Talking Tok Pisin

Papua New Guinea’s “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.

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