TUMBY BAY – In his essay, Tok Pisin, Tok Motu na Tok Ples, Michael Dom starts with the question, “If Tok Pisin is the language expression of our lifestyle and our intermingled cultures” then what does this language say about us as a people?”
Later in the essay, he writes: "We are educating the native languages out of our societies and along with them entire visualisations and expressions of the human experience.
"We’re in danger of getting dumber the duller our conversations become when everyone thinks in the same way.”
Reading Michael’s words, I wondered if the language we are speaking at any particular time influences our thinking processes at that time.
Is someone speaking Tok Pisin at a particular moment thinking like a ‘universal’ Papua New Guinean?
Is a Papua New Guinean speaking English thinking like a Westerner at that time?
I know that when I flip from English to Tok Pisin something happens to my brain, a kind of gear change.
The same thing happens when I read Tok Pisin.
It takes a little while but when reading something like Opisa Pokep, OBE: Laip bilong wanpela polisman by Bernard Minol, my mind gets into the swing of it and my comprehension gets much better, thus making the book easy to read.
I used to be marginally fluent in Hiri Motu and the same thing happened then. Unfortunately I've lost that language due to lack of use. Same again with the Australian Western Desert language, Pitjantjatjara.
If this is true then losing one's Tok Ples means you are also losing a unique way of understanding and interpreting the world and what's in it.
It is known that language expresses and reinforces culture and influences the identity of people living within a particular culture.
Author Lane Wallace has written in The Atlantic magazine: “Because language discloses cultural and historical meaning, the loss of language is a loss of that link to the past.
“Without a link to the past, people in a culture lose a sense of place, purpose and path; one must know where one came from to know where one is going.”
Maybe that's what has contributed to the overall loss of culture, especially in urban Papua New Guinea. Lose your Tok Ples and the rest of your culture follows.
We were moved around a lot as kiaps and there was a good reason for doing that. The Administration didn't want us to turn into Papua New Guineans.
In retrospect, however, it might have been better if we'd stayed in one region and thoroughly learned the customs and language, as did many missionaries.
It might have made our jobs easier or conversely a lot harder, it's hard to tell.
A thoughtful essay from Michael Dom (yep, 'tis a dinki-di essay).