TUMBY BAY - My copy of Baka Bina’s new book, ‘Operation Kisim Bek Lombo’, arrived in the mail on Friday.
Because he is one of the most interesting writers in Papua New Guinea today, I couldn’t resist a quick skim through the book before slotting it into my reading queue.
One thing that caught my eye was his opening memo to readers. In it he addresses the ticklish problem of using other languages in the text.
The use of such languages is generally designed to create a degree of authenticity and to demonstrate the author is on top of his subject.
Using other languages in non-fiction works is not so much a problem but when used in fiction it can seriously jeopardise the flow of the narrative.
This happens, for instance, when you use a Tok Pisin phrase and follow it with a translation in brackets or in some other explanatory way.
If you omit translation you will either leave the reader guessing or force them to consult a glossary (if you have included one or their dictionary if you haven’t).
If you’ve read some of the older English classics you’ll be familiar with unexplained phrases in French or Latin popping up everywhere.
This is nothing more than a peculiar upper class bias among some of the more pompous earlier English writers.
What Baka Bina has done in his new book is use the method I prefer, incorporating the explanation as seamlessly as possible in the running text.
Of course, if the intended readers are likely to be people familiar with the language in question things become a lot easier. Or do they?
As Baka points out in his memo, Tok Pisin is a dynamic language that is constantly changing. “The Tok Pisin used during the ‘60s, ‘70s and ‘80s is quite different, in many ways, to the Tok Pisin used by today’s speakers,” he says.
He gives a few example of new Tok Pisin words or expressions, including lauto, wanlus and wasa buai.
Lauto refers to old people and their ideas. There is lots of lauto in PNG Attitude, for instance.
Wanlus is a combination of two words to make up one as in one kina (wan) for a loose/single (lus) cigarette.
Wasa buai is a great expression. Wasa means washer in English. In this case it refers to the one kina coin which has a hole in the middle just like a metal washer.
Put together with buai it means betel nut on sale for one kina. The word is shouted as the nut is peddled by street hawkers. Marvellous stuff.
Baka also explains the concept of Pinglish where words are used interchangeably between Tok Pisin and English.
This happens when an English word is inserted into a Tok Pisin phrase because the word has no real equivalent, or where the Tok Pisin word is inserted into an English phrase for greater clarity.
It also occurs where an English word is written in Tok Pisin with a phonetic spelling. In the latter case he explains that the word is then completely Pinglishised, for example as in Inglis.
Finally he notes that Tok Pisin varies from province to province and region to region.
I started to notice this in Western Province in the 1990s where Hiri (or Police) Motu was once the official government vernacular. With the invasion of highlanders seeking work in the oil and gas industries a mix of Motu with Tok Pisin occurred.
This has led to a unique patois in both Western and Gulf Provinces. You really have to have your wits about you when you talk to people in the back blocks of those areas.
All this is an interesting introduction to what appears to be a fascinating read. I’ll keep you posted.