NOOSA – Author and ex-kiap Paul Oates is a good friend – but not an uncritical one – of Papua New Guinea.
The respect he developed for the people of PNG during his service in the country from 1969 to 1975 has stuck with him, as has his knowledge of Tok Pisin, which he exercises to this day in his loyal readership of the Pidgin English news service of the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.
Every language changes over time but what particularly worries Paul is how Tok Pisin is showing a tendency to simply absorb an English word, put –im on the end, render it phonetically and call it Tok Pisin.
Stopim, helpim, iputim, isoim…..
Or even more lazily, render a word phonetically in a pretence of Tok Pisin.
Raits (rights), rejun (region), trening (training), awaness (awareness)….
“Is PNG Tok Pisin progressing along a lateral direction in development and evolution or a vertical direction towards English?” Paul asked rhetorically in a recent email.
Husat i save? Who knows?
Another ex-kiap, PNG Attitude contributor Chris Overland responded contemplatively:
I think that we lapuns [elders] learned a form of Pidgin that was only ever intended to be used as a basic form of communication, dealing with everyday things rather than anything complex.
Fifty years later, we live in a different world and the language has changed into something used for much more complex purposes.
Unsurprisingly, Papua New Guineans, as is their wont, have cheerfully adopted and adapted English and other words to suit the changed circumstances.
This happens in English too: words and expressions come into and go out of fashion or are reinterpreted to mean something different to their original meaning.
Sometimes, as is the case with the previously silent "w" in words like known, shown and grown, the letter suddenly and inexplicably reasserts itself, hence "showun", "knowun" and "growun".
In my home state, South Australia, the former transport minister, Stephan Knoll, insisted on pronouncing his surname "Ka-noll". I am now waiting for words like "ka-night" or "ka-nowledge" or "ka-nackered" to appear in the lexicon!
I understand that the world’s less widely spoken indigenous languages are disappearing at a rapid rate.
They are being replaced by what might be called the dominant languages of the world such as English, French, Spanish and, of course, Mandarin.
I suppose that Neo-Melanesian Pidgin (Tok Pisin) could reasonably be described as one of the many different versions of English that exist around the world today, so it is unsurprising that modern English words are being incorporated into it.
Whether all these different versions of English are diverging or converging is a bit unclear. I guess time will tell.
In the meantime, we speakers of ‘Strine’ will carry on regardless.