Emotion at Simbu bushfire appeal

Please say that in Pinglish


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.

StopThis annoying habit also had a lot to do with the writers trying to prove how clever they are, or in some expectation that their readers will only be well-educated types.

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.


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Wendy Glassby

Can anyone tell me how I might contact PNG poet Gwendolyn Kapulio (''Wai Na Yu Go?' Meanjin 2003).
I would love to use her poem in the paratext of my novel about leaving PNG, and am seeking her permission.

Baka Bina

Let's get lauto in the Webster Dictionary and OK Boomer will fade away.

Lauto sounds nicer than what I deduce is the ageist OK Boomer. Pinglish will tru-tru trump inglis.

Gideon Endo


Bernard Corden

My all time favourite tokpisin word has to be meme (goat)

Indeed a meme is an idea, behavior, or style that spreads by means of imitation from person to person within a culture—often with the aim of conveying a particular phenomenon, theme, or meaning represented by the meme.

It aligns perfectly with an admonishment often used by my late mother...…"Stop acting like a goat"

Daniel Kumbon

Thanks Phil for this story and congratulations to Baka Bina for his new book

Here are some ways to address Phil in Tok Pisin depending on his relationship with the particular person and congratulating Baka Bina on his new book.

Phil (paps, papa, bubuman, wantok, tambu, tambs, anks,(uncle), kandre, brata, dadi) long dispela stori na mi salim tok amamas igo long Baka Bina long nupela buk em raitim or nupela buk bilong em.

Chris Overland

It is pretty clear that those of us who 50 years ago learned what now must called archaic Pidgin are now hopelessly out of date.

Words like "bilong" have long since been contracted into "blo" and, so it seems, "narapella" has been contracted into "nala". David's reference to the changing meanings of "mipella" (now pronounced "mipla"?) and "yumi" simply underlines the point.

The great authority on Pidgin in my time was former kiap John Joseph Murphy. I carried his little book around with me for a long time, constantly referring to it as I worked on increasing my command of the language.

I was, in truth, never very fluent in Pidgin because I was almost always working with coastal Papuans who spoke either Motu or, more often than not, pretty reasonable English.

I guess it is no surprise that Papua New Guineans are busily moulding Pidgin to suit modern needs. After all, English is still busily accumulating new words and expressions at a furious rate of knots.

We even have the previously silent "w" in words like known and shown showing an entirely unexpected resurgence in use, thus "no-wen" and "sho-wen" are replacing the venerable "no-n" and "sho-n".

Incredibly, even the silent "k" in words like knight and knoll is making a comeback, thus "k-nite" and "k-noll" are sneaking back into the lexicon.

Quite why this all happens has lexographers stumped - it just does and no amount of bleating about it by purists makes any difference.

Quite what our great, great, grandchildren will make of our use of language is anybody's guess.

I would think that William Shakespeare, perhaps the English language's greatest inventor of new words and expressions, would be delighted.

Bernard Corden

I had a publication from Geoff Smith, which I picked up at a Unitech field day at the Lae campus several years ago.

It had some fabulous new tokpisin expressions:


David Kitchnoge

Traditional radio stations like NBC are still using the 'formal' Tok Pisin but the newer commercial stations such as Yumi FM etc have young Papua New Guineans as the main jockeys who use the more fun and current version/s of Tok Pisin.

I think the highlander influence on Tok Pisin is also becoming more apparent with certain words being pronounced the highlands way. So for example, the word "narapla" is increasingly becoming "narla" or simply "nala".

Consider that the word has come from "narapela" (the 'e' disappeared during my childhood and only lapuns even bother to get the 'e' out) to now "nala". It's gone from an 8-letter-word to a four-letter-word. Crazy!

Philip Fitzpatrick

It would have to be 'troglodidian' Bernard.

I think 'lauto' is a combination of 'lapun' and 'tok' but I'm not sure. Modern Tok Pisin seems to drop the ends off a lot of words. 'Bilong' has now become 'blo' for instance.

I heard some people up the top end of the Sepik talking about 'yumi-mipla' David. I think it meant 'everyone'.

Paul Oates

That's an interesting observation David. Do you think it's a natural extension of 'wantokism' or just a local custom. We used to have slightly different ways of speaking around Australia but that seems to be disappearing due to the almost universal use of social media and SMS and e mails.

Our over the back fence type interchanges have mostly gone the way of the back fence. When I was a kid, we heard a lot of rhyming slang at school and where we went. That has mostly disappeared as well. In some ways it's a pity but that's progress.

Are the PNG radio stations using a standard Tokpisin or they using a more colloquial version depending on their listeners?

David Kitchnoge

For a Papua New Guinean like me who spends most of my days away from the streets where Tok Pisin is evolving ever so dynamically, I find myself always playing catch up to new expressions, words and phrases.

It took me a while to work out what wasa buai was. I was too embarrased to ask my younger siblings who spend their time peddling the nut and the language. The buai language I was familiar with until that point was piksa buai. And then came koble and so on.

But in terms of the 'old' Tok Pisin, I got lost in translation when I visited my father's village in Wewak after having grown up in my mother's village in Morobe.

In that part of the Sepik, the word "yumi" excludes you where as in Morobe, it includes you. In Morobe "yumi" translates to "you and me" and thus includes you. Whereas "mipla" excludes you in Morobe, it includes you in Sepik. The words have direct opposite meanings in Morobe and Sepik.

So when I went home to Sepik and my relatives pointed to their house and said "em haus blo yumi", I took it to mean that's our house, when it fact they meant to say it was their house. And when my cousins said "em liklik papa blo mipla" when introducing an uncle, I was confused why he was their uncle and not mine too when in fact they were saying he was our uncle.

Bernard Corden

Dear Phil,

What about troglodyte?

Philip Fitzpatrick

You are dead right, Paul. Over-population is as big a problem as human induced climate change. They are two problems that blend into each other.

Unfortunately, the population boom is centred in undeveloped and developing countries. Papua New Guinea is a classic case where population increases are out of control.

By contrast, many developed countries have declining populations. Japan and the Scandinavian countries are good examples.

Solving both problems seems well beyond human capability.

If we could stop indiscriminately breeding we would eventually reduce our pollution.

Try telling that to a capitalist who sees population growth in terms of potential new customers however.

Paul Oates

The derogatory expression being peddled around these days by milennials etc appears to be 'OK Boomer!'

Clearly us 'lapuns' should just know our place and accept that we are so old that we really shouldn't even consider having opinions or if we do, they are so out of date as to be instantly dismissed by those of a younger generation.

While I do admit that each generation looks askance at the previous one, this was not how it used to be when I grew up or for that matter in the traditional PNG village.

Electronic gizmos have replaced the perceived need to refer to those just might have a tad of experience and might be able to offer some sage suggestions of how things may or may not work.

The price our younger people will pay for this apparent discarding of experience is that they will inevitably end up making the same mistakes as has happened previously.

Sure our generation will probably leave a legacy of unwanted plastic but who are the main users of this pervasive substance? Everything used to come in glass or paper packing when we were younger. Could or should we go back to those halcyon days?

While the extinction rebellion people keep protesting about climate change, they don't seem to have any other solution than to send the western world back to the horse and cart days while emerging nations have no intention of going backwards in development.

The message about our changing climate is starting to filter through to the political levels but the answers are apparently just too hard for those in power to contemplate while ever the financial contributions keep rolling in from those who are making money from the current regimes.

The elephant in the room is increased population in places where those people can't feed themselves. This has inevitably led to migration which is traditionally how the world ended up being populated in the first place.

Wars have been fought over minor disagreements. Food and fresh water are major issues now and will became more so in the very near future. Australia may be large in comparison to some other places but we desperately need to take stock of what we do with our resources and how we manage our land.

I wonder how these problems will be euphemistically referred to in the future in order to downplay how serious the situation is fast becoming? Clearly we 'Boomers' will just have to end up baring the brunt of our ineptitude.

Philip Fitzpatrick

I've been trying to think of an English equivalent to 'lauto'.

It's a very useful word given the ageing population.

The nearest I've got is 'conservative' which, of course, now has another connotation that precludes its use.

I think Tok Pisin trumps English in this case.

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