NOOSA - My romp through Tok Pisin the other day brought some amusing embellishments from readers.
I've packaged these into this brief piece, along with other information about how you might pursue an interest in this most eloquent language.
When Phil Fitzpatrick returned to Papua New Guinea in 1997, more than 20 years after he had finished his service as a kiap (patrol officer), he worked in oil and gas exploration and, later, in social mapping.
In that capacity he visited many remote areas which required the use of Tok Pisin.
Phil found that the language in which he was so proficient in the 1970s had changed greatly, much to the amusement of the local people, who would listen to him speak and remark, “Yu man bilong bipo laka?”
You’re a man from the past, aren’t you?
“It took me a while to get up to speed,” says Phil, whose second spell ended in 2015, “but I reckon if I went back there now I'd find the same problem.”
Like Phil, former kiap Jim Moore returned to work in PNG for various periods between 1998 and 2005, and faced the same language dilemma.
“The Tok Pisin I heard in public service offices and supermarkets was quite unrelated to the Tok Pisin we knew back in the day.
“The sheer speed at which the language evolved would have few counterparts anywhere in the world.”
Another ex-kiap Chris Overland writes that the Tok Pisin he learned in PNG is “clearly very much out of date but the language has lost nothing in its capacity to invent wonderfully descriptive words and phrases.
“One phrase that always amused me was hearing someone described as 'long long long dring' (mad from alcohol).
“I also admired the sheer eloquence of a Tok Pisin description of influenza symptoms, being 'bun na het i pein, skin i tait na win ino inap'. My head and bones are aching, I’m fatigued and I have difficulty breathing.
"Any doctor ought to be able to understand the clinical significance of such a description.”
He fully expects PNG’s own William Shakespeare to emerge one day “and exploit the full potential of Tok Pisin to create the country's first bona fide Indigenous literary masterpiece.”
Chris has also taught his grandchildren to recite the first verse of 'Mary Had a Little Lamb' in Tok Pisin:
Meri i gat liklik sipsip
Giras bilong en i waitpela tru
Sapos Meri i go wokabaut
Bai sipsip igo wantaim tu
Chris opted for a nursery rhyme but Bernard Corden has a real passion for the Tok Pisin version of the Lord's Prayer:
Papa bilong mipela, yu stap long heven.
Mekim nem bilong yu i kamap bikpela.
Mekim kingdom bilong yu i kam.
Strongim mipela long bihainim laik bilong yu long graun, olsem ol i bihainim long heven.
Givem mipela kaikai inap long tude.
Pogivim rong bilong mipela olsem mipela i pogivim ol arapela i mekim rong long mipela.
Sambai long mipela long taim bilong traim.
Na rausim olgeta samting nogut long mipela.
Former teacher and editor in PNG, Ed Brumby, recalls that in the 1960s, Radio Wewak introduced the then universally popular country musician Slim Dusty thus: 'Em nau, kerosin meresin' (the medicine to fire you up).
And this also brought to mind a conversation he had on meeting a Papua New Guinean friend walking around the Wewak compound:
‘Yu raun we' (Where are you going?)
'Mi raun lo painim….' (I'm looking for a woman)
'Yu painim?' (Did you find one?)
'Nogat. Mi siutim koronas' (No. It was as useful as planting seeds in crushed coral)
Bernard Corden’s favourite Tok Pisin words are the onomatopoeic rokrok (frog) and meme (goat). And he says he can’t figure out how, but he thinks pukpuk (crocodile) is also onomatopoeic.
He claims to have been frequently told that ‘kru blong yu olsem kulau’ (‘your brain is like a green coconut' or, in idiomatic English, ‘you haven't got a clue’.
During the 1940s and 1950s there were a number of sound recordings made of stories in Tok Pisin.
Unfortunately, like Phil Fitzpatrick, I disposed of my old wind-up gramophone when moving from Sydney to Noosa, so cannot play Joe's rendition.
So all I can offer you is this picture.
However, in researching this piece, I came across an extract from an ABC broadcast titled ‘Lesson in New Guinea Pidgin’ by Eoin Cameron.
It features then PNG police superintendent Mike Thomas telling the story of the Three Little Pigs in Tok Pisin (Tripela Liklik Pik).
It dates back to 1969 and you can link here to the webpage containing the audio file.
There were other recordings made of fairy tales. Two I recall but can no longer find were Liklik Retpela Hat (Little Red Riding Hood) and Sno Wet Bung Wantaim Sevenpela Liklik Man (Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.
If you want to find out more
Papua New Guinea Tok Pisin English Dictionary by CA Volker (editor), Oxford University Press, 2008, 347 pages, softcover. Available from Amazon, $40
The Jacaranda Dictionary and Grammar of Melanesian Pidgin by Fr F Mihalic SVD, Jacaranda, 1971, 375 pages, hardcover. Available from Amazon, $40
The Book of Pidgin English (3rd Edition) by John J. Murphy, WR Smith & Paterson, 1949, 64 pages, hardcover. Available from Amazon, $35
Papua, New Guinea: A Picture-Sound Book by Hank Curth, Hastings House, 1968, 47 pages. With sound recording in inside pocket. Seems to be only available in libraries these days