Tok Pisin

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.

10 thoughts on “Tok Pisin

  1. Quite the undertaking, I would say. I still murder English. I did take French in high school – only because you had to take a foriegn language and (back in the dark ages) we only had 2 choices: French or Latin. I think that makes the reason I took French crystal clear. I like the word used for the cleaning lady – hausmeri – cause the way I look at it, a clean house is a merry house. Yea, that was lame, wasn’t it?
    Well, I’m off…getting ready to visit the Ham today to help my daughter get her classroom set up. We continue to pray for you – asking God to protect you from harm and sickness. Be assured He holds you in His mighty hands, and when you are lonely, remember you are wrapped in the Fathers loving arms.

  2. Well, you come by your foreign language weakness quite naturally, I’m afraid. Your dad and I both took French. When we went to Tahiti for our honeymoon, we tried speaking French; the problem was they spoke it back:)!
    Ha, ha, ha, Hoyt!

  3. So you start out as i no inap na rait waitskin with i no stret word choices and pasin nogut grammar and someday you are the Mayor? I belipim in you! Just remember, no nogutting and do not i no behainim.

    Thanks to the Apple IOS auto correct feature, this took 30 minutes to type…whoever developed this was obviously a Tok Pisin i no inap rit na rait bel i nogut!


  4. I grew up in png in the late 1960s and had the choice of playing with my sister who was two years younger than me or…….. playing with boys my own age who were the children of the native police. needless to say I picked TOK Pisin up very quickly and can still communicate in a basic form. perhaps the more colonial version of the language. Me lik harim raitim belong yupela.

    John T


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