Torres Strait Creole
Torres Strait Creole (also Torres Strait Pidgin, Yumplatok, Torres Strait Brokan/Broken, Cape York Creole, Lockhart Creole, Papuan Pidgin English, Broken English, Brokan/Broken, Blaikman, Big Thap) is an English-based creole language spoken on several Torres Strait Islands (Queensland, Australia), Northern Cape York and South-Western Coastal Papua. It has approximately 25000 mother-tongue and bi/tri-lingual speakers, as well as several second/third-language speakers. It is widely used as a language of trade and commerce. It has six main dialects: Papuan, Western-Central, TI, Malay, Eastern, and Cape York. Its main characteristics show that it is a Pacific Pidgin, but the future in X [i] go VERB aligns it with Atlantic Creoles. Related languages are Pijin of the Solomon Islands, Tok Pisin of Papua New Guinea, and Bislama of Vanuatu. The other creoles of Australia (such as Roper River Kriol and Australian Kriol language) are more distantly related, being descendants of the Pidgin English that developed in and around Sydney after the colonisation of Australia.
Records of pidgin English being used in Torres Strait exist from as early as the 1840s (e.g. Moore 1979), and therefore Torres Strait Creole may very well be as old as, if not older, than its sister languages, and not a descendant of any of these. The main importers of the pidgin were British and other sailors, many of whom were South Sea Islanders, both Melanesian and Polynesian, as well as Island South-East Asians, Jamaicans, Cantonese Chinese, Japanese, and others. Therefore, Brokan has various characteristics of these different types of Pidgin, the main ones being Singapore Pidgin, Pacific Pidgin and Jamaican Creole. It may have creolised quite early (pre-1900) on Darnley Island, and somewhat later (post-1910) at St Pauls on Moa and on Yorke Island in the Central Islands. Creolisation is post-1960s elsewhere.
The Papuan dialect was replaced by Hiri Motu in many parts of its former territory, and now also by Tok Pisin.
Dialects differ mainly from the influences in the various areas the language is spoken or by the language of the ethnic groups that use the language as well as a certain amount of superstrata influence from English. Apart from accent and intonation, differences are mainly vocabulary used for local fauna, flora and so on, retentions from local indigenous languages or other substrata languages (such as Malay) and minor differences in pronunciation because of substrata influences.
The dialects group generally into the Western-Central-Cape York dialects where the western and central language of Torres Strait (Kala Lagaw Ya) has a strong influence (an influence which is also ‘over-powering’ other sub-strata influences), ‘TI’ Brokan with a strong Malay/Indonesian-Filipino-European influence, Eastern Brokan with a strong South Seas and Meriam Mìr influence, and Papuan, with strong influences from Kiwai, Motu and (now) Tok Pisin. Influences from other languages such as Japanese are to do with vocabulary specific to Japanese (or the like) items.
Brokan exists as part of a lect continuum: a local language, a local language mix called Ap-ne-Ap, a pidgin basilect creole, a mesolect creole called Torres Strait (Thursday Island) English, and General Australian English, as this example shows:
English : I’m really tired
Thursday Island English : I’m proper tired
Mesolect Brokan : Ai prapa taiad
Basilect Brokan : Ai mina taiad
Ap-ne-Ap : Ngai mina taiad mepa
Kalau Kawau Ya : Ngai mina gamukœubaasipa
The language has the following vowels (with some dialect difference as well):
high : i, u
retracted-high : ù
mid : e, o
low : a, ò
Sounds found in individual dialects:
mid-central : œ - Western-Central-TI-Papuan (in words from English, Kala Lagaw Ya, Agöb, Gidra, Malay and other languages)
retracted-high : ì - Eastern (in words from Meriam Mìr)
Vowel length for the language as a whole is non-contrastive, though in some subdialects/dialects it appears to be contrastive.
labial: p, b, m, w
dental: th, dh, n, l
alveolar: t, d, r
alveo-palatal: s, z, y
velar: k, g, ng
The dental-alveolar contrast exists in the Western, Central and Cape York dialects, however only exists in other dialects in so far as either English or Western-Central influences force a contrast, or where the voiced alveolar stop d realises as the rhotic tap r (e.g. Western-Central wasamada what’s the matter/what’s wrong, Eastern/Papuan wasamara). In the Papuan dialects, the only alveolar consonant is r, while t and d can be either dental (i.e. fall together with th and dh) or alveolar, according to local language. In Meriam influenced Broken, t is dental, while d is alveolar.
P, b, th, dh, k and g are aspirated stops (i.e. accompanied by a small ‘puff of air’), and also have fully aspirated allophones, particularly p (thus [pʰ] — [ɸ], [bʱ] — [β], [t̪ʰ] — [θ], [d̪ʱ] — [ð], [kʰ] — [x], [ɡʱ] — [ɣ]) while s and z vary in pronunciation between [s/z], [ʃ/ʒ], and [tʃ/dʒ]. These reflect indigenous language allophony as well as a rationalisation of the larger English (and Malay, etc.) consonant phoneme inventory. The consonants t, d, m, n, l, w, y and ng do not have any major allophonic variation, while r varies from flap to trill to rhotic glide.
The following are the forms of the personal pronouns in the Western-Central-Cape York dialects. Where the Eastern dialect is concerned, the dental-alveolar contrast is on the whole non-operative, and the dual forms are less commonly used than elsewhere. Furthermore, the 1-2 form yumi is often used as the general non-singular 1-2 form; and is sometimes used as such in other dialects in rhetorical discourse. The Central Islands dialect (and sometimes others) tends to also usewi for the 1st person plural.
The non-identfying 3rd plural òl is also found as a nominal plural marker:
I gad òl bùk ianau There are books here.
The demonstrative pronouns:
this, these : full form dhiswan, colloquial form dhisan, reduced, clause initial form san, sa
that, those : full form dhaswan, colloquial form dhasan, reduced, clause initial form san, sa
There is a strong tendency for dhiswan and its forms to be used to the exclusion of dhaswan.
Who is that? Dhaswan i udhat?, Dhiswan dhe i udhat?, Dhasan i udhat?, Dhisan dhe i udhat?, Dhisan i udhat?, San i udhat?! San dhe i udhat?
The interrogatives tend to have two forms, in the case of three a reduced clause initial form and a fuller clause final form, as in the following example:
Wane yu luk? [alt. Wane yu lukem?] / Yu luk wanem? What do you see?’
a) Two forms according to clause position:
what : wane, wanem
Similarly, there and here have two forms:
there : dhe, dhea
b) Variant words/forms:
when : wataim, wen
c) Dialect variation:
how : wiswei, Central Islands waswei
The language has no indefinite article, and uses the definite article much less than it is in English. The definite article has a more demonstrative feel than the English equivalent. There are singular, dual and plural forms:
singular : dha - dha kenu »the canoe»
dual : dhemtu, dhostu - dhemtu kenu, dhostu kenu »the two canoes»
plural : dhem - dhem kenu »the canoes»
The demonstrative articles have a general form, and a specific dual form, as well as variation, with a strong tendency to use the clitics iya and dhea to specify position; the definitie articles are oftenmused with the demonstrative clitics to express the demonstrative articles :
this man : dhis man, dhis man ia
these men (dual) : dhistu man, dhistu man ia, dhemtu man ia
these men (plural) : òl dhis man, òl dhis man ia, dhem man ia
all these men : òlgedha man ia
that man : dhas/dhat man, dhis man dhea
those men (dual) : dhostu man, dhistu man dhea, dhemtu man dhea
those men (plural) : òl dhas/dhat man, òl dhis man dhea, dhem man dhea
all those men : òlgedha man dhea
Brokan is a somewhat atypical of Pidgin-Creole languages in its word order and various other syntactic (and grammatical) properties. Though the normal sentence word order is the expected transitive S-V-O-X(-) and intransitive S-V-X(-), there is variation in the form of S-X-V(-O), such as where the directional adverbs dhethere and ia/ya here come before the verb, as happens in all local languages (this is in common with virtually all verb tense/aspect/mood markers in the language).
a) Verb clause strings are normal in the language:
Bala blo mi bi teke kenu kam baik.
My brother brought the canoe back.
Plein i dhe plai go (or) Plein i dhe go plai (or) Plein i plai dhe go (or) Plein i plai go dhea
The plane is flying away (over) there.
The four sentences in Brokan carry a semantic difference difficult to show in the English translation. Plein i dhe go plai is the basic sentence - the plane is flying [away] over there. Plein i plai dhe go is more along the lines of the plane is flying away that way, plein i plai go dhea is the plane is flying away heading that way, and plein i dhe plai go is The plane is there flying away.
b) Unlike many pidgin-creoles, the adjective categorically comes before the noun. Similarly, adverbs that mark adjectives come before the adjective:
Big sisi bl’em bi kese tu prapa big redkala pis lo ausaid sanbaing.
His/her big sister caught two really big red fish at/on the outer sandbank.
Unlike Tok Pisin, Bislama and the Australian creoles, -pla is not used as an adjective formant.
When not before the referent, adjectives are often suffixed by -wan, the adjective nominaliser, or by an appropriate nominal, such as man man, person:
Bala blo mi i bigwan / bigman.
My brother is big.
Dhis dhamba ya i prapa naiswan.
This bread is really nice.
c) All verb tense and aspect markers come before the verb (see Verbs below), apart from the clitic nau.
d) A fully operational relative clause structure exists, marked by the relative clause marker we:
Dha totol we ai bi kese em i stap ananith lo aus.
The turtle I caught is under the house.
Ama bin luk smol gel we i dhe sidaun krai krai krai lo skul blo dhem piknini.
Mum saw a little girl (who was) sitting and crying at the kids’ school.
e) Questions vary between using English/Merima Mìr-like word order, i.e. question word initially, or Kala Lagaw Ya/Malay-like word order, i.e. question word order is the same as that of statements. As stated above, the question word has its full form when used clause finally, and a reduced form otherwise. In yes-no questions, statement word order is normal, with the use of a question tag sentence clitic:
We yu go? / Yu go wea? Where are you going?
Udha nem blo yu? / Nem blo yu udhat? What’s your name?
Wataim em i go kam bai’gen? / Em i go kam bai’gen wataim? When is he going to come back?
Aukam yu sabe blaikman tok? How come you can speak the black people’s language?
Bambai athe blo dhemtu i go stap ospetal au? Is their grandfather going to stay in hospital?
Yu pinis luk piksa a? Have you finished watching the film?
A) Transitivity and Voice
Verbs can be marked for transitivity and voice (transitive-passive or intransitive-antipassive), but not person, tense, aspect or mood. Voice marking is for the transitive-passive, and made by suffixing -e to the verb stem when the object follows the verb, and -em when the object is elsewhere in the clause. Note that the suffix -em is of fairly recent development, and is in origin an abbreviation of the verb phrase form VERB-e em, where the cross referencing pronoun em and the suffix have coalesced (via -i em > -yem > -em). All these versions exist in everyday speech.
tek take : intransitive-antipassive : tek, transitive-passive : teke, teki em, tekyem, tekem
Em yustu tek òl buk. He used to/would take took all books. (antipassive)
Em yustu teke dhem buk. He used to take the books. (transitive)
Em yustu teke buk. He used to take a/the book. (transitive)
Dha buk we em i yustu bi tekem i brok. The book he used to take is broken. (fronted transitive) (variants Dha buk we em i yustu bi teke em / teki em / tekyem i brok.)
The development of a full passive using this form also exists:
Buk i yustu bi tekem lo em/prom em. A/The book used to be taken by him. (the lo - prom variation is dialect).
Phonological variation of the transitive suffix:
If the verb stem has e or a diphthong, then the transitive suffix is -e; if i or u, then it can become -i, while of the stem contains a or o, the suffix can become -a. One or two others verbs have stem extensions to form the verb from a noun:
teke > teke take, bring
laite > laite light
pute > puti put
pile > pili feel something
broke > broka break
ama hammer > verb amare
pain point > verb painte
Verb stems that end in vowels do not take the suffix, while a few verbs are irregular in not taking the suffix:
a) vowel-final stem : lego leave, depart, go off/away, throw, throw at
Aka bi lego lo kenu. Grandma went off in the canoe.
Dhem nugud boi bin lego ston pò dhempla. The bad boys threw stones at them.
b) No suffix: luk
Ai bi luk pisin plai kam. I saw a bird flying towards me.
The suffixed form is sometimes used: Ai bi luki pisin plai kam.
B) Verbs of Position and Movement
Certain verbs of position and movement are not followed by a preposition in their most normal clause types. These are not to be confused with transitive clauses:
Awa bi stap aus bikòs em i sikwan. Uncle stayed (at) home because he’s sick.
Dhem piknini stap dhe Bamaga we Kolez. The children stay at Bamaga at the College.
Dha dog dhe ran go dingi. The/A dog is running to the dinghy.
Pusi i sidaun seya The cat is sitting in/on the chair.
C) Verb suffixes
Four derivational suffixes exist which add aspectual meaning to verb stems. Though their origin are English prepositions and adverbs, in Brokan their status is completely aspectual; they can only be used as suffixes. They are suffixes to the stem of intransitive verbs, and to the full transitive-passive form of transitive verbs. When used as transitive-passive verbs, they also suffix the transitive ending after the suffix. They also derive verbs from other words.
-ap - completive, perfective: piksimap(e) fix, repair, mend; rol roll > rolemap(e) roll up; bagarap(e) ruin, break, destroy
-aut - movement outwards: kamaut come out; goaut go out; lugaut(e) be careful, beware, take care of, look after
-baut - dispersive (this suffix causes the final voiceless consonant of the stem to become voiced): wagbaut walk, walk about, walk around, stroll; togbaut(e) talk about/over, discuss
-daun - downwards movement: Only found on godaun movement downwards from a starting point; kamdaun movement downwards from above, sidaun sit down,pòldaun fall, fall over, fall down.
Sample Verb ‘Declension’
lugaut ’take care, beware’
remote future bambai X (i) go lugaut
near future X (i) go lugaut
non-specific present X (i) lugaut
specific present X (i) lugaut nau
recent past X (i) zasnau (bin) lugaut
past X (i) bin lugaut
completive past X (i) pinis/oredi lugaut
habitual past X (i) yustu bin lugaut
advice X (i) sud lugaut
obligation X (i) mas/aptu lugaut
dependent obligation X (i) blo/spostu lugaut
continuative X (i) matha lugaut
multiplicative ‘X (i) lugaut-lugaut
lengthening X (i) lugaut lugaut lugaaaaauut
simplicative X (i) dhasol lugaut, X (i) matha dhasol lugaut
ordinaritive X (i) dhasol lugaut, X (i) kasa (dhasol) lugaut
imperative X lugaut!, X lugaut kai!
Brokan shows strong substrata influence in its use of its prepositions. All local languages are either prepositionless case-marking agglutinative languages, or case-marking agglutinative languages where the case endings have evolved to postposition status, which contrast the following cases to varying extents, but which have little or no number marking on nouns:
nominative, accusative, ergative, genitive, dative, ablative, locative, perlative, instrumental
They also contrast the following derived forms (among others according to language):
similative, privative, proprietive, resultative
The use of the prepositions in Brokan reflect these cases to a certain (= simplified) extent:
blo - genitive :
pò, lo - dative (in part dialect variation) :
prom – ablative :
lo, we, ene - locative, perlative (lo and we are synonyms, and ene is an archaic word now normally found only in old songs) :
lo - instrumental :
òlsem, waze (waze is the somewhat more common reduced form of òlsem) – similative (like) :
Syntactic use of the Prepositions
The prepositions also have syntactic uses, including the following, where they govern verbs or adjectives:
Blo : obligation
Pò : a) focus on a goal
Prom : avoidance
lo, prom - comparative (dialect variation) :
We : relative clause
Waze (òlsem) : in order, so that
The language has vocabulary from various sources, though the dominant source language is English.
Kalaw Kawaw Ya: yawo goodbye, matha only/very, mina really/truly, babuk crosslegged, aka granny, puripuri magic action/spells/products/medicines etc. (from the early Kauraraigau Ya [Kowrareg - the Southern dialect of Kalaw Lagaw Ya word puri, in modern Kala Lagaw Ya the word is puyi).
Meriam Mir: baker (bakìr) money (beside the more general baks), watai (wathai) bamboo break-wind fence.
Austronesian (Malay, Filipino, Samoan, Rotuman, etc.) : thalinga ear, bala brother, male friend, thuba coconut toddy, makan eat, dudu sit, kaikai eat, nenegranny, datho grandfather
Portuguese: pikinini child, sabe know, understand, know how to, can
A) Brokan i kriol langgus we òl i spikem lo dhem ailan blo Thoris Stret, lo nòthsaid gowe prom Kep Yòk, ausaid lo SauthWessaid blo Papua. I gad samwe waze 25,000 pipol i sabe tòkem waze namba-wan langgus, namba-tu langgus ‘ne namba-thri langgus blo dhempla. Òl i yuzem lo plande ples waze langgus blo treiding an pò bai òl samthing. I gad siks kain Brokan: blo Papua, blo Westen-Sentrel, blo Tiai, blo Maleman, blo Esten, blo Kep Yòk. Òl dhem wòd blo em soem dhiskain pò yumpla, waze em i pizin blo Pasipik, dhasòl i gad wanwan thing, òlsem we yumpla spik pò taim we i go kam, yumpla yuzi dhis tòk : X [i] go meke samthing, dhisan i gad rilesen lo Kriol blo Atlantic, blo Zameka.
Thri langgus we i òlsem Brokan i Pijin blo Solomon Ailan, Tok Pisin blo Niu Gini, ane Bislama blo Banuatu.
B) The Lord’s Prayer:
Published - August 2016
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