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.