Tok Pisin. History, linguistic development and German influence

Essay, 2017
10 Pages, Grade: 1,0


Table of Contents

1. Introduction

2. Definition of Tok Pisin

3. External History of Tok Pisin

4. German influence and German Tok Pisin Vocabulary

5. Closing words

List of references

Internet sources

1. Introduction

The language Tok Pisin has been introduced in the course of this semester’s seminar “Pidgin and Creole Languages”͘ This term paper primarily raises the question in what way the German language took influence on Tok Pisin. For this purpose, it is necessary to take a closer look at individual words of Tok Pisin, which is along with English and Hiri Motu one of the three official languages of Papua New Guinea. After giving a definition of the object of investigation, the essay also seeks to provide an insight into the external history of Tok Pisin.

2. Definition of Tok Pisin

Tok Pisin (“talk pidgin”1 ) is widely spoken across Papua New Guinea, whose population, according to the 2015 Census, was 7.5 million. English, the “language of the urban elite”2, is only used by a small population group. It is a controversial issue, whether Tok Pisin and the other Melanesian Pidigins can be called creole or not. Primarily the fact that Tok Pisin is spoken by thousands of native speakers and has “functions and grammatical features found in typical creoles”3 makes people categorizing it as a creole. People saying it is still a pidgin stress that more than 90% of its speakers have a different native language background.4

Swann defines pidgin or pidginised languages as a “new and initially simple form of language that arises out of language contact between two or more groups of people who do not share a common language͘”5 Those contacts mainly had business or slavery reasons. In the majority of cases, the dominating group, which came for example to trade with the other group, spoke a language (called lexifier6 ), giving the new pidigin its lexis, whereas the dominated ones used a tongue/tongues which donated the new pidgin its grammatical base.

In most cases the underlying principle is: “Making maximum use of minimal grammatical resources”7. The resulting “simple form of language”8 is not spoken as a native language by anyone of the participants.

Tyron and Charpentier point out that Tok Pisin is the lingua franca “of a country with approximately 750 local vernacular languages”9. These belong to two distinct language families: Austronesian, which is primarily spoken in coastal areas, and Papua, mainly spoken in interior regions.10 Furthermore, it is important to say, that another lingua franca exists in Papua New Guinea, which is called Hiri Motu or Police Motu. This language is described as a “pidginised version of Motu”11, an Austronesian language, some people use to speak in the area of the capital Port Moresby.

Mühlhäusler explains that the term Tok Pisin, the nowadays official name of the language, is commonly used since independence, whereas before it was amongst others called Neomelanesian, Melanesian Pidign, New Guine Pidign, Tok Vaitman or Tok Boi.12 What is the difference between terms like New Guinea Pidigin and Tok Pisin? Mühlhäusler stresses that the first expression refers to the “various development stages of the language”13, whereas Tok Pisin is best used to describe the “present-day language”14, which is used in radio, television and also for religious matters15. Moreover, it is interesting to see, that “although English is more widely used for government business, much of the debate in Parliament is in Tok Pisin”16.

3. External History of Tok Pisin

The roots of Tok Pisin can be traced back to the 19th century.17 Historically it would seem that Tok Pisin is a “typical example of the fact that pidgin and creole languages have a faster rate of development than ‘normal languages’͘”18

In 1850 merchants and whalers implemented “greatly reduced English jargons”19 to the eastern Bismarck Archipelago. These jargons doubtlessly contributed to the emergence and the development of Tok Pisin. Ten years later, in 1860, a German company established plantations in Samoa. This event marked the beginning of growing German influence in the Pacific. The first plantations and trading bases were located in the Bismarck Archipelago. In 1878, the recruitment of thousands of Bismarck Islanders to the German plantations of Samoa began, which played a very important role for the development of Tok Pisin.20 In this context it is important to note, that the majority of the plantation-population consisted of labourers from Kiribati. Mühlhäusler explains that these workers from Kiribati (Gilbert Islands) made up the majority of plantation labourers between 1865 and 1880.21 People descending from New Guinea adapted the Pidgin, which the Kiribati people had established for communication. After working for many years on the plantations, the workers from New Guinea brought an “extended and modified”22 version of this language back to their home. In conjunction with the development of Tok Pisin, “stabilizing the unstable jargon English varieties know to the different recruits to form a standardized lingua franca”23 can be seen as the main task of the plantations. Moreover, Mühlhäusler underlines that it was important for the development of Tok Pisin that the “plantation owners and colonial masters”24 came from Germany and that nearly every village under governmental control had an interpreter who was able to speak pidgin. It is also interesting to note that Pidgin English was integrated into penal education.25


1 Mühlhäusler, Peter: Sociohistorical and grammatical aspects of Tok Pisin. In: Mühlhäusler,P./Dutton, T. E./Romaine, S.: Tok Pisin Texts. From the beginning to the present. Amsterdam/Philadelphia: John Benjamins Publishing Company 2003, p. 2.

2 Charpentier, Jean-Michel/Tryon, Darrell T.: Pacific Pidgins and Creoles. Origins, Growth and Development. Trends In Linguistics. Studies And Monographs [TILSM 132]. Berlin/New York: Mouton de Gruyter 2004, p. 10.

3 [12.12.2016].

4 Cf. Ibid.

5 Deumert, T./Lillis, T./Mesthrie, R./Swann, J.: A Dictionary of Sociolinguistics. Edinburgh: Edinburgh UP 2004, p. 238.

6 Siegel, Jeff (2012):

7 Deumert, T./Lillis, T./Mesthrie, R./Swann, J. 2004, p. 238.

8 Ibd.

9 Charpentier, Jean-Michel/Tyron, Darrell T 2004, p. 9.

10 Cf. Ibd., p. 10.

11 Ibd.

12 Mühlhäusler, Peter 2003, p. 2.

13 Ibd., p. 2.

14 Ibd.


16 Ibd.

17 Mühlhäusler 2003, p. 5.

18 Ibd.

19 Ibd.

20 Cf. Ibd.

21 Cf. Ibid.

22 Ibd.

23 Ibid.

24 Ibid.

25 Ibid., p. 6.

Excerpt out of 10 pages


Tok Pisin. History, linguistic development and German influence
Charles University in Prague  (Filozofická fakulta)
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ISBN (Book)
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Pidigin and Creol, Pidgin Sprache, Tok Pisin, Kreol Sprachen, Sprachen Kolonien
Quote paper
Dominik Keßel (Author), 2017, Tok Pisin. History, linguistic development and German influence, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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