What language do they speak in Papua New Guinea? Papua New Guinea is the most linguistically diverse country on earth with an estimated 850+ mother tongues, which excludes dialects. We obviously won’t cover them all, so when we talk about what language they speak in Papua New Guinea, we will talk about the lingua franca, Tok-Pisin.
To read about firewater/piar wara click here.
What is a lingua franca?
A lingua franca is a language that is used by people who speak different languages to converse with each other. An example of this is Mandarin Chinese in China and the Chinese diaspora, as well as English in well the world.
To read a guide to Tok Pisin click here.
In Papua New Guinea pretty much every tribe in every region spoke their own language, which made the need for a lingua franca necessary and as often happens a creole language took hold, in this case Tok-Pisin.
What language do they speak in Papua New Guinea – Tok-Pisin
So what is Tok Pisin? Also referred to as Papua New Guinea Creole is an English based creole language that is not only the most widely spoken in the country, but the language of business and everyday use.
The language originated from islanders going off to work in planation’s and through communication mixing vocabulary and words from English, Portuguese, German and even Malay. In the end English was the dominant influence, particularly with vocabulary, but it has differed to enough of a level to be considered a language rather than a dialect.
Can English speakers understand Tok Pisin?
If you really listen hard enough it is possible for English speakers to understand Tok Pisin, but bot exactly easy either. In fact the language consists of many “false friends” where you think you understand, but the word or phrase actually has a different meaning.
One of my more amusing learnings of the language came through a song and a drink called what sounded to me like “fire water”, but I kept pronouncing it wrong. The spelling for this actually Piaya Wara, so same same, but quite different. You can listen to the song below and see how much of it you can understand.
Some example easy words are gud, for good, wara, for water, and haus for you guessed it house!
One example sentence you can try out is – mi kamap house moni (I arrived at the bank).
So again same same but different. I have seen white folk who have learned the language and while at times it sounds like someone doing a bad rasta accent, after time you truly appreciate what a different language this is.
Do they speak English in Papua New Guinea?
Papua New Guinea actually has three official languages Tok Pisin, Hin Motu and English. We will leave Hin Motu for today, but regarding English almost everyone, particular involved in tourism, or in general has some working knowledge of English.
This is two fold in that English is an official language and that Tok Pisin has enough similarities to make code-switching possible.
Generally speaking you can therefore survive in Papua New Guinea without learning either Tok Pisin, or one of the other 849 languages of the country, but once you are there try learning at least a few phrases, it might sound funny when you do it, but it is really rewarding and your local friends will appreciate you making the effort.
Want to hear Tok Pisin in all its glory? Join YPT on one of our many yearly Papua New Guinea Tours