This Pidgin Won’t Fly

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We may as well all jump into the fray of constructive criticism of Air Niugini now that it seems possible that healthy competition will yet help to heal the festering sore of an airline and allow it to become serviceable and affordable for its passengers.

There are improvements. One that I am personally happy with is the new Fokker F-100. Why, you might ask? Well, I live right next to the end of the runway in Madang. Does that answer your question? The F-100 is much quieter on take-off than the old F-80.

Here’s my artsy-fartsy tribute to Air Niugini’s new F-100s: (you might want to click to enlarge . . . or not)

A somewhat artistic rendition of the Fokker F-100

I took this shot as I disembarked in Port Moresby last Sunday morning. I brutally massaged the frame with several Photoshop Artistic filters.

However, none of this is the subject of this post.

You would think that airlines in general would put a modicum of effort into the preparation of something that passengers have to stare at throughout the flight.

Not so, Air Niugini.

Here is what you must look at on the back of the seat in front of you:

This Pidgin Won’t Fly

Let’s start with the English.

I’ll get the most picky point out of the way first. There is no full stop (period for Yanks) at the end of the sentence. The same is true for the Tok Pisin version.

Sticking with the English for the moment, I can find absolutely no reference to the spelling of the word equipment as equiptment. If this is a Papua New Guinean way of spelling the word, then I can only suggest, “Stop doing that!” America has already sufficiently savaged the English language. There is no need for the rest of the world to join in the slaughter.

Now, let’s get to the Tok Pisin version – it’s much more interesting.

First, here is my literal back-translation into English: “It is against the rules truly to throw out all life jackets and all another things from this aircraft.”

Again, I’ll start with the nit-picking complaint. The Tok Pisin word raus comes from the German raus which, as far as I can tell, means throw out, get out, throw away, or such things as, “get out of here!”

According to the The Jacaranda Dictionary and Grammar of Melanesian Pidgin by my old friend Father Frank Mihalic S.V.D. (R.I.P), it can mean take away, but this is a lesser usage.

The better word would be stil which means to steal. In Tok Pisin, the word stilim (the transitive) more clearly conveys the meaning of the sentence.

Airlines generally understate. What they want to say is, “Don’t steal our life jackets or any of our other stuff!” The word “remove” is a linguistically weak-kneed way of saying it.

Let’s look at another word. In the Tok Pisin version, the word narapela is definitely wrong as far as I can see. It should be arapela. Let me explain.

Again, according to Jacaranda, narapela means another, while arapela means other. So, if we back-translate the Tok Pisin version it says, “all another stuff” which doesn’t make sense.

I won’t even get into the matter that na means and while o means or. Or . . . maybe I will.

Locically, the Tok Pisin sentence is explaining that it’s only wrong to take the life jackets if you also take all of the other stuff too. If you take only the life jacket(s) then it’s okay. It’s apparently also okay if you take all of the other stuff and leave the life jacket(s).

I’m not a native Tok Pisin speaker, so I welcome any and all comments on my comments.

Here would be my Tok Pisin translation of the English sentence:

“I tambu tru long stilim life jacket o olgeta arapela samting long dispela balus.”

I would back-translate this into English as: “It is illegal to steal life jackets or any other things from this aircraft.”

I’m feeling feisty, so bring on the critical comments.

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4 Responses to “This Pidgin Won’t Fly”

  1. Tavurvur Says:

    Which side of the bed did you wake up on Messersmith? Haha – actually quite an entertaining post and I do have some comments!

    As you know, sometimes in Tok Pisin, the literal translation of a word makes absolutely no sense – instead the meaning of that particular word is implied by the context in which it is used. In this case, “rausim” means “to remove”. Using the word “stilim” may be too assuming and offensive. As Mihalic notes, “Rausim” can be translated as “remove” and in this case the context of the word defines it. On a side note – I still use “raus” to tell somebody to go away or to piss off as in, “Yu raus!”.

    You will find that that urban Tok Pisin and rural Tok Pisin are quite different – in context that is. For example, somebody in the village would use the word “stilim” to convey Air NG’s message, whereas somebody in the city would use “rausim”.

    As for “narapela” and “arapela” – I find no fault with your argument. Concerning the preposition “na” – it’s right. The Tok Pisin word “na” can also take the place of the English word “or”s meaning. You will never find a sign in PNG Tok Pisin that says, “Em i tambu long simuk o spak” (Hopefully you won’t).

    In this case – according to western grammar, it should technically read “Em i tambu tru long rausim ol life jackets na em i tambu tru long rausim ol arapela samting long dispela balus”. Air NG just shortened it to save space – although the meaning and the context is still clear.

    Here are some common mistakes that PNGeans use when speaking Tok Pisin – you may have picked up on a couple of these already:

    Use “afterim” to say “to find/to search/to look for” as in, “Mi wok lo afterim Tony”. It’s actually very common.

    Use “electric – city” to say “electricity”.

    Use “sand – saw” to say “chain saw”.

    Tok Pisin really is a beautiful language; you can express things so much more clearly by using it (and sometimes you can’t).

    Consider these expressions. How would you literally express them in English to convey their Tok Pisin meaning?:

    “Mi laik kaikai spak”

    “Em i silip pangal”

    “Tupela kaikai maus”

    “Em i taitim bun”

    “Maski long painim wok”

    Just my thoughts.

    Tubuans & Dukduks 🙂

  2. MadDog Says:

    Sometimes the wrong side is the right side – depending on how the day goes.

    Thanks, Tavurvur, for your well-considered comments.

    I learned my Tok Pisin in the Sepik in the early 80’s from papas in the haus boi at night by the fire. So, I’m kind of old-fashioned in my usage and I speak with a Sepik accent. I hardly ever get to Moresby.

    I also consulted with Lois Bayyom-Nai our bookkeeper. She’s been with us for nearly twenty years. She even made a correction to my “correction”.

    The ‘rausim’ vs. ‘stilim’ issue arises mostly because I was in a bad mood.

    I think we both probably use rausim the same. I’m always saying things like ‘rausim pipia’. Interestingly, I was taught that if you want to make somebody go away, you would say, “Yu Klea!”, but I never hear that in town. People just stare at me – I can hear the wheels turning, “What is that longlong lapun waitman saying?”

    I also very much like your lengthened version of the Tok Pisin warning. It illustrates very nicely that we often have to use many more words in Pidgin to make the meaning absolutely clear.

    Lois and I are a little picky about na and o. If we use them indistinguishably, then how do we make the distinction between and and or?

    I’d have no problems with the sign “Em i tambu long simuk or spak.”, but I realize that the technically correct usage would look funny to most people. The problem arises only in situations where you must be precise and the same problem often crops up in imprecise English usage.

    For instance: “Yu laikim Coke o Pepsi?” vs. “Yu laikim Coke na Pepsi?” One asks which you want while the other asks if you like colas in general.

    It was fun reading your comments. It’s obvious that you an astute observer of language – an interest that we share.

    Thanks for taking the time to comment. I’m always encouraged to discover that somebody out there actually reads this drek.


  3. mangi Hagen Says:

    haha..I can’t believe they misspelt equipment in the English translation.. Actually I have never noticed the misspelling of the word “equipment” when flying on air niugini. Think it’s coz I only stop after reading the pidgin part, now that you’ve mentioned itin your article I only realised..

    In regard to the pidgin translation of the sign “EM I TAMBU TRU LONG RAUSIM OL LIFE JACKETS NA OL NARAPELA SAMTING LONG DISPELA BALUS”, I actually have no problems with that.. To me, it’s straight forward clear pidgin I can understand..

    I’m from Western Highlands, but grew up in Port Moresby, now a university student, I would say my tok pisin is the more modern typical “street mangi style tok pisin”.. and that sign at the back of the seat in the plane makes perfect sense to me.. I would generally translate it in my head as “IT IS ILLEGAL TO TAKE OUT THE LIFE JACKETS AND ANY OTHER PROPERTY OF THIS AEROPLANE”.

    So if I would translate it that way, then I believe many or almost all other PNG’eans or atleast PNG’eans my generation would translate it the same way..


  4. MadDog Says:

    Mangi, I appreciate your remarks as a native Tok Pisin speaker. I was enjoying a wicked sense of humor when I wrote this post. Everybody can find something about which to be annoyed when it comes to Air Niugini. I chose to focus on an insignificant fault rather than shiver in my seat worrying about major shortcomings.

    Tok Pisin is, as are all Creole languages, in a constant state of change. Each new generation brings huge changes. I learned the language from a man of my age who remembered events of World War Two. I can hardly follow a conversation in Tok Pisin with young people today. What’s more, there are drastic differences in local usage. Sepik Tok Pisin is quite different from, say, the language as it is spoken in POM.

    I’m not surprised that the sign is an easy read for you. We speak different dialects of Tok Pisin from different ages. Thanks for taking the time to comment.