Publishing Partner: Cambridge University Press CUP Extra Publisher Login
amazon logo
More Info

New from Oxford University Press!


May I Quote You on That?

By Stephen Spector

A guide to English grammar and usage for the twenty-first century, pairing grammar rules with interesting and humorous quotations from American popular culture.

New from Cambridge University Press!


The Cambridge Handbook of Endangered Languages

Edited By Peter K. Austin and Julia Sallabank

This book "examines the reasons behind the dramatic loss of linguistic diversity, why it matters, and what can be done to document and support endangered languages."

Review of  Tok Pisin Texts

Reviewer: Miriam Meyerhoff
Book Title: Tok Pisin Texts
Book Author: Peter Mühlhäusler Tom E. Dutton Suzanne Romaine
Publisher: John Benjamins
Linguistic Field(s): Sociolinguistics
Language Family(ies): New English
Issue Number: 15.1342

Discuss this Review
Help on Posting
Date: Wed, 28 Apr 2004 09:43:06 +0100
From: Miriam Meyerhoff
Subject: Tok Pisin Texts

EDITORS: Muehlhaeusler, Peter; Dutton, Thomas E.; Romaine, Suzanne
TITLE: Tok Pisin Texts
SUBTITLE: From the beginning to the present
SERIES: Varieties of English around the world (T9)
PUBLISHER: John Benjamins
YEAR: 2003

Miriam Meyerhoff, University of Edinburgh.


"Tok Pisin Texts" (TPT) is a collaborations between three scholars who
have long-standing connections with linguistics in Papua New Guinea.
Collectively they have a comprehensive record of publications on the
language now known as Tok Pisin. Tok Pisin is the English-lexified
lingua franca spoken in all parts of Papua New Guinea, but especially
in the areas corresponding to the former German New Guinea (p.2). TPT
provides a brief overview of the social and linguistic development of
Tok Pisin and then moves on to provide many examples of Tok Pisin texts
that the editors have collected, starting with a text written in 1844
and culminating with short stories, cartoons and personal notes and
letters written in the late 1980s.

The volume begins with a short chapter "Sociohistorical and grammatical
aspects of Tok Pisin" (Muehlhaeusler). This chapter first outlines the
social context in which Tok Pisin has developed and observes that
despite the tendency to differentiate between the Tok Pisin spoken on
the coast, in the Highlands and in the Bismarck archipelago "[l]exical
differences within Papua New Guinea are due less to geographical than
to social factors" (p.3), consequently M. suggests that the more
"important subdivision of Tok Pisin is into the four main sociolects
... bush pidgin ... traditional rural Tok Pisin ... the urban version
... and lastly 'Tok Masta' ('language of the white colonizers')" (p.4).
Reference and language learning resources are summarised (p.2). The
history of Papua New Guinea since colonisation is reviewed briefly,
concluding with a picture of Tok Pisin that has the language sitting in
a sociolinguistically interesting space -- both expanding in some
communities, and retreating in others in the face of competition with
English and local vernaculars (p.8).

The chapter then turns to a structural sketch of Tok Pisin, with
sections on phonology (covering well-known features such as epenthetic
vowels and the loss of English interdental and palato-alevolar
fricatives). The next section discusses inflectional morphology and
notes the polyfunctional nature of some forms, e.g., the occurrence of
the suffix '-pela' with more than just adjectives. The section on
syntax looks at the pronoun system which, like the other English-
lexified pidgins/creoles in Melanesia (Solomons Pijin and Bislama in
Vanuatu), indexes semantic features occurring in the substrate
languages (viz. inclusive/exclusive distinction in first person; dual
and trial forms). The inventory and use of interrogative and reflexive
pronouns is discussed next, and the structure of the noun phrase is
very briefly noted.

The verb phrase describes the structure of common declarative
sentences, and their expansion with the negator 'no' and time, manner,
place adverbials. Tense and aspect marking are not covered at all;
instead the reader is referred to earlier work by M. This section
finishes with a discussion of co-ordination and a range of subordinate
clause constructions (including conditionals, quotative constructions
and experiencer verbs).

The structural description as a whole concludes with a section on the
lexicon (an area that M. has done a good deal of work on in the past
(see for instance Wurm & Muehlhaeusler 1985). This is the most
substantial of the sections in the grammatical component of the chapter
and covers four issues that are often considered to be prototypical of
pidgins, including the simplification of the lexicon compared to the
lexifier, impoverished (or non- existent) "word formation component"
and reduplicated forms (p.25).

The chapter concludes with a few comments on how the texts that follow
were gathered and how they might be used. M. reports that the texts
were chosen so as to "cover the full range of variation found in Tok
Pisin, both along its historical and its social and stylistic axes"
(p.33). However, the reader is cautioned against using these texts
alone as the basis for quantitative research.

The rest of the book is made up of 100 texts, some quite short and some
running to more than four pages. A short contextual note usually
introduces each item and the text that follows is given an interlinear
gloss (the earliest texts do not have interlinear glosses because they
follow English-like spelling norms and anglicised grammar), and a free
prose translation of the text into English. Most texts also have some
commentary about aspects of the Tok Pisin that are linguistically
noteworthy, e.g. internal variability that is characteristic or unusual
for the period, early attestations of a form, socially significant (or
regionally telling) lexical choices. Reference is made to "standard
spelling conventions" (p.161) but these are not spelled out in TPT.

The texts are grouped into nine parts. The first part is 15 texts from
1840s through to c.1921 ("From early contacts and 'Gut Taim bilong
Siaman'"). Part 2 is 6 texts from 1920-1945 ("Indigenous voices"). Part
3 ("The use of Tok Pisin by missions and government") has 7 texts, and
Part 4 is two texts from the 1950s-60s. Part 5 ("Traditional indigenous
voice 1970 to the present") has 21 texts of a mixed nature: several are
narratives about traditional practices or old war stories, some are
interviews, and some are snippets from people goofing around. A number
provide quite explicit information on the metalinguistic awareness of
speakers and beliefs about the origin and spread of Tok Pisin.

Part 6 ("Translations of foreign voices") has 12 texts that are
translations from English, German or Japanese (everything from the
Bible and the highway code through to a propaganda leaflet). Parts 7
and 8 include texts more or less directly influenced by contact with
English. Seven oral texts in "Urban Tok Pisin and the influence of
English" and 23 written texts in "New written genres" are intended to
give readers of TPT a sense of the extensive linguistic consequences of
extended contact between Tok Pisin and English in urban areas. Finally,
part 10 ("Creolized varieties of Tok Pisin") provides 6 narratives and
one conversation between a linguist (Romaine) and two girls about what
languages they know.


A very nice aspect of TPT is the wide range of genres covered and the
social information that the editors have included in their
commentaries, e.g. conventions for pronoun use when these are flouted
in a text, how surprise noises are made by interviewees, the denotation
and use of kinship terms. The focus on social variation is also
welcome, though readers specifically interested in variation in Tok
Pisin would find Smith's recent book (2002) a valuable one to read
alongside TPT. Although M. claims geographic distinctions are less
important than social ones, Smith shows that in a very large corpus of
Tok Pisin, quite marked regional variation emerges, e.g. in the use of
many tense, aspect and mood particles ('bai' irrealis, 'bin' past,
'pinis' completed action, and 'wok long' continuous). Smith also
provides more references to important work that has been undertaken on
the structural development of Tok Pisin, e.g. by Sankoff (1986) and
Mosel (1980, a very important work on substrate influences on Tok Pisin
which fails to make it into the TPT list of references). The use of
commentaries to focus on specific aspects of each text was also
generally helpful and in some cases serve to advance the field, such as
when the editors draw attention to a feature that has struck them
impressionistically and recommend it for further study.

One question that might have been addressed directly in the
commentaries is the how and when the editors decided to represent fast
speech effects or on-going grammaticalisation and change in the spoken
texts. For the texts to be maximally useful to linguists, it would be
useful to know what criteria determined whether a word would be
represented orthographically in a reduced form. 'Mitupela' ('we, dual')
on p.192 is given a footnote saying it was actually pronounced 'mitala'
(p.194, see similarly fn.2 p.124). To give another example, readers do
not know how it was determined to represent the prepositions 'bilong'
and 'long' as 'blo' and 'lo'. It appears that the proportion of 'blo'
users is higher in the later texts but this might be for several
reasons: (i) it might reflect across the board changes in the language;
(ii) it might be because the researcher who gathered those particular
texts was more interested and attentive to such reduced forms; or (iii)
it might be an age-graded tendency highlighted in these texts because
the speakers are younger. This is a good example of why the editors
caution against taking the texts as a statistically representative
sample of the language and it is to be hoped that users of TPT will
bear this in mind. Again, Smith's (2002) recent descriptive grammar
provides considerable evidence about the phonological reduction
characteristic of adolescents' L1 Tok Pisin and would be a helpful
complementary resource to TPT.

In one case, the footnoting raises more questions than it may answer.
On p.272 we find the phrase "Em lai karim" ('he wants to carry') with
the note that 'lai' is "a reduced form of 'laik'". The reader might
very reasonably ask how one could know if 'laik' has been reduced here
since it is in a neutralising environment. Cross-referencing between
texts might have been helpful in clarifying how widespread this
phenomenon is, or more explicit referencing to Romaine's (1999) work on
reduction of verbal auxiliaries.

The production of the book is generally very good and the graphics are
clearly reproduced. There are some unfortunate typos. Some capitalised
'I's appear where they should be lower case 'i' (the predicate marker),
p.10 -- this is the long arm of Word's Autocorrect function, which is a
pain to anyone working with Melanesian creoles. There are several
occasions where the first person pronoun 'mi' is rendered as 'me'
(p.19, 24, 250) and 'Rzga' appears for 'Raga' (p.270), 'tzsol' for
'tasol' (p.223). The gloss for 'aiting', 'perhaps', is missing its
single quotes (p.37). There appears to be a total scrambling between
example and discussion on p.23 where the base sentence "mi laik yu
givim mani mi" ('I want you give money me' [sic.], MM's gloss) becomes
"Mi laik yu mas givim mi long mani", glossed as 'I want you to give me
money' (but looks more like 'must give me to the money'). I don't speak
Tok Pisin but this seems to be a real snafu.

On its own, TPT needs to be used by researchers with some sensitivity.
For this reason I would not recommend TPT as a source text for students
in, e.g., a pidgins and creoles course and certainly not as a first
port of call. However, used in conjunction with Wurm & Muehlhaeusler
1985, Romaine 1992 and Smith 2002, TPT provides a sound basis for
researchers interested in exploring the structure and use of one of the
world's best known expanded pidgins/creoles.


Mosel, Ulrike 1980. Tolai and Tok Pisin: The influence of the
substratum on the development of New Guinea Pidgin. Canberra: Pacific

Romaine, Suzanne. 1992. Language, education and development: Urban and
rural Tok Pisin in Papua New Guinea. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Romaine, Suzanne 1999. The grammaticalization of the proximative in
Tok Pisin. Language, 75. 322-346.

Sankoff, Gillian 1986. The social Life of Language. Philadelphia:
University of Pennsylvania Press.

Smith, Geoffrey P. 2002. Growing up with Tok Pisin: Contact,
creolization and change in Papua New Guinea's national language.
Westminster: Battlebridge Publications.

Wurm, Stephen A. and Peter Muehlhaeusler 1985. Handbook of Tok Pisin.
Canberra: Pacific Linguistics.

Miriam Meyerhoff is Reader in Theoretical and Applied Linguistics at
the University of Edinburgh. Her research interests are in the areas of
variation and change in Pacific creoles (especially Bislama) and the
study of language and gender.