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Is Tok Pisin becoming class conscious?


ADELAIDE – There is a comment by Michael Dom that provides a fascinating insight into the development of Tok Pisin.

"Tok Pisin emi toktok bilong mipela ol liklik man meri bilong giraun. Ol siti lain iken traim long 'stailim' ol iet long kainkain toktok, o bai mi tromoi tok stret olsem ol siti lain iken traim long bilasim toktok bilong ol iet."

I interpret Michael's comment to mean that the urban elite seek to both demonstrate and burnish their own status and prestige by using a form of Tok Pisin that presents them as more educated and having a superior vocabulary than their rural brethren.

I can remember a time when this was the way in which a certain class of Australians used to speak with an accent reminiscent of what was variously called "received pronunciation" or "Queen's English" or "Oxford English".

‘Educated Australian’ it was called and it was the local version of an accent typically found amongst members of the British aristocracy and others of high social standing, as well as BBC and ABC announcers.

It was strongly associated with Britain's great public schools and universities. In Australia, the best private schools strove to inculcate this accent into their students via elocution lessons and constant exposure to it.

Prominent Australian politicians who had this accent include Sir Robert Menzies and Malcolm Fraser. It was widely used in the professions, notably the law and medicine.

A person who spoke with this accent was sending an unmistakable message that they were not part of the "common people" or, as Michael has described them, "ol liklik man meri bilong giraun".

These days Educated Australian is very uncommon, with what is now the standard Australian accent being widely spoken throughout society.

That said, the broad Australian accent, which features very strong nasal tones and was once the hallmark of what was called the ‘working class’, still survives.

So it seems from Michael’s observation that Tok Pisin may be going down the path once trodden by Australians, where the elite sought to differentiate itself from the common folk by means of a distinctive accent.

This seems to be a characteristic of elites across the world.

The Roman patricians spoke Latin with a distinct accent that was different to that of the great mass of plebeian citizenry.

And there still is an identifiable class of mainly highly educated and wealthy Americans who speak with a distinctive and cultivated mid-Atlantic accent, which blends received pronunciation into their speech patterns.

It will be fascinating to see if Tok Pisin follows the well-trodden path of differential accents and vocabularies according to social class, or a much more generic or standard version finally becomes predominant.


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Lindsay F Bond

Point three, Michael, yes, about variety, a nation emerges, evolves, and even encumbers.

An earlier governance (Rome) contended with "literary, scientific and educational works of the time [that] were in Greek."

Even in 1960s Queensland, I was learning Latin. And so at least, remnant of converse capability lingers in any diverse demographic.

Of your point 'imperative', that 'go forward' celebrated of a sports star named Olam, not only in that league but in all facets of PNG societies, harnessing the worth is as much of spik (instruction) as of enforcement.

Michael Dom

Joseph Pahau's three points about descriptive Tok Pisin have further dimensions.

1. To take in new words, expand the lexicon and create vocabulary, some words may be used as they are, while for others go to the root meaning of words, which may be descriptive e.g. Biology is the Greek bios = life and logy = word, meaning the study of living things, that is, save bilong olgeta laip (biology defined in Tok Pisin).

2. Tok Pisin is the great communication equaliser between rural and urban. It is a true that Tok Pisin use also threatens vernacular languages but this can be remedied in some practical ways.

3. Ethnicity also provides language styles, such as the more imperative tones of Enga and Western Highlands compared to the more passive Madang, or more cheeky Manus.

Philip Kai Morre

Tok Pisin is a lingua franca or Creole language influenced by English, German, Malay and other overseas and local languages.

Its vocabulary and meaning is not yet fully developed and it has its limitations.

Tok Pisin will take many years to be fully developed. The spelling is still unsettled and there is no uniformity or use of a standard version.

Chris Overland

Joseph Pahau makes some very good and pertinent points.

I think that I inadvertently allowed the issue of accent to overshadow that of vocabulary, which is where the main differences in Tok Pisin usage between city and country apparently arise.

Quite rightly, Joseph points out that, at the moment at least, your Tok Pisin accent is more a function of your original ples tok than anything else.

That said, it seems likely that, amongst the educated elite at least, a process of accent convergence will occur, whereby one particular accent begins to predominate.

The Australian accent is a great example of this. It is regarded as the result of the many different British regional accents of the late 18th and early 19th centuries being combined to produce the distinctive and rather nasal tones and vocabulary now heard in Australia.

Incredibly, our rather harsh accent was briefly regarded as a "pure" British accent before attitudes changed and it became regarded as crude and grating on the ear.

The change in thinking seems to have corresponded with the emergence of received pronunciation as the "perfect" way to speak English.

The New Zealand accent is somewhat different again. This may be because of the influence of the Maori language or even the fact that a disproportionate number of settlers came from Scotland or the northern counties of Britain.

A Kiwi might care to comment on this.

So, it is reasonable to suppose that as Tok Pisin continues to evolve as a distinctive lingua franca, the accent will evolve with it.

Baka Bina

Maikol - Tokim ol ya. Tokpisin bilong ol ino kam gud. Tokim ol stretim pisin bilong ol na taim ol kam gud, em bai rait ol geda ya. Olsem wonem, bai mipela salim braun pepa igo long ol o.

Joseph Pahau

Interesting indeed. Never thought of that either. However, I'd like to point out additional observations: (1) Tokpisin is a threat to the 800 local languages, and (2) It is a fast evolving local lingua franca.

I would categorise Tokpisin as a "descriptive language" based on the following personal criteria:

1. Words not included in Tokpisin nomenclature are incorporated, e.g., what is the Tokpisin equivalent of 'Biology'? It would be a descriptive phrase not a word: "Stori bilong ol bilas bilong ol giraun."

2. Urban drift and fragmentations of local dialects continue to influence Tokpisin nomenclature in given settings.

3. The Tokpisin accent is based on ethnicity and pronunciation in the language a person fluently speaks.

Bernard Corden

I still have my copies of 'Let Stalk Strine' and 'Nose Tone Unturned'.

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