Man bilong Amerika i gat buk belong Niugini. That’s right. As of today, I have now begun a concentrated effort to learn the trade language of Papua New Guinea.
Tok Pisin, it’s called – and it’s pronounced just like it looks (much to the amusement of my friend Mary Laura, who now uses phrases like “Don’t you be Tok Pisin with me!” on a daily basis). I’ve tried for the past week or so to learn some basic words and phrases, but it was all to no avail. Eventually my hausmeri (the lady who cleans my house) and Leah (who taught herself the essentials with a pdf in Texas (the mind boggles)) convinced me to check out some language books at the library. And now I’ve done it.
Foreign language, you should know, is one of my greatest weaknesses. That and my unfortunate ability to cause ceilings to collapse all around me (especially on bright, sunny Sunday afternoons). I’m hoping, though, that since I’ll be teaching myself at my own pace the process will be less painful this go-round. Fortunately, too, the grammar of Tok Pisin is remarkably easy – no abstruse declensions or conjugations, only two prepositions (long and bilong), and only enough rules to take up one tenth of the “Jacaranda Dictionary and Grammar of Melanesian Pidgin.” So I’m told.
As for the vocabulary, a lot of it is pretty intuitive, since a good bit is borrowed from English. Here’s a sample:
Most of my training right now consists of my sitting at a desk reading and writing in a notebook while listening to a native speaker say things like, “Dok i kaikai lek bilong mi” (The dog is biting my foot), or “Pik i kaikai kaukau bilong yumi” (The pig ate our sweet potatoes). Hopefully I won’t have to use either of those phrases anytime in the near future.
The good news is that whoever made this book had (in my opinion) a very healthy perspective on the whole language learning business. Here are his words of advice: “It has been said that a person usually has to murder a language before learning to speak it properly. You should not be afraid of making mistakes at first and of “murdering” Tok Pisin. You will only learn a language by speaking it.”
So excuse me (if you’d be so kind) while I return to the massacre.