Tok Pisin. With the Focus on Code-Switching

Term Paper, 2010

21 Pages, Grade: 1,3


Table of Contents

1 Introduction

2 General Background Information
2.1 Pidgins and Creoles
2.2 Tok Pisin
2.3 Tok Pisin - Historical Background
2.4 Current Status of Tok Pisin

3 Code-Switching in Gapun
3.1 Gapun and its Sociolinguistic Situation
3.2 Code-Switching versus Borrowing
3.3 Everyday Language Use in Gapun

4 Conclusion


1 Introduction

Pidgin and creole languages, once described as “broken English”, “bastardized jargons” or “marginal languages”, became objects of serious research for many professional linguists from all over the world. They have generally been accepted as new and independent languages rather than corrupted versions of other, so-called higher, languages (cf. Holm 2000:1). Pidgins and creoles became central to linguistic studies on first and second language acquisition, language linguistic universals, language change and language contact (cf. Todd 2001: 524). McMahon (1994: 253) points out that there are “[a]pproximately 200 pidgin and creole languages spoken today, mostly in West Africa, the Carribean and the South Pacific.” Tok Pisin, a national language of Papua New Guinea, which is located in the southwest of the Pacific Ocean, can be considered a pidgin/creole language1. In many respects, it shares the linguistic and socio-historical features of other pidgins and creoles spoken around the world. However, Tok Pisin is unusual with regard to its linguistic development, which did not take as much time as in the case of most other pidgin and creole languages. Moreover, linguists are eagerly interested in studying this contact language because its historical development is precisely and accurately documented (cf. Mühlhäusler 1990: 177-181).

The pidgin language Tok Pisin has been introduced in the course of this semester´s seminar Contact Situations: English-Related Pidgins and Creoles. I was part of the presentation group on Tok Pisin. Already then, my interest was raised. Thus, I was concerned with literature and information about the pidgin language before I began to write this term paper.

This term paper raises the question whether and to what extent Tok Pisin gains influence in Papua New Guinea over the course of time? In this context, various evidence for the assumption will be displayed and above this, several reasons for the spreading of the language will be depicted. For this purpose, I will make use of a variety of scholarly literature, whereby I will especially focus on well-known linguists, such as Mühlhäusler, Holm or Kulick et al..

In what follows, I will begin by defining two important terms, namely pidgin and creole, which may be required for a complete understanding of the contact language Tok Pisin. After this, the paper will have a closer look at Tok Pisin, which will be located and described with regard to its historical development. This is followed by a brief discussion on the pidgin language´s current status, which will also reveal its importance as a Papua New Guinean language. Then, I will illustrate how Tok Pisin affects the language use in Gapun´s language community, whereby the village and its sociolinguistic situation will be portrayed to receive a general impression of the area. Due to the fact that Gapun villagers code-switch between Tok Pisin and their indigenous language, I will define the meaning of code-switching, which will be contrasted with borrowing. I will finish the paper by focussing on situations in which Gapun villagers code-switch. This is followed by presenting a number of functions of code-switching to better understand why a language community makes use of language varieties of this type.

2 General Background Information

2.1 Pidgins and Creoles

“[T]here is no agreement in the current literature as to exactly what pidgins and creoles are, or even whether it is profitable to make a distinction between them”(Mühlhäusler 1986; as cited in McMahon 1994: 255).

However, this term paper aims at defining pidgins and creoles, as these terms are indispensable for understanding Tok Pisin and its development.

According to well-known scholars, such as Holm (2000) and Mühlhäusler (1997) , a pidgin is a reduced language that arises out of extended contact between different groups of people with no common language. A pidgin is nobody´s first language. Its speakers learn it, in order to solve problems of communication, especially in trade-related contexts. Therefore, a pidgin can also be called a trade language and it is characteristically restricted in function and form. It derives most of its lexical items from the socially or demographically more prestigious language, the so-called superstrate language. The less prestigious substrate language may influence form, meaning and use of the words. As a result, a new linguistic system develops with a simplified and restructured grammar by comparison with the superstrate and substrate languages. Moreover, it has a reduced number of different words with a wider range of meanings. In its earlier stages, the structural reduced pidgin is called a jargon or a pre-pidgin, which has no fixed norms. A stable or crystallised pidgin is a more complex variety and the outcome of socially accepted language norms (cf. Mühlhäusler 1997: 138). It develops if either the groups stay in contact or the pidgin becomes the lingua franca among them. A lingua franca, therefore, “refers to any form of language serving as a means of communication between speakers of different languages” (Swann et al. 2004: 184). An extended pidgin, used outside its original range of situations, shows an elaborated and more complex structure (cf., e.g., Swann et al. 2004: 238-39 ; Holm 2000: 5-6; McMahon 1994: 253-54; Mühlhäusler 1997).

When children begin to acquire a pidgin as their native language or mother tongue, it is called a creole. In general, these are children of pidgin speakers who use this language in order to communicate at home. Therefore, the pidgin can be considered as the children´s primary linguistic input. Since a pidgin language is too restricted for the children, the system functionally and linguistically expands when a creole becomes a native language of a community. Thus, the creole, used as a means of intercommunication, can be seen as any other language in its full range of functions (cf. McMahon 1994: 261; Holm 2000: 6). There can be differentiated three sociolinguistic types of creoles. The first one develops from jargons, whereas the second type occurs with stable pidgins and the third one known with expanded pidgins. New Guinea Tok Pisin, for instance, belongs to the third type of creolization, which is acknowledged as the most common one (cf. Mühlhäusler 1997: 9). For such language varieties, it is becoming common to use the term pidgin/creole languages, since there seem to be no qualitative differences between an expanded pidgin and a creole. Finally, it needs to be mentioned that there are abruptly formed creoles, which occur without a preceding pidgin (cf. Swann et al. 2004: 61).

2.2 Tok Pisin

Tok Pisin is a contact language which derived most of its lexical items from its “socially and/ or politically dominant” (Swann et al. 2004: 304), the so-called superstrate, language English. This English-based pidgin language is the most widely spoken variety of Melanesian Pidgin English (cf. Holm 2001: 96) and it is considered as the national language of Papua New Guinea, an area of great linguistic variety. As a proof, there are over 860 languages spoken in a population of 4 to 5 million people (cf. Smith 2004). Papua New Guinea, which gained its independence in 1975, is located in the southwest of the Pacific Ocean, also defined as the region of Melanesia. It includes a group of islands, as the eastern part of the island of New Guinea, the Bismarck Archipelago and Bougainville, the most northern part of the Solomon Islands (cf. Holm 2001: 96).

The term “Tok Pisin” is widely used by most speakers to title the previously described language variety spoken in Papua New Guinea. However, some researchers also referred to it as “Neo-Melanesian” or “New Guinea Pidgin”, or simply called it “Pidgin”. Moreover, there is some evidence that even the name “Melanesian Pidgin English” was used. This notion would not be accurate, as Melanesian Pidgin English not only stands for Tok Pisin, but also includes the dialects Pijin, spoken on the Solomon Islands, and Bislama, used in Vanuatu. These three varieties are historically related, strongly based on English and resemble each other with respect to their grammar and lexicon. They are considered as a lingua franca in the Melanesian area and predominantly spoken as a second language, though there are also some first language speakers, especially in urban areas (cf. Holm 2001: 96; Smith 2004: 710). Therefore, the very same language can obviously undertake the role/ function of a pidgin or a creole depending on ecological factors and conditions (cf. Haarmann 2006: 312).


1 In the following, for the sake of simplicity, I will refer to Tok Pisin only as a pidgin language.

Excerpt out of 21 pages


Tok Pisin. With the Focus on Code-Switching
Humboldt-University of Berlin
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Pidgin, Creole, Tok Pisin, Papua New Guinea, Code-Switching, Code-Switching in Papua New Guinea
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Babette Treptow (Author), 2010, Tok Pisin. With the Focus on Code-Switching, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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