Introduction to: Tok Pisin

Halo! Nem blo mi em Nat. Gutpela lo meetim yu!

Or, in English: Hello! My name’s Nat. Nice to meet you!

Today we’re having a short introduction to Tok Pisin (literally, ‘Talk Pidgin’), one of the three official languages of Papua New Guinea (along with English and Hiri Motu).

We recently recorded Tok Pisin for our uTalk app (coming in the next update), with our delightful voice artists Rhonda and Patrick, and I was intrigued by how the language works. Tok Pisin grew up out of a country teeming with hundreds of other languages – even today, there are still over 800 languages spoken in PNG. Tok Pisin developed as the lingua franca, a common tongue everyone could use for trade and communication. Nowadays, it is a language of instruction in schools and the mother tongue of over a million people, with millions more speaking it as a second language.

Beyond a doubt, Tok Pisin is a complex language with plenty of grammar rules to learn, but I am reliably informed that after a few weeks of immersion you would start to pick up the basics, and even during our recording session I was recognising some logical constructions in the language. For example, we have:

hausik (house sick – hospital)

haus moni (house money – bank)

haus krai (house cry – mourning house)

haus kaikai (house eating – restaurant)

Papua New Guinea

Once you pick up a few basic elements, it all seems to make a little bit more sense:

Wara is ‘water’, so you can see how solwara (‘salt water’) means ‘sea’.

Liklik is ‘small’, so you can see that liklik prais (‘little price’) is ‘cheap’.

Liklik maunten (‘little mountain’) is a ‘hill’.


Ples blong means ‘the place of’, so ples blong waswas is a bathroom.

Ples blong silip is somewhere you sleep.

Ples blong kaikai is a dining room, or somewhere you eat.

My favourite construction is the suffix –pela (apparently from the English ‘fellow’), which modifies nouns and adjectives. So although wan is simply ‘one’, if you’re qualifying a noun then it becomes wanpela: ‘one doctor’ is wanpela dokta. Similarly ‘big’ is bikpela, ‘this’ is dispela, ‘good’ is gutpela, ‘we’ is mipela, ‘you’ is yupela, strong is strongpela.

Knowing all this, can you work out what this sentence means? Tell us your suggestions in the comments, and we’ll reveal the answer tomorrow…

Dispela wara ino gutpela blong drink.

If you’re finding that you’re as captivated as I was, and you’d like to learn a bit more, get one of our Tok Pisin products and start learning!


(Answer: This water is not safe to drink.)

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