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Further adventures in Tok Pisin


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.”

MihalicPhil also reminds us that Tok Pisin will also get you by in Vanuatu and the Solomons, which is where its quest for universality has stopped for now.

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Another ex-kiap Chris Overland writes that the Tok Pisin he learned in PNG is “clearly very much out of date but the language has lost nothing in its capacity to invent wonderfully descriptive words and phrases.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.

78In my possession is JM (Joe) Bourke’s rendition on both sides of a 78 rpm recording of ‘Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden’ billed by Columbia Gramophone as “a humorous recording in Pidgin English”.

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

The Online Tok Pisin - English Bilingual Dictionary

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


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Allan Kidston | Ex techo, DIES

I could not resist a comment on the latest piece, which I loved. Went scrummaging through the archives and found an original 'Liklik retpela Hat' 33rpm flexible recording. Both sides tell the Little Red Riding Hood story in Pidgin.

It has an accompanying sheet with the story in English.

I have almost lost all of my Tok Pisin which annoys me immensely when I come across Tok Pisin in PNG Attitude.

Bernard Corden

I can recall somewhere in the Upper Ramu region near the Bismark Ranges encountering a disgruntled local elderly woman who exclaimed, "Go long wei me no needim yu. Me pilim bowl long warra na kisim piksa blong yu na tanim olsem kokomo na kilim yu dai. Me putim razor blades long nek na bel blong yu olsem Begasin lain."

I assumed the colourful expressions were a death threat involving some form of black magic but did not hang around too long to find out to find out which local custom had been inadvertently transgressed.

Col Young

In confirmation of "kru blong yu olsem kulau", in New Britain in the early sixties the expression "kru bolong yu emi belak pinis" meant you had reached the dementia stage.

Peter Dwyer

Another fun book for the list is 'Guide to Biological Terms in Melanesian Pidgin' by Martin Simon [1977, Wau Ecology Institute Handbook No. 3, 115 pages].

Some examples….

Asymmetry: Nem bilong sampela samting i no inap katim namel or brukim namel

Stomach: Nem bilong hap long bel i save brukbrukim kaikai

Triassic: New bilong wanpela taim bipo bipo tru i kamap 225 milin krismas bipo i pinis 190 milin krismas bipo

And they do get beautifully tangled....

Poikilothermal [aka cold blooded]: Nem bilong pasin bilong sampela kain animal. Nau sapos ausait em i kol nau insait long bodi bilong dispela em i kol olsem long ausait bilong em.

Nau sapos em i hat long ausait long dispela animal, bodi bilong em i kamap hat olsem ausait. Pis nap palai na tarasel, na snek na pukpuk na rokrok olgeta em i poikilothermal

Paul Oates

Tok Pisin is the same as any other language and colloquialisms spring up from apparently nowhere and then just as quickly are replaced by other words or expressions.

Who remembers the terms we used in our youth, many of which were adopted from what we saw in the cinema, on TV or read in a 'penny dreadful', etc.

I revel in concepts that can be conveyed in this rich and diverse language. The nuances (tok bokis) and depth of expression allowed in Tok Pisin sets it apart from the more structured languages like English and help make it somewhat colloquial to the South Pacific.

No doubt we 'lapuns' would quickly be able to pick any modern version within a few minutes of conversation with the 'dudes' of today's 'hip' generation in PNG.

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