Nigerian Pidgin vs. Tok Pisin: A Comparison of the Grammar

Term Paper, 2006

15 Pages, Grade: 2,3


Table of contents

1. Introduction

2. Morphology
2.2 Plural marking on nouns in Nigerian Pidgin
2.3 The pronoun system in Tok Pisin
2.4 The pronoun system in Nigerian Pidgin

3. Syntax
3.1 Word order
3.2 Special features of Melanesian Pidgin
3.3 Negation
3.4 Tense, mood and aspect
3.4.1 Future tense
3.4.2 Past time reference
3.4.3 Habitual and continuous aspect
3.4.4 Perfective aspect
3.4.6 The particle laik in Tok Pisin
3.4.7 The pre-verbal come in Nigerian Pidgin
3.4.8 Modal auxiliaries
3.5 Verb serialization

4. Conclusion

5. Bibliography

1. Introduction

Nigeria and Papua New Guinea are two of many countries which have adopted English as their main language. But having so many other, substrate languages influencing the development of a English-speaking country, two major pidgin languages developed: Nigerian Pidgin and Tok Pisin.

If one wants to compare these two pidgins with each other, it seems almost inevitable to consider their great geographical distance as well as their historical differences.

But my intent in this work is not to elaborate on the status and function and development of the two pidgins but on their differences in grammar. Therefore I’ll mainly focus on the noun phrase and the verb phrase.

2. Morphology

2.1. Plural marking on nouns in Tok Pisin

The majority of the English based Creole and Pidgin languages both at the Atlantic coast and the South Sea waive marking plurality on nouns or rather use it very optionally. Thus, the same applies to Nigerian Pidgin and Tok Pisin. But if there occurs the need to make a clear distinction between singular and plural both pidgins absolutely dispose of a pluralizer.

In Tok Pisin the most common way to express plurality is by the use of the particle ol, which at the same time is identical to the third person plural pronoun. Ol, clearly derived from the English ‘all’, occurs before the noun as opposed to the post-nominal English plural marking suffix -s.

illustration not visible in this excerpt

But according to Geoff P. Smith (2002), “ there is a great deal of variability, and the presence or absence of ol is still somewhat unpredictable” (p 66). This can clearly be seen in the following example, in which only one noun takes the pre-nominal ol although both have plural meaning.

(3) Em i stap nau ma(ma) bl’ em wokim spia nau em i kam nau ma bl’ em wokim ol bet.

He stayed, his mother made arrows, he came and his mother made beds.

(Smith 2002: 66)

Although the particle ol is the dominant plural marker, the pluralizing suffix -s“has also become a feature of urban Tok Pisin” (Romaine 1992:219). In order to explain the use of the plural -s, Smith adopts from Romaine “that animacy does have some influence, with a larger proportion of human than animates using the suffix, and that count nouns take -s considerably more often than mass nouns” (p 71). It is also very often found that the plural is doubly marked.

(4) Ol I brekenenta lo ol stoa s.

They broke into the stores.

(Smith 2002: 72)

2.2 Plural marking on nouns in Nigerian Pidgin

In Nigerian Pidgin we encounter to a certain extent the same situation as in Tok Pisin. But in contrast to the pre-nominal ol the post-nominal dem, which is again identical to the third person plural pronoun, is most commonly utilized to mark plurality.

(5) A go tek di got dem go market.

I will take the goats to market.

(Faraclas 1996:168)

A widespread feature of Atlantic Creoles is the distinction between definite and indefinite nouns. While the definite ones use dem very commonly to mark plurality, the indefinite nouns only make use of it sometimes. Furthermore is “the pluralizer […] most frequently used with animate nouns” (Deuber 2005: 107).

Occasionally nouns can also be reduplicated to express plurality.

(6) Got-got plenty for market.

There are plenty of goats in the market.

(Faraclas 1996: 168)

The English plural suffix -s has also been encountered in Nigerian Pidgin and, according to Faraclas (1996) occurs “especially with items recently borrowed from English” (p 171).

2.3 The pronoun system in Tok Pisin

A very prominent feature of the standard Tok Pisin personal pronoun system and probably also the most conspicuous difference to Nigerian Pidgin pronouns is the greater variety in the distinction of number and the use of the inclusive and exclusive form of the first person plural pronoun. Apart from the normal singular and plural forms, Tok Pisin also features dual and even trial numbers. The following chart shows the overall pattern of Tok Pisin pronouns:

illustration not visible in this excerpt

( Mühlhäusler 2003: 17)

As one can clearly detect from the table above, the suffix -pela is added to pronouns in order to mark the plural. This suffix derives from the English word fellow which “appears to have been in frequent use in the early days of contact” (Smith 2004: 723). In Tok Pisin there seems to be no distinction between subject and object or gender as in English, thus the pronoun em, for example, can have various meanings, depending on the context.


Excerpt out of 15 pages


Nigerian Pidgin vs. Tok Pisin: A Comparison of the Grammar
University of Freiburg  (Englisches Seminar)
Pidgins and Creoles
Catalog Number
ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Book)
File size
430 KB
Nigerian, Pidgin, Pisin, Comparison, Grammar, Pidgins, Creoles, Linguistik, Phonologie, Linguistics, Papua New Guinea, Nigeria, Creole, Vernacular
Quote paper
Julia Burg (Author), 2006, Nigerian Pidgin vs. Tok Pisin: A Comparison of the Grammar, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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