Papua New Guinea–Languages

In Papua New Guinea people speak over 800 indigenous languages. Though many of these languages are highly local, boast less than 1000 native speakers and are in near threat of extinction, a good number are still viable and active. Ethnologue’s Papua New Guinea page will give you a good sense of who speaks what language and with whom.

Though the most widely-spoken local languags in Papua New Guinea are Melpa, Huli and Enga, the nation’s official languages are English (due to quirks of colonization, as described above, though few use it), Hiri Motu (spoken mainly in the south) and the lingua franca, Tok Pisin. Tok Pisin, also known as Melanesian Pidgin English or Neo-Melanesian, began as a “pidgin/creole” language blending English, German, Malay, Portuguese and local “Austronesian” languages and has transformed into a developing language in its own right. Like most “pidgins,” Tok Pisin developed in the colonial era as a mix of the colonizer’s language (in PNG’s case, English) and local dialects (in Tok Pisin’s case, primarily the local language of Tolai). Linguists disagree about whether its grammatical structure is based upon that of specific local languages or if it only developed when the first generations of speakers, those children who grew up speaking Tok Pisin rather than the more complex originating languages of English or the local tongues, imposed some sort of “default grammar humans are born with” (as Wikipedia’s entry on Tok Pisin puts it) to the language their parents had taught them.

At you’ll find a plentiful English => Tok-Pisin or Tok-Pisin => English dictionary. Try searching for a word or term in English to see the equivalent in Tok
Pisin. If you get caught up you can refer to’s Tok Pisin page for grammatical tips. For example, “I love music class” translates roughly as “Mi laikim singsing skul.” And, of course, “I eat breakfast with happy purple ear-pigs” translates very roughly as, “Mi kaikaim kaikai long moning wantaim amamas hap ret yai-pik.”

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