So I’ve been asked a lot of questions about the language of Tok Pisin. … “It sounds like English a little bit. Is that a figment of my imagination?” “How do you pronounce all the pisin words you’ve been adding to your blog?” “It seems like you use the same words for different things.” “Are you really speaking a language or making up words?” … Ok. So I’ve not actually been asked that last one but needless to say Tok Pisin has inspired some curiosity!
Though I am new to the language myself and just beginning to figure some of it out, let me pass on to you what I’ve learned so far. …Better yet, let me sum up! It’s a phonetic language meaning that it’s spelled like it sounds. It’s somewhat similar to Spanish in this sense. Each letter has only one sound…with the exception of ‘P’ and ‘F’ which are interchangeable (for example, “flower” may be spelled “plawa” or “flawa” since those consonants sound almost the same). The letter ‘R’ is pronounced more as the Spanish ‘r’. There is no English pronunciation of ‘R’ (like the word ‘are’) so English words that are adopted into Pisin often change the ‘er’ sounding endings into ‘a’. (For example, “water” is spelled “wara” but sounds more like “wada” to me.) There is also no letter ‘C’—the sounds it makes are covered by ‘K’ and ‘S’.
The vowels are pronounce like this—‘A’ sounds like a short ‘o’ (like in the English word ‘son’); ‘E’ sounds like “ay” (ideally, although sometimes they say it more as the short ‘e’ sound, such as in the title above…gen); ‘I’ sounds like ‘ee’; ‘O’ sounds like the long ‘o’ sound (like in the English word ‘bone’); and ‘U’ sounds like ‘oo’. I haven’t seen any instances of ‘Y’ as a vowel. When two vowels are put together they retain their own sounds and are pronounced in the order you see them. For example, laik (like). And niu (new).
As to having more than one meaning, many words do. The language itself is made up of only approximately 3,000 words. Because of this many words must have more than one meaning. Also because of the limited amount of words, it tends to describe things rather than name them. For example, in Pisin we would say masin bilong rausim kago (machine belongs to removing cargo). In English it has its own name—fork-lift. As for grammar, it goes more by what sounds right than by a specific order, for the most part (at least from what I’ve figured out so far!) though there are some word combinations that must be kept together.
Tok Pisin has adopted words from many languages that it has encountered over the centuries. At this time, English is becoming more and more prevalent in the language, especially of the younger generations and of those living closer to the cities and the Highlands Highway where there are more interactions with western tourists and businesses. However, every region may use the language slightly differently than other regions. Even going half an hour up the Highway I noticed a difference in how it was spoken though all still understand each other most of the time. (Somewhat like travelling between North and South or East and West in the U.S.!)
Mi laik toktok wantaim long yupela. Mi bai tokim yupela narapela taim. O.K. Lukim yu bihain!
(I like talking with all of you. I will talk to all of you another time. O.K. See you later!)