Academic journal article Mosaic (Winnipeg)

Niugini I Bekim Tok: Creolizing Global English in Papua New Guinean Literature

Academic journal article Mosaic (Winnipeg)

Niugini I Bekim Tok: Creolizing Global English in Papua New Guinean Literature

Article excerpt

Papua New Guinean languages and literatures unsettle the English dominance that both proponents and opponents of global English claim. That world language takes new shapes in Oceania, as seen when John Kasaipwalova structures his fiction so that colloquial English carries the grammar, syntax, and semantics of Tok Pisin.


The powerful presence of the English language in today's world is a matter of hot debate among linguistics scholars. English is deemed the leading language: worldwide, English is the language of more than two-thirds of all science writing, three-quarters of all mail, and 80 percent of all information stored electronically. These facts, documented in the Cambridge Encyclopedia of Language, raise a question for scholars who study language. Is English serving as a powerful force to unite people in a democratic way, so that people around the world can share ideas and information, or is English a language of imperialism that people learn not freely but because they must in order to survive?

Prominent linguists line up on both sides of the issue, arguing either that English is liberating or that English is imprisoning. One of the most articulate scholars to celebrate the spread of English is David Crystal, perhaps the best-known linguist in the world and the author of several bestsellers on this question. In The Cambridge Encyclopedia of the English Language and English as a Global Language, Crystal announces, English is a "world language," a "global language," a "natural choice for progress." A leading scholar with a very different view is Robert Phillipson, who suggests that English threatens other languages. Phillipson cautions against English "linguistic imperialism" (Linguistic 47) and denounces the "globalization of English" that helps create "catastrophic ecological and cultural effects" ("Voice" 265). What is most surprising about the debate these two scholars represent is that neither side examines the way people around the world use English. Neither response takes into account the people who must, according to these models, surf on or drown in the rising tide of English.

To take one important example, a short story by Papua New Guinean writer John Kasaipwalova suggests that English is not dominant in the ways that scholars of global English propose. Set in the remaining days of the Australian-administered trusteeship in Papua New Guinea, "Betel Nut is Bad Magic for Airplanes" portrays three university students who chew betel nut while they meet arriving friends at the airport and endure the wait for luggage, only to be told by governing Australian authorities that chewing betel nut is against the law. Since no such law exists, the students must defend their rights, wielding the same weapons as the authorities, namely language. Kasaipwalova presents the serious battle over language in a mock-heroic, comic style. The story portrays a vibrant linguistic medley, using all three official national languages of Papua New Guinea: English, and the two creole languages Tok Pisin and Hiri Motu. The story presents new linguistic forms and new models of global English, suggesting that Eng lish does not stamp out, but is itself stamped by, other languages.

Linguists debate about whether the term pidgin or creole is most appropriate for Tok Pisin and Hiri Motu. In Pidgin and Creole Linguistics, Peter Muhlhausler examines Tok Pisin according to the life-cycle model of languages, as an expanded pidgin and as a creolized pidgin (176-205, 213-36). One of the difficulties of classification is that some people speak Tok Pisin or Hiri Motu as a first language, while others speak it as a second or third language. I use the term creole because Tok Pisin and Hiri Motu fit the classic definition of a creole language, one that began as a pidgin language but is now spoken as a first language by a group of people. Scholars suggest that more than one million people speak Tok Pisin in Papua New Guinea, which has a population of about four million. …

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