Lade Inhalt...

Pacific Pidgins and Creoles

Focus on Tok Pisin

Hausarbeit (Hauptseminar) 2005 21 Seiten

Anglistik - Linguistik


Table of contents

1. Introduction

2. Pidgin and Creoles: A Result of Language Contact
2.1 Melanesian Pidgin- Focus on Tok Pisin

3. Historical background of Tok Pisin
3.1 Development into a Creole

4. Linguistic features of Tok Pisin
4.1. Lexicon
4.1.1 Words from occupational registers
4.1.2 Words from regional dialects
4.1.3 Words from criminal cant and sailors´ jargon
4.1.4. Changes
4.2 Morphology and Phonology
4.2.1 Suffixes
4.2.2 Phonology
4.3 Grammar
4.3.1 Tense markers
4.3.2 Prepositions

5. Conclusion

6. References

Internet sources

1. Introduction

This essay aims at taking a closer look at the Pacific pidgin Tok Pisin. Especially the development of the pidgin into a creole will be considered in the following text.

The chapter on the history of Tok Pisin is preceded by an excursus on the conditions of language contact and the definition and genesis of pidgins in general. The history and thus the development into a creole as well as the current situation of Tok Pisin is completed with some examples of the lexicon of the creole. Here I laid certain emphasis on the different origins of English influence on Tok Pisin, as the social backgrounds of those who introduced the first form of the pidgin, the foreigner talk, are still reflected in the Tok Pisin vocabulary. Additionally I paid regard to the German influence on the pidgin and the linguistically changed situation under Australian administration after WWI. This part of the essay includes a brief paragraph on the sociolinguistic conditions and the conscious use of speech acts with in the pidgin.

Finally I tried to give a rather short overview on the phonological and morphological features of Tok Pisin as well as on its grammar.

As a reference I used several texts which deal with the linguistic conditions of Tok Pisin. Here I have to point out the essay by Suzanne Romaine: English input to the English lexicon pidgins and creoles of the Pacific.pp. 456 – 494.

Throughout the essay the other Melanesian Pidgins, Bislama and Pijin, are briefly observed as well in terms of lexicon and development.

2. Pidgin and Creoles: A Result of Language Contact

As a Pidgin arises in a situation where two different social groups come into contact with each other and have to make use of the pidgin as the only instrument of communication the case of a language contact is clearly given.

Pidgin and Creoles have sometimes been refered to as “Mixed Languages”[1]. This term is derived from the fact that at least two languages are involved in the creation of such a language. Thus each pidgin or creole is in some way related to the languages it is based on. Often this relation occurs in its lexicon, similarities to the structure of the substrate language are rather uncommon, as pidgin and creoles are in general rather simplified languages as we will see later. Usually one of the involved languages is a European language, such as English, German, French or Portuguese. A creole that shares a great amount of its vocabulary with one language, for example, English, is usually called an “English based” creole. This relation to an European language does not mean that it is easily understandable for the speakers of the lexifier- language:For example Tok Pisin “is not intelligible to English speakers who have not learned it.”[2] The pidgin is a combination of at least two involved languages and has to be acquired by each of its speakers.[3]

The term “Pidgin” might have developed from the Chinese word for “business”, therefore Pidgin English would be business English. This explanation seems to be plausible in so far as Pidgins were predominantly used for business reasons. Another explanation is the shifted form of “Pequeno Portugues”, which was the term for the broken Portuguese that was spoken by the illiterate inhabitants of Angola.[4] There are a few further possibilities for the genesis of the word pidgin which are not discussed here as they are more complicated and less obvious to trace back. A pidgin is the pure contact medium that develops in need of a communication form, that is based on the given colonial language and patterns of the vernacular. This results in a simplified language, which can -during the course of time- become more complex and develop into a creole once it is spoken by new generations as their mother tongue. The term creole is easier to retrace: it is derived from the Portuguese word crioulo, that stands for a person “of european descent who had been born and raised in a tropical or semitropical colony”[5] A creole is the native language of the majority of its speakers. Thus it serves all needs in different forms of communication and therefore has the sufficient vocabulary even though it often still holds a restricted vocabulary. Unlike a pidgin it consequently has the status of a “real” language:

“A creole is inferior to its corresponding standard language only in social status; linguistically speaking, it is a full-fledged language. A pidgin, however, is so limited both lexically and structurally that it is suitable only for specialized and limited communication.”[6]

Tok Pisin has by now gained the status of a real creole as it is spoken as the mother tongue of a large number of people and has gone beyond the limited communication fields of business and labour which it served for in the state of a pidgin.

2.1 Melanesian Pidgin- Focus on Tok Pisin

There are three different types of Pidgins spoken in the South Pacific Ocean in the region of Melanesia; naimly Papua New Guinea, Vanatu, and on the Solomon Islands, as shown in the map on page 4. Bislama, spoken in Vanatu, is an English- lexifier contact language that has undergone French influence as well. Never the less it is mutually intelligible with Tok Pisin, which is spoken in Papua New Guinea and on which this essay will focus. It is estimated that Bislama and Tok Pisin share 73 common cognates.[7] Finally there is the Melanesian Pijin which is spoken on the Solomon Islands. By now all these pidgins have gained the status of a creole and are rather closely related. Alongside the creoles, French or, respectively and, English are co-existant languages which are used as well as other forms of pidgins as for example Tok Masta and Hiri Motu. These pidgins exist in Papua New Guinea and will be explained later on in detail.

illustration not visible in this excerpt

The Pacific region of Melanesia where the Melanesian Pidgins are spoken.

3. Historical background of Tok Pisin

The late 18th and early 19th century saw the first extended contacts between traders and native islanders. After the first discovering passages of e.g. James Cook beachcombers, traders, companies of missionaries and colonial administrators started exploring the region. Luckily a large number of historical accounts referring to that time still exists today. During the same time, from the second half of the 18th century on, new trading routes from Britain to the South Pacific were established and the trade intensified. At that time a total of 1556 sailors, mostly British, was aboard these ships.[8] These sailors established the so called foreigner talk, a simplified language to communicate with the native inhabitants of the islands, which is today referred to as “Pacific Nautical Pidgin English”or “South Sea Jargon”.[9] Contemporary observers called this type of jargon “Beche de Mer Lingo”(which has developed into Bislama), or “Sandalwood English”, in each case referring to the trading goods: “…it is almost universally a `broken English´ , generally called `Beche de Mer English´, or `Sandalwood English´ from the fact that it is spoken by white men and natives in trading for those articles.”[10] These early varieties of contact language forms can rather be described as jargons than as pidgins as they were highly instable and variable.[11] Some of the features of Pacific Jargon English include the lack of

- the definite article
- copula
- verb inflections
- conjunctions
- embedding


[1] Cp.: Lehiste, Ilse: Lectures on Language Contact. London: The MIT Press, 1988, P. 76.

[2] Holm, John: An Introduction to Pidgins and Creoles. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000. P.: 96.

[3] “A pidgin is a contact variety restricted in form and function and native to no one, which is formed by members of at least two (and usually more) groups of different linguistic backgrounds.” In: Romaine, Suzanne: English input to the English-lexicon pidgins and creoles of the Pacific. P.:456. As this article is frequently quoted throughout this essay I only used Romaine, Suzanne and the referring page in the following footnotes.

[4] Cp.: Hancock, mentioned in: Pidgin and Creoles in: www.

[5] Lehiste, Ilse: Lectures on Language Contact. London: The MIT Press, 1988, P. 77.

[6] Ibid., P. 78.

[7] Romaine, Suzanne: P. : 466.

[8] See: Romaine, Suzanne: P.: 460.

[9] This foreigner talk obviously included items from the indigenous languages as well, from which some were adopted into International Standrad English and from there into other European languages, such as tapu- taboo or tattoo, which is derived from the Thaihitian word for carving. Romaine, Suzanne:P.: 463.

[10] Romaine, Suzanne : P. 460. Unpublished letter written by John Johns.

[11] Cf. : Romaine, Suzanne:P. 461.


ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Buch)
483 KB
Institution / Hochschule
Universität Duisburg-Essen
Pacific Pidgins Creoles




Titel: Pacific Pidgins and Creoles