This blog is for everyone who uses words.

The ordinary-sized words are for everyone, but the big ones are especially for children.

Wednesday, 7 December 2011

Nuts and Bolts: creoles.

'Me Tarzan!'

People who speak different languages quite often have to try to talk to each other.

It's not easy.

They usually end up bodging together bits of both their languages. 
The result is fine for getting across necessary information, but doesn't go much further than that. This is a pidgin language (and in some ways it's not really a proper language at all).

When these pidgin speakers have children, though, something magical happens. The children learn pidgin words from their parents, but they put them together in newly subtle ways - and suddenly a proper fully expressive language has come into existence. 

This is a creole.

I've long been utterly charmed by the creole spoken on Papua New Guinea, and by the similar languages spoken on Vanuatu and Bislama, and on the Solomon Islands. 

This language is based on English, but also on German, Malay, Portuguese and many Austronesian languages.

In Papua this language is called Tok Pisin. The Tok is the same word as talk, and the pisin comes from pidgin, even though Tok Pisin isn't a pidgin language any more.

When you read it Tok Pisin comes over as a sunny, hopeful, if slightly bonkers affair. 

And as I said, it charms the life out of me.

Gras bilong het, (usually just gras, nowadays) is, of course, Tok Pisin for hair (ie grass belong head. Geddit?).

My very favourite piece of Tok Pisin, though, is magimix bilong Yesus, which is...yes, a helicopter.

I was reminded of Tok Pisin when not long ago on a visit to Vanuatu Prince Charles was given the title of Nambawun pikinini blong Missus Kwin: ie the number one child who belongs to Mrs Queen.

Isn't it gorgeous?

Word To Use Today: creole. This word is probably from the Portuguese criolo, which is either a slave born into a household, or a person of European ancestry born in the colonies. The word is probably from criar, to bring up, from the Latin creāre, to create.

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