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Native toNorfolk Island, Pitcairn Islands, New Zealand
EthnicityPitcairn Islanders
Native speakers
ca. 400 Pitcairn-Norfolk (2008)[1]
36 on Pitcairn (2002)
English–Tahitian creole
Official status
Official language in
 Pitcairn Islands
Language codes
ISO 639-3pih Pitcairn-Norfolk
Glottologpitc1234  Pitcairn-Norfolk
Pitcairn is classified as Vulnerable by the UNESCO Atlas of the World's Languages in Danger

Pitkern, also known as Pitcairn-Norfolk or Pitcairnese, is a language spoken on Pitcairn and Norfolk islands. It is a mixture of English and Tahitian, and has been given many classifications by scholars, including cant, patois, and Atlantic creole.[2] Although spoken on Pacific Ocean islands, it has been described as an Atlantic or semi-Atlantic creole due to the lack of connections with other English-based creoles of the Pacific.[3] There are fewer than 50 speakers on Pitcairn Island, a number which has been steadily decreasing since 1971.[4][5]


Following the Mutiny on the Bounty on 28 April 1789, the British mutineers stopped at Tahiti and took 18 Polynesians, mostly women, to remote Pitcairn Island and settled there. A pidgin was formed based on English and Tahitian so that the English mutineers could communicate with the Tahitian women they brought to the previously uninhabited Pitcairn Island.[2] The Pitkern language was influenced by the diverse English dialects and accents of the crew.[6] Geographically, the mutineers were drawn from as far as the West Indies, with one mutineer being described as speaking a forerunner of a Caribbean patois. One was a Scot from the Isle of Lewis. At least one, the leader Fletcher Christian, was a well-educated man, which at the time made a major difference in speech. Both Geordie and West Country dialects have obvious links to some Pitkern phrases and words, such as whettles, meaning food, from victuals.

The first children born on Pitcairn Island mainly spoke a mixture of non-standard varieties of English and the contact language.[2] In the 1830s, Pitkern's local prestige increased, and the language started to be used in church and school.[2] In 1856, 194 residents of Pitcairn Island moved to Norfolk Island, where many residents continued to use Pitkern in their households.[2]

After 1914, the Australian government tried to end the use of Pitkern/Norf'k by restricting its use in public spaces. [2]

Relationship to Norf'k[edit]

Norf'k is descended predominantly from Pitkern. When the residents of Pitcairn Island moved to Norfolk Island, they brought the language with them.[2] The language developed and changed over time. The relative ease of travel from English-speaking countries such as Australia, New Zealand or Papua New Guinea to Norfolk Island, particularly when compared with that of travel to the Pitcairn Islands, has meant that Norf'k has been exposed to much greater contact with English relative to Pitkern.[citation needed] The difficulties in accessing the Pitcairn population have meant that a serious comparison of the two languages for mutual intelligibility has proven difficult.

The exact relationship between these two languages is a point of contention for scholars. Some believe that the difference between Pitkern and Norf'k is negligible, while others believe that Standard English is more present in Norf'k than it is in Pitkern.[2]

Common phrases[edit]

Pronouns included aklen, commonly spelled uklun 'we/us' (or just 'us', with wi for 'we'); , hami 'you and I' / 'you and us', and yoli 'you (plural)'.[7]

Pitkern English
Wut a way ye? How are you?
About ye gwen? Where are you going?
You gwen whihi up suppa? Are you going to cook supper?
I nor believe. I don't think so.
Ye like-a sum whettles? Would you like some food?
Do' mine. It doesn't matter. I don't mind.
Wa sing yourley doing? What are you doing? What are you up to?
I se gwen ah big shep. I'm going to the ship.
Humuch shep corl ya? How often do ships come here?
Cum yorley sulluns! Come on all you kids!
I se gwen ah nahweh. I'm going swimming.
Lebbe! Let it be!
Gude! Good!
You same as tingi! You beggar!
What-thing that?/Wasing daa? What is that?
Blue as a pai-pai Very homesick

Note: Pitkern spelling is not standardised.

Excerpts from a transcription of Pitkern[edit]

The sentences below are excerpted from a longer dialogue held in 1951 between a teenage speaker of Pitkern and A.W. Moverley, a foreigner who worked as a schoolteacher on Pitcairn during the mid-20th century.[2] The dialogue was recorded by Moverley and later transcribed in the International Phonetic Alphabet by A.C. Gimson, with translations to English provided by Moverley.[9]

Pitkern transcription wɒtəwɛi ju
English cognates what way you
Translation “How are you (sg.)?”
Pitkern transcription ai filen sɪkɪ
English cognates I feeling sick
Translation “I’m feeling sick.”

Pitkern transcription ai bɪn sɪns jɛstəde ha ʔʌdəwʌn ha ʔʌdəwʌn
English cognates I been sore since yesterday the other one the other one
Translation “I’ve been ill for the past three days.”

Pitkern transcription brɪŋ wʌn a wækl lʊŋfə mi
English cognates I bring one of victuals along for me
Translation “I’ve brought some food for myself with me."

Pitkern transcription bɪn teʔk wʌn teɪtə pilʌ ɪn a plʌnz lif
English cognates I been take one I tater [Tahitian: "type of pudding"] in a plantain's leaf
Translation “I’ve brought myself some potato pie in a banana leaf."

Pitkern transcription jɔːle maːmuː
English cognates you all you[10] [Tahitian: "silence"]
Translation “You (pl.) be quiet!”

Pitkern transcription dʌnə maːlou
English cognates do not [Tahitian: "obstinate"]
Translation “Don't argue!”

Pitkern transcription jɔːlə paɪl e pipl kaː wosiŋ jɔle toːkm əbæʊʔt
English cognates you all you pile of people can't what thing you all you talking about
Translation “You (pl.) lot don't know what you're talking about."

Pitkern transcription jɔːle dʌnə toːk
English cognates you all you do not talk
Translation "You (pl.) stop talking!”

Pitkern transcription jus ə get flaʊə ʔaʊʔt ʃɛʔp
English cognates us get our flour out ship
Translation "We get our bags of flour from ships."

Poetry in Pitkern[edit]

Some poetry exists in Pitkern. The poems of Meralda Warren are of particular note.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Pitcairn-Norfolk at Ethnologue (18th ed., 2015) (subscription required)
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i Mühlhäusler, Peter (1 July 2011). "Some notes on the ontology of Norf'k". Language Sciences. Linguistics Out of Bounds: Explorations in Integrational Linguistics in Honour of Roy Harris on his 80th Birthday. 33 (4): 673–679. doi:10.1016/j.langsci.2011.04.022. ISSN 0388-0001.
  3. ^ Avram, Andrei A. (2003). "Pitkern and Norfolk revisited". English Today. 19. Cambridge University Press. doi:10.1017/S0266078403003092.
  4. ^ Avram, Andrei A. (14 July 2003). "Pitkern and Norfolk revisited". English Today. 19 (3): 44–49. doi:10.1017/S0266078403003092. ISSN 0266-0784. S2CID 144835575.
  5. ^ Kallgard, Anders (1998). "A Pitkern Word List" (PDF). Papers in Pidgin and Creole Linguistics. 5.
  6. ^ Mühlhäusler, Peter (12 October 2020). Pitkern-Norf'k. De Gruyter Mouton. doi:10.1515/9781501501418. ISBN 978-1-5015-0141-8. S2CID 226321171.
  7. ^ Kallgard (1993) Pitcairnese
  8. ^ Kallgard, Anders (1998), A Pitkern word list, Pacific Linguistics, ISBN 978-0-85883-474-3, retrieved 18 May 2024
  9. ^ Ross, Alan S. C.; Moverley, A. W.; Schubert; Maude; Flint; Gimson (1964). The Pitcairnese Language. London: Andre Deutsch. pp. 121–135.
  10. ^ Mühlhäusler, Peter. "The History of writing Pitkern and Norf’k (talk given at the History Society in 2019)." p. 12

External links[edit]

  • Mühlhäusler, Peter (2019). History of Writing Pitkern and Norf'k (Report). Archived from the original on 16 October 2019.)
  • Ross, Alan Strode Campbell; Moverly, A.W. (1964). The Pitcairnese Language. London: Oxford University Press.
  • South Pacific Phrasebook. Hawthorn, Victoria, Australia: Lonely Planet Publications. 1999.