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Tok Pisin (English /tɒk ˈpɪsɪn/; Tok Pisin [ˌtokpiˈsin]) is a creole language spoken throughout Papua New Guinea. It is an official language of Papua New Guinea and the most widely used language in that country. In parts of Western, Gulf, Central, Oro Province and Milne Bay Provinces, however, the use of Tok Pisin has a shorter history, and is less universal, especially among older people.
While it likely developed as a trade pidgin, Tok Pisin has become a distinct language in its own right. Non-academic Anglophones living in Papua New Guinea tend to refer to it as «Pidgin,» «New Guinea Pidgin» or «Pidgin English», but it is common usage among academics, as well as people familiar with Tok Pisin, to refer to the language by its own name.
Between five and six million people use Tok Pisin to some degree, although not all speak it well. Many now learn it as a first language, in particular the children of parents or grandparents who originally spoke different vernaculars (for example, a mother from Madang and a father from Rabaul). Urban families in particular, and those of police and defence force members, often communicate among themselves in Tok Pisin, either never gaining fluency in avernacular (tok ples), or learning a vernacular as a second (or third) language, after Tok Pisin (and possibly English). Perhaps one million people now use Tok Pisin as a primary language.
A 1971 reference book on Tok Pisin (then calledMelanesian Pidgin).
Tok is derived from English «talk», but has a wider application, also meaning «word», «speech», or «language». Pisinderives from the English word pidgin; the latter, in turn, may originate in the word business, which is descriptive of the typical development and use of pidgins as inter-ethnic trade languages.
While Tok Pisin’s name in the language is Tok Pisin, it is also called New Guinea Pidgin in English. Papua New Guinean anglophones almost invariably refer to Tok Pisin as Pidgin when speaking English. However, professional linguists prefer to use the term Tok Pisin, as this is considered a distinct language in its own right. The language can no longer be considered a pidgin strictly speaking: it is now a first language for numerous people, and is not simply a lingua franca to facilitate communication with speakers of other languages.
The Tok Pisin language is a result of Pacific Islanders intermixing, when people speaking numerous different languages were sent to work on plantations in Queensland and various islands (see South Sea Islander and Blackbirding). The labourers began to develop a pidgin, drawing vocabulary primarily from English, but also from German, Malay, Portuguese and their own Austronesian languages (perhaps especially Kuanua, that of the Tolai people of East New Britain).
This English-based pidgin evolved into Tok Pisin in German New Guinea (where the German-based creole Unserdeutsch was also spoken). It became a widely used lingua franca – and language of interaction between rulers and ruled, and among the ruled themselves who did not share a common vernacular. Tok Pisin and the closely related Bislama in Vanuatu and Pijin in the Solomon Islands, which developed in parallel, have traditionally been treated as varieties of a single Melanesian Pidgin English or «Neo-Melanesian» language. The flourishing of the mainly English-based Tok Pisin in German New Guinea (despite the language of the metropolitan power being German) is to be contrasted with Hiri Motu, the lingua franca of Papua, which was derived not from English but from Motu, the vernacular of the indigenous people of the Port Moresby area.
Along with English and Hiri Motu, Tok Pisin is one of the three official languages of Papua New Guinea. It is frequently the language of debate in the national parliament. Most government documents are produced in English, but public information campaigns are often partially or entirely in Tok Pisin. While English is the main language in the education system, some schools use Tok Pisin in the first three years of elementary education to promote early literacy.
There are considerable variations in vocabulary and grammar in various parts of Papua New Guinea, with distinct dialects in the New Guinea Highlands, the north coast of Papua New Guinea (Pidgin speakers from Finschhafen speak rather quickly and often have difficulty making themselves understood elsewhere) and theNew Guinea Islands. The variant spoken on Bougainville and Buka is moderately distinct from that of New Ireland and East New Britain but is much closer to that than it is to the Pijin spoken in the rest of the Solomon Islands.
The Tok Pisin alphabet contains 22 letters and 4 digraphs, five of which are vowels. The letters are (vowels in bold):
There are four digraphs:
Tok Pisin, like many pidgins and creoles, has a far simpler phonology than the superstrate language. It has 17 consonants and 5 vowels. However, this varies with the local substrate languages and the level of education of the speaker. The following is the «core» phonemic inventory, common to virtually all varieties of Tok Pisin. More educated speakers, and/or those where the substrate language(s) have larger phoneme inventories, may have as many as 10 distinct vowels.
Nasal plus plosive offsets lose the plosive element in Tok Pisin e.g. English hand becomes Tok Pisin han. Furthermore, voiced plosives become voiceless at the ends of words, so that English pig is rendered as pik in Tok Pisin.
Tok Pisin has five vowels, similar to the vowels of Spanish, Japanese, and many other five-vowel languages:
The verb has a suffix, -im (from «him») to indicate transitivity (luk, look; lukim, see). But some verbs, such as kaikai »eat», can be transitive without it. Tense is indicated by the separate words bai (future) (from «by and by») and bin (past) (from «been»). The present progressive tense is indicated by the word stap – e.g. «eating» is kaikai stap (or this can be seen as having a «food stop»).
The noun does not indicate number, though pronouns do.
Adjectives usually take the suffix -pela (now often pronounced -pla, though more so for pronouns, and -pela for adjectives) when modifying nouns; an exception isliklik »little». It is also found on numerals and determiners:
Pronouns show person, number, and clusivity. The paradigm varies depending on the local languages; dual number is common, while the trial is less so. The largest Tok Pisin pronoun inventory is,
Reduplication is very common in Tok Pisin. Sometimes it is used as a method of derivation; sometimes words just have it. Some words are distinguished only by reduplication: sip »ship», sipsip »sheep».
There are only two proper prepositions: bilong (from «belong»), which means «of» or «for», and long (from «along»), which means everything else. Tok Pisin: «Mipela i bin go long blekmaket». → English: «We went to the black market». Tok Pisin: «Ki bilong yu» → English: «your key» Tok Pisin: «Ol bilong Godons». → English: «They are from Gordon’s». (ibid. 640f). Some phrases are used as prepositions, such as long namel (bilong), «in the middle of».
Several of these features derive from the common grammatical norms of Austronesian languages – although usually in a simplified form. Other features, such asword order, are however closer to English.
Sentences which have a 3rd person subject often put the word i just before the verb. This may or may not be written separate from the verb, occasionally written as a prefix. Although the word is thought to be derived from «he» or «is», it is not itself a pronoun or a verb but a grammatical marker used in particular constructions, e.g., «Kar i tambu long hia» is «car forbidden here», i.e., «no parking».
Tense and aspect
Past tense: marked by «bin» (from English ‘been’): Tok Pisin: «Na praim minista i bin tok olsem». English: «And the prime minister spoke thus». (Romaine 1991: 629)
Continuative same tense is expressed through: verb + «i stap». Tok Pisin: «Em i slip i stap». English: «He/She is sleeping». (ibid.: 631)
Completive or perfective aspect expressed through the word «pinis» (from English: finish): Tok Pisin: «Em i lusim bot pinis». English: «He had got out of the boat». (Mühlhäusler 1984: 462).
Transitive words are expressed through «-im» (from English: him): Tok Pisin: «Yu pinisim stori nau.» English: «Finish your story now!». (ibid.: 640).
Future is expressed through the word «bai» (from English: by and by): Tok Pisin: «Em bai ol i go long rum» English: «They will go to their rooms now. (Mühlhäusler 1991: 642).
Development of Tok Pisin
Sign in common use in the 1980s giving a warning in Tok Pisin: «Work on road, cars must stop if you see the red sign.»
Tok Pisin is a language that developed out of regional dialects of the languages of the local inhabitants and English, brought into the country when English speakers arrived. There were four phases in the development of Tok Pisin that were laid out by Loreto Todd.
Tok Pisin is also known as a «mixed» language. This means that it consists of characteristics of different languages. Tok Pisin obtained most of its vocabulary from the English language, i.e., English is its lexifier. The origin of the syntax is a matter of debate. Hymes (Hymes 1971b: 5) claims that the syntax is from the substratum languages, i.e., the languages of the local peoples. (Hymes 1971b: 5). Derek Bickerton’s analysis of creoles, on the other hand, claims that the syntax of creoles is imposed on the grammarless pidgin by its first native speakers: the children who grow up exposed to only a pidgin rather than a more developed language such as one of the local languages or English. In this analysis, the original syntax of creoles is in some sense the default grammar humans are born with.
Pidgins are less elaborated than non-Pidgin languages. Their typical characteristics found in Tok Pisin are:
Many words in the Tok Pisin language are derived from English (with Australian influences), indigenous Melanesian languages and German (part of the country was under German rule until 1914).
Example of Tok Pisin
Published - August 2016