Tok Pisin is the official linguistic name for the largest lingua franca of Papua New Guinea, a country in which more than 800 local languages are spoken. In a population of well over five million people, more than half are conversant with Tok Pisin which, together with Hiri Motu and English, is one of the three official languages listed in the Constitution of the Independent State of Papua New Guinea. It is a language that the people have developed naturally over the last 150 years, as a means of communicating among themselves, irrespective of particular language groups.

English is the principal language of education, administration and commerce. But English is not the most comfortable for the people – it can be strange and academic. For young and old, when dealing with village, family or daily life matters, Tok Pisin is the language of choice. In tertiary education, for example, even though a lecture may be conducted in English, when the teacher and students discuss issues together, the language used is often Tok Pisin; or in a problem-solving or counselling situation, Tok Pisin is invariably the preferred language of communication.

In the past, this language has been called by different names, such as ‘Melanesian Pidgin’, ‘Neo-Melanesian’, ‘Pidgin English’ and ‘Tok Boi’, but today ‘Tok Pisin’ is the universally accepted term for the language. It may have had its origins as a pidgin English, but, on serious analysis, Tok Pisin today cannot be regarded as ‘broken’ English. Tok Pisin has its roots in English, German, Portuguese, Malay and local languages. Its structure is much closer to that of the local languages, and thus easier to learn for local people and much more accurate in terms of reflecting their thoughts, feelings and emotions.

The people of Papua New Guinea use the language of Tok pisin every day to communicate, to teach, to command, to pray and to express whatever they want. Tok Pisin is a living language, continually expanding and changing, and characterised by regional differences. As with any other language, there is a need to take stock of Tok Pisin and standardise spelling and usage in a format that users of the language can readily access. This dictionary is an attempt to do that. It is not perfect, nor does it take into account the many regional variations that are found in Tok Pisin throughout Papua New Guinea. It is based on the Tok Pisin of the north coast of Papua New Guinea, and as basic references for grammar, usage and spelling it has drawn on Buk Baibel, Wantok newspaper and notably The Jacaranda Dictionary and Grammar of Melanesian Pidgin by F. Mihalic S.V.D.

It is hoped that this Online Tok Pisin English Dictionary will be of benefit not only to the people who speak Tok Pisin and want to improve their English but also to those who want to learn Tok Pisin, and speak it, write it and use it well.

Useful Resources

Tok Pisin for Beginners