementary education,
and many have chosen Tok Pisin.
Although many people still feel that Tok Pisin is inferior to English, most accept it as a separate
language, and an important language of Papua New Guinean identity.
BACK TO TOP SOUNDS GRAMMAR
BACK TO TOP BACKGROUND GRAMMAR
Since English is the lexifier language of Tok Pisin, most of the words come from English. But they
are often pronounced in a different way (see Sounds), and some may have different meanings. For example: spak (from
"spark") means 'drunk' and baksait (from "backside") refers to someone's back, not to their butt.
Many Tok Pisin words have a meaning much wider than that of the English word they came from. For example,
kilim (from "kill him") can mean 'hit' or 'beat' as well as 'kill'; pisin (from "pigeon") means 'bird' in general';
and gras (from "grass") means not only 'grass' but also 'hair', 'fur' and 'feathers'.
Also, some combinations of words have different meanings: e.g. bel hevi (from 'belly heavy')
Tok Pisin also includes words from other languages. Here are some examples:
from Tolai (a PNG language):
'bird of paradise'
Like other pidgins and creoles, Tok Pisin has its own individual system of sounds. Also Tok Pisin
has its own special writing system.
There aren't as many sounds in Tok Pisin as there are in English. The consonants that most speakers
of Tok Pisin use are: b, d, g, h, k, l, m, n, p, r,
s, t, v, w and y.
In Tok Pisin, the "s" sound is used for the "sh" sound, so the English word "shell" has become sel
in Tok Pisin. Also the "p" sound is used for the "f" sound, so the English word "fish" has become pis.
Like many dialects of English, Tok Pisin does not have the r sound following a vowel, so for
example, the English word "work" has become wok in Tok Pisin.
Also, Tok Pisin has a rule that at the end of a word or a syllable, g becomes k and d becomes t. So
the word for 'pig' is pik and the word for 'road' is rot.
The Tok Pisin vowels are a, e, i, o and u.
In English, the letter for a vowel might have many different pronunciations -- for example, compare
the sound of the "u" in "rule", "put", "but", and "fuse". But in Tok Pisin, each vowel has only one pronunciation, much like
the "pure vowels" in languages such as Spanish.
a is pronounced similar to the "a" in the English word "father"
e is pronounced
similar to the "e" in "vein"
i is pronounced similar to the "i" in "machine"
o is pronounced similar to
the "o" in "boat"
u is pronounced similar to the "u" in "rule"
Because Tok Pisin doesn't have some of the sounds that English has, and because of the rules just
mentioned, what are different words in English may be the same word in Tok Pisin. For example, hat means 'hat', 'hot',
'heart', and 'hard'.
BACK TO TOP BACKGROUND VOCABULARY
Is Tok Pisin just simplified English?
At first glance, Tok Pisin grammar seems to be just simplified English. For example, you don't have
to add an "s" to show plural:
wanpela pik 'one pig'
tripela pik 'three pigs'
You don't have to add "ing" or "ed" to show tense:
Mi wok nau. 'I'm working now.'
Mi wok asde. 'I worked
The same word em can mean 'he', 'him' 'she', 'her' and 'it'. For example, the following sentence
can have three different meanings, depending on the context:
Em i stap long haus. 'He's in the house' or 'She's in the house' or 'It's in the house.
i lukim mi. 'He/she/it saw me.'
Mi lukim em. 'I saw him/her/it.'
But Tok Pisin has its own grammatical rules.
First of all, look at the following sentences:
Mi wok. 'I worked.'
Yu wok. 'You worked.'
Em i wok. 'He/she
Tom i wok. 'Tom worked.'
Note that the last two sentences have the little word i before the verb. (Remember that in
Tok Pisin, i is pronounced something like "ee".) This little word is called a "predicate marker", and it must occur
in a sentence when subject is em or a noun (like "Tom" or "the bicycle"). This rule is certainly different from anything
found in English.
To show plural, you put the word ol before the word instead of "s" at the end of the word:
Mi lukim dok. 'I saw the dog.'
Mi lukim ol dok. 'I saw
To be specific about tense or aspect, or about other things like ability, you can use different short
words. Some occur before the verb and some occur after the verb. Here are some examples:
Ben i bin wok asde. 'Ben worked yesterday.'
Ben bai i
wok tumora. 'Ben will work tomorrow.'
Ben i wok i stap nau. 'Ben is working now.'
i wok pinis. 'Ben is finished working.'
Ben i save wok long Sarere. 'Ben works
Ben i ken wok. 'Ben can work (he is allowed to).'
Ben inap wok. 'Ben
can work (he has the ability).'
Although we saw that it seems Tok Pisin has a pronoun system which is "simpler" than that of English,
this is not the full story. The pronoun system of Tok Pisin makes some other distinctions that are not made in English. For
example, while standard English has only one pronoun, "you" for referring to either singular or plural, Tok Pisin has four
different pronouns: yu (singular - 'you'), yutupela (dual -'you two'), yutripela (trial - 'you three')
and yupela (plural - 'you all'). So Tok Pisin pronouns make a four-way distinction in number -- singular, dual, trial
and plural -- while English pronouns sometimes make no distinction, as with "you", or at the most only a two way singular-plural
distinction, as with "I" versus "we".
Tok Pisin pronouns also make another distinction not found in English. It has two sets of non-singular
pronouns, "inclusive" versus "exclusive", all corresponding to English "we". To understand this distinction, let's look at
the following English sentence:
The girls said to Miriam, "Fred invited us to the party!"
It would not be clear to Miriam from the statement "Fred invited us to the party" whether she was
included in the invitation or not. In other words, it could have two possible meanings:
1. Fred invited us (including you) to the party.
2. Fred invited us (but not you) to the
In Tok Pisin there would be no such confusion. There is an inclusive plural pronoun yumi ('we
or us, including you') and an exclusive plural pronoun mipela ('we or us, not including you'). So the two meanings
would be expressed in Tok Pisin in different ways:
1. Fred i bin singautim yumi long pati.
2. Fred i bin singautim mipela
You have seen that in Tok Pisin the suffix -pela is attached to pronouns to show plural --
e.g. yu vs yupela. This suffix also has another function. It is attached to some adjectives and numbers:
bikpela haus 'big house'
strongpela man 'strong man'
pik 'black pig'
tripela dok 'three dogs'
Tok Pisin has another suffix (or word ending) with a function unlike anything in English. This is
the suffix -im which is attached to some verbs. To see how it works, look at the following sentences:
Em i rit. 'He is reading.'
Em i ritim buk. 'He's reading
Wara i boil pinis. 'The water has boiled.'
Meri i boilim wara pinis. 'The
woman has boiled the water.
Bai mi rait. 'I'll write.'
Bai mi raitim pas. 'I'll write a letter.'
Kanu i kapsait. 'The canoe capsized.'
Ol i kapsaitim kanu. 'They capsized
You can see that the suffix -im is attached to the verb when it is followed by an object. So,
for example, if you say he's reading, there's no need for -im on the verb rit 'read'. But if you say he's reading
something, then you do need to add the -im suffix.
So you can see that Tok Pisin has its own grammatical rules which are very different from the rules
of English. Therefore, the answer to the question "Is Tok Pisin just simplified English?" is clearly NO!
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.
Pes yumi ken traim long raitim pes -- Tok Pisin sandbox
Go bek long Wikipedia long Tok Inglis na ol narapela tokples -- Back to the English Wikipedia and other languages
All content is free for use (open content
), as it explains in the GNU Free Document License
. Over 500,000 articles have been written since 2001. About half of them are in English. There are about 27 articles
in the Tok Pisin site. See how you too can help
: You can edit articles, translate articles into Tok Pisin, make new articles. See the help
page and other useful pages
to learn how to do this. You can also experiment in the sandbox
Mande, Mun Epril namba 5 de, yia 2004: NGO stadi i tok Ostrelia na Niusilan i lukautim ken kantri bl Pasifik. >>>> Mo nius wantaim Redio Ostrelia
Tride, Mun Mas namba 17 de, yia 2004: PNG Es Kaunsel i wari long ol sekiswoka igo hait. >>>> Mo nius wantaim Redio Ostrelia
Plis yu tanim dispela ol pes igo long Tok Pisin
Papua Niugini - Ostrelia - Solomon Ailan - Niusilan - Tok Pisin - Hiri Motu - Irak - Korea - Harry Potter - Matrix - David Beckham - Lord of the Rings - Tour de France - Michael Jackson - Melbourne Cup- Mahatma Gandhi - Nelson Mandela - Jisas - Buda
|Halo! Mi laik mekim nupela Wikipedia long Tok-Pisin. Yu laik halivim mi long en?
- Mi sajes olsem ol pes bilong TP, yumi raitim ol em long TP na Tok Inglis tupela wantaim.
- Mi tingting olgeta manmeri husat i laikim tru toktok long TP oli laik lainim TP bai oli traim helpim.
- Sapos yu laik lainim TP, plis ritim pes long intanet, yumi ken painim toksave long TP insait long em; lainim sampela; na traim tanim pes long Tok Inglis i go long pes long TP. Traim long raitim gutpela TP, tasol yu no pret
raitim long TP nogut... Narapela manmeri husat i rit pes bilong yu, bai em i stretim kwiktaim.
|Hello. I would like to start a Tok-Pisin version for Wikipedia. Would you help me with it?
- I suggest to have both Tok Pisin and English in the Tok Pisin pages (to discuss if this is accurate, please use the discussion page).
- I am a complete beginner in Tok Pisin. I think anybody with an interest in the language could try to
help. I suggest the following line: "If you want to try to learn TP, please have a look at the resources on the net,
learn some, and start translating yourself. Just try to be as accurate as possible, but don't be afraid to make mistakes...
others will correct them". What do you think?
- And also... If you are a native English speaker, please correct my English too...
- If you want to contribute but don't know how to edit pages in Wikipedia, please use the Sandbox.