Hiri Motu language
|Region||Papua New Guinea|
|Very few (1992)
120,000 L2 speakers (1989)
Simplified form of Motu (Austronesian family)
Official language in
|Papua New Guinea|
Although it is strictly neither a pidgin nor a creole, it possesses some features of both language types. Phonological and grammatical differences mean that Hiri Motu speakers cannot understand Motu. Similarly, Motu speakers who do not also learn Hiri Motu have similar difficulties, though the languages are lexically very similar, and retain a common Austronesian syntactical basis.
Hiri Motu has two dialects, called Austronesian and Papuan. Both dialects are in fact "Austronesian" in both grammar and vocabulary, due to their original derivation from Motu; 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. The Austronesian (or "Central") dialect is closer to Motu in grammar and phonology, and its vocabulary is both more extensive and closer to the "original" language. For these reasons, it had 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 developed among participants in the Hiri trade cycle (principally in sago and clay pots) between the Motu people and their neighbours on the southeast coast of the island of New Guinea. In early European colonial days, the use of Hiri Motu was spread due to its adoption by the Royal Papua Constabulary (hence the name "Police Motu"). 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 the first language of many persons whose parents came from different language groups (typically the children of policemen and other public servants).
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. Today its speakers tend to be elderly, and concentrated in Central and Gulf provinces. 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.
- Hiri Motu reference at Ethnologue (17th ed., 2013)
- 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.
|Hiri Motu language test of Wikipedia at Wikimedia Incubator|
|For a list of words relating to Hiri Motu language, see the Hiri Motu language category of words in Wiktionary, the free dictionary.|