The Ecphorizer

Tok Pisin
David Durst

Issue #24 (August 1983)

Making talk-talk with the natives

Whuzzat?! Tok Pisin is the most common form of expression used in Papua New Guinea, that's what. It's one of about fifteen pidgin languages in the world, (along with Bahasa Indonesia, Afrikaans, and Swahili). It's about 85% English-derived, and it's [quoteright]even more fun than Strine!


[see Durst's article on Strine in this earlier issue.]

Pidgin languages develop when language groups which don't speak each other's languages have to talk to each other, like on South Seas colonial plantations and the exotic waterfronts of the Orient. As such, they're "business" languages, and that's what "pidgin" is derived from. If you don't see how, the whole process has to do with how one hears a foreign language; if Koeln and Muenchen can translate to Cologne and Munich, "business" can wind up as "pidgin." But enough theory, the fun comes when you just plunge in!

Try these (out loud helps). Piksa bilong bigpela man/meri tasol (rated at least "R"). Yu save or nogat? This means, roughly: "this picture belongs (is for) bigfellow (forgot to warn you, f=p, but only sometimes!) man/woman, that's all"

Nambawan pikinini bilong Misis Kwin = Prince Charles. Now you're catching on!

Once you get the hang of it, the language is very logical in an almost amusing way. A hospital is haus sik. An airport is ples balus (balus=airplane). A bathroom = rum was was; A bedroom = rum slip.  A cloth wrapped around the waist = lap lap; a towel = "lap lap bilong was was." A private, personal problem? Samting bilong yu. A thing of no consequence? Samting nating.

Tok Pisin is the most common language spoken in Papua New Guinea, and it has official standing. There's at least one major newspaper ("Wantok") in Pidgin, and many public signs are printed in it (sometimes in English too). In the market place in Goroka, a sign says PIPIA I TAMBU NOKEN TROMWEI PIPIA; the English below admonishes that you're not supposed to litter, subject to a 200 Kina fine. Another sign behind it reads ARIM: OL MAN NA MERI I NO KEN KAIKAI BUAI NA INSAIT LONG MARKET OR BAI IGAT COURT LUSTM K200 6 MUN  KALABUS GOROKA COURT.  This one requires a little background. Kai is food; kaikai means eat. Buai is betelnut, as in "Bloody Mary" of South Pacific fame, a mild narcotic chewed all over the South Pacific. It turns the mouth bright red and when the juice is spit on the streets, they look like the scene of a knifing. The stuff is messy, folks! So what the sign says is, roughly: "Listen: all men and women cannot chew betelnut and spit betelnut inside the market or they'll get taken to court, and lose 200 Kina or spend six months in the Goroka Court jail."

Two more grammatical notes: bai makes verbs into future tense, as in "bye and bye" (the past tense is created by adding the word pinis after a verb, as in "finished."), and long is a general preposition. So the sign at the lake (more accurately a permanent mudpuddle) in downtown Madang that says LUK AUT LONG PUKPUK means to look out for crocodiles (pukpuk), not that the crocodiles are long.

Well, that's Tok Pisin. Not exactly the most useful language in the world, but certainly one of the most colorful.

[line width="25%"]
What to do if your "balus" (airplane) should "bugarup":


Remove rubber plug, insert finger, and push rubber toggle switch down.


Rausim liklik gumi, putim finga bilong yu long hole na suim switch oli karamapin long gumi igo daun. Workim ol dispela samting taim balus i bugarup

Big fellow David Durst, him getup big data-data bilong subject tok pisin when him takim walkabout long South pacif before one year.

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