Tok Pisin

October 23, 2015

Disclaimer: I am neither a linguist nor a native Tok Pisin speaker. Proceed with caution.

This post contains a very brief description of the language itself as well as a few of my favorite words and phrases. Another post describing how we go about learning Tok Pisin at POC can be found here.

I never really enjoyed learning Spanish in high school, so it comes as a pleasant surprise to me that I'm actually having fun learning Tok Pisin. Partly it's because it's because I'm surrounded by a bunch of speakers of the language to practice with, but also because it's reasonably easy to learn if you already speak English. A lot of the vocabulary is similar to English (usually spelled differently, but always phonetically.) Verbs are dead simple - they only have one form, unchanged by tense or subject. (Tense is indicated by context and a few helper words. So while this makes it easier to speak, it does mean you need to pay closer attention to find out if someone has done, is doing, or will do something.)

The language also has far, far fewer words than English, so there's not nearly as much vocabulary memorization needed. So, since there is no Tok Pisin word for "pulpit", you say something like bokis bilong pasta autim tok bilong God ("box in which the pastor speaks the words of God"). "Esophagus" becomes rop bilong kaikai go daun ("rope that food goes down"). "Earthworm" becomes snek bilong graun ("snake of the ground"). And so on.

There are also fun words that were formed by combining multiple English words. For example:
kesmasis (from "case matches") - a lighter
hangamapim - (from "hang up") - to hang something
bonara (from "bow and arrow") - but actually, a bonara is just the bow. The arrow is called a spia (spear).

And then there's expressions. If you want someone to raise their voice, you ask them to apim nek (up their neck). The liklik haus (little house) is the bathroom. The emotional center is the belly, not the heart, so to encourage someone, you strongim bel (strengthen the belly). If you are angry, you have belhat (hot belly). And if you are convicted by someone's words, the speaker has sutim bel (shot your belly). However, if you gat bel (have a belly), you're pregnant. And my personal favorites so far: namba 7 (number 7) is a hand axe, because a hand axe is the same shape as the number 7. And namba 11 is, of course, a runny nose.