Hiri Motu, (also known as Police Motu or Pidgin Motu) is an official language of Papua New Guinea. It is a simplified version of Motu and although it is strictly neither a pidgin nor a creole it possesses some features of both language types. Phonological and grammatical differences mean not only that Hiri Motu speakers cannot understand Motu, but also that Motu speakers not exposed to Hiri Motu have similar difficulties, though the languages are lexically very similar, and retain a common Austronesian syntactical basis.
Unlike Tok Pisin its use has been in decline for many years.
Hiri Motu has two dialects, called Austronesian and Papuan. Both dialects are of course Austronesian in both grammar and vocabulary due to their original derivation − the dialect names refer to the "first languages" spoken by users of this lingua franca. The Papuan dialect (also called "Non-central") was in the language's heyday much more widely spoken, and was, at least from about 1964, used as the standard for official publications: but the Austronesian (or "Central") dialect is closer to Motu in grammar and phonology, and its vocabulary is both more extensive, and also closer to the "original" language. It tended, for this reason, to have a much higher status, and was regarded by almost all speakers as more "correct".
The language has a history long pre-dating European contact; it was originally used by participants in the Hiri trade cycle (principally in sago and clay pots) between the Motu people and their neighbours on the south east coast of the island of New Guinea. In early colonial days its use was spread by its adoption by the Royal Papua Constabulary (hence the name "Police Motu"). Tok Pisin was not widely used in Papua New Guinea south of the Owen Stanley Ranges until after World War II, and by the early 1960s Hiri Motu had probably reached its widest use, being the normal lingua franca of a large part of the country. It was in fact the first language of many people whose parents came from different language groups (typically the children of policemen and other public servants). However, since the early 1970s, if not earlier, the use of Hiri Motu as a day-to-day lingua franca in its old "range" has been gradually declining in favour of English and Tok Pisin; speakers nowadays tend to be elderly, and concentrated in Central Province and Gulf Province. Reflecting this situation, younger speakers of the "parent language" (Motu proper) tend to be unfamiliar with Hiri Motu, and few of them understand or speak it well, which was certainly not the case a generation or two ago.
- ^ In fact specific legislation proclaiming official languages in Papua New Guinea seems not to exist - but see Constitution of Papua New Guinea: Preamble – Section 2/11 (literacy) – where Hiri Motu is mentioned (with Tok Pisin and English) as languages in which universal literacy is sought - and also section 67 2(c) (and 68 2(h), where conversational ability in Hiri Motu is mentioned (with Tok Pisin or “a vernacular of the country”) as a requirement for citizenship by nationalisation (one of these languages required)
- ^ This is disputed by Dutton.
- Tom Dutton (1985). Police Motu: iena Sivarai (its story). Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea: The University of Papua New Guinea Press.
- Lister-Turner, R and Clark, J.B. (1931), A Dictionary of the Motu Language of Papua, 2nd Edition (P. Chatterton, ed). Sydney, New South Wales: Government Printer.
- Lister-Turner, R and Clark, J.B. (1931), A Grammar of the Motu Language of Papua, 2nd Edition (P. Chatterton, ed). Sydney, New South Wales: Government Printer.
- Brett, Richard; Brown, Raymond; Brown, Ruth and Foreman, Velma. (1962), A Survey of Motu and Police Motu. Ukarumpa, Papua New Guinea: Summer Institute of Linguistics.
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