“If “Tok Pisin is the language expression of our lifestyle and our intermingled cultures” then what does this language say about us as a people”

Tok Pisin and Tok Ples as languages of identification in Papua New Guinea


Cass, P. (1999) Tok pisin and tok ples as languages of identification in Papua New Guinea. Media Development, 4; pp. 28-33.

After the Second World War missions in Papua New Guinea faced new imperatives driven by the reaction of the Australian administration to UN directives. As a result the administration decided to use English as the sole language of education. These changes led to the closure of Tok Ples schools and the end of Tok Ples as the primary language of education for indigenous people. Most significantly, however, Tok Pisin came into its own as a lingua franca. These factors combined to shift the role of language as an identifier from a purely village or regional level (Tok Ples) to a national one (Tok Pisin) Subsequent educational policies have reversed this situation. This article argues that for a country with so many languages the temporary sacrifice of a few indigenous languages was justified. Implicit in the paper is the argument that Tok Pisin should be treated as a language indigenous to PNG and that attempts to suppress it or dismiss it by metropolitan administrations and missions failed completely because it was a language that grew out of the people themselves.

Published by Ples Singsing

Ples Singsing is envisioned to be a new platform for Papua Niuginian expressions of creativity, ingenuity and originality in art and culture. We deliberately highlight these two very broad themes as they can encompass the diverse subjects, from technology, medicine and architecture to linguistics, music, fishing, gardening et cetera. Papua Niuginian ways of thinking, living, believing, communicating, dying and so on can cover the gamut of academic, journalistic or opinionated writing and we believe that unless we give ourselves a platform to talk about and discuss these things in an open, free and non-exclusively academic space that they may remain the fodder for academics, journalists and other types of writers alone. New social media platforms have given every individual a personal space to share their feelings and ideas openly, sometimes without immediate censure. The Ples Singsing writer’s blog would like to provide another more structured platform for Papua Niuginian expressions in written, visual and audio formats while also providing some regulation of the type and content of materials to be shared publicly.

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