Pitkern language

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Native to Norfolk Island, Pitcairn Islands, New Zealand
Native speakers
ca. 400 Pitcairn-Norfolk (2008)[1]
36 on Pitcairn (2002)
English Creole
  • Pacific
    • Pitkern
Language codes
ISO 639-3 pih
Glottolog pitc1234[2]
Linguasphere 52-ABB-dd

Pitkern (also Pitcairnese, Pitcairn English, occasionally Pitcairn-Norfolk) is a primary language on Pitcairn Island in the Pacific Ocean. The language is a mixture of both English and Tahitian and shares a diglossic connection to the standard British-English.[3][4]

Today, this language is severely endangered, having less than 630 speakers worldwide.[5] In 1980 an effort began to standardize the language's spelling and grammar, which was met with wide public support, although it is unknown how far this process has gone on Pitcairn Island itself.[5][6]


Pitkern is a pidgin creole language based on an 18th-century dialect of both English and Tahitian.[7] Even though this language is spoken on Pacific Ocean islands, it is described as an Atlantic Creole.[8]


Following the 1790 Mutiny on the Bounty, nine British mutineers lead by Fletcher Christian stopped at Tahiti and took nineteen Polynesians, six men and thirteen women, to remote the Pitcairn Island and settled there.[9] By 1808, all of the men had perished except one of the British men named John Adams.[10] Initially, the Tahitians spoke little English, and the Bounty crewmen knew even less Tahitian. Isolated from the rest of the world, they had to communicate with each other, and, over time, they formed a unique new language that blended a simplified English with Tahitian words and speech patterns.

Pitkern was influenced by the diverse English dialects and accents of the crew. 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.

Many expressions which are not commonly used in the modern English that is spoken in most areas of the world carry on in Pitkern. These expressions include words from British maritime culture in the age of sailing ships. The influence of Seventh-day Adventist Church missionaries and the King James Version of the Bible are also notable.

Due to their growing population and need for food, the people of Pitcairn resettled on Norfolk Island in 1859, after which only a few returned.[11] Most speakers of Pitkern today are the descendants of those who stayed. Both Pitkern and Norfuk dialects are mutually intelligible.

Geographic Distribution[edit]

Official status[edit]

Pitkern is one of the official languages of the Pitcairn Islands along with English.[citation needed]


The Pitkern language is a creole language that has not been completely standardized and thus is subject to variations in spelling and speech.[citation needed]

Derived languages[edit]

Norfuk derived from this language upon the Pitcairn Islanders emigration and inhabitance of Norfolk Island.


There is an emphasis on spatial orientation when referring to oneself with the Pitkern language. Coming from the Tahitian lexicon, places are referred to as being 'up' or 'down' from the speaker.[12] It is clear the Pitkern language lexicon is derived mainly from its British founders, but the Tahitian language has an influence on its phonology.[13] Pitkern also has elements that do not come from either of its parent languages, which are similar to other creole languages.[13]


Even though Pitkern is more similar to English than Tahitian, some Polynesian linguistic constructs are still influential to the language. For example, the Polynesian way of repeating a word to imply its magnitude, (i.e. if a wave is notably high, it is referred to as "illy-illy") can be recognized throughout the language.[14] Furthermore, a lot of words for both animals and plants come from a Tahitian in origin, most likely due to the reason that the Polynesian women on the island had names for these things and the British muntineers did not.[15][14]

Common phrases[edit]

Pitkern English
Whata way yee? How are you?
About yee gwen? Where are you going?
You gwen whihi up supa? Are you going to cook supper?
I nor believe. I don't think so.
Yee 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.
Wutime sink suf morla? What time is low tide tomorrow?
Lebbe! Let it be!
Cooshoo! Good!
I kawa. I don't know.
Fut you ally comey diffy and do daffy? Why do you come and behave that way?
Daas et! That's it!
Foot nort? Why not?
Ho yah! Really!
Ai law yuu. I love you.

Note: Pitkern spelling is not standardised.

Poetry in Pitkern[edit]

The language is mostly spoken, but some poetry exists in Pitkern. The poems of Meralda Warren are of particular note.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Pitkern at Ethnologue (18th ed., 2015)
  2. ^ Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin; Bank, Sebastian, eds. (2016). http://glottolog.org/resource/languoid/id/pitc1234 |chapterurl= missing title (help). Glottolog 2.7. Jena: Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History. 
  3. ^ "Pitcairnese and Norfolk". Oceanic Linguistics Special Publications (14): 590–592. 1975-01-01. 
  4. ^ Wurm, Stephen (2007). Australia and the Pacific. Routledge. pp. 424–557. 
  5. ^ a b "Did you know Pitcairn-Norfolk is endangered?". Endangered Languages. Retrieved 2017-03-10. 
  6. ^ Mühlhäusler, Peter; Michaelis, Susanne Maria (2013). Norf'k. Oxford University Press. pp. 232–240 Ch. 23. 
  7. ^ "Did you know Pitcairn-Norfolk is endangered?". Endangered Languages. Retrieved 2017-03-10. 
  8. ^ Avram, Andrei (2003). "Pitkern and Norfolk revisited". English Today. 19 (1): 44–49. doi:10.1017/S0266078403003092. 
  9. ^ MAUDE, H. E. (1959-01-01). "TAHITIAN INTERLUDE: The Migration of the Pitcairn Islanders to the Motherland in 1831". The Journal of the Polynesian Society. 68 (2): 115–140. 
  10. ^ Keith, Arthur (1917-01-01). "88. The Physical Characteristics of Two Pitcairn Islanders". Man. 17: 121–131. doi:10.2307/2788792. 
  11. ^ "Pitcairn-Norfolk". Ethnologue. Retrieved 2017-03-10. 
  12. ^ Mühlhäusler, Peter (1999-01-01). "On the origins of Pitcairn-Norfolk". Stellenbosch Papers in Linguistics. 32 (0). ISSN 2223-9936. 
  13. ^ a b Garrett, Paul (2004). Language Contact and Contact Languages. Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishing. pp. 47–48. 
  14. ^ a b "The islanders have their own word for it - in plain Pitkern". The Blade. 2000-09-27. Retrieved 2017-05-02. 
  15. ^ Mühlhäusler, Peter (1999-01-01). "On the origins of Pitcairn-Norfolk". Stellenbosch Papers in Linguistics. 32 (0). ISSN 2223-9936. 

Further reading[edit]

  • Beshero-Bondar, E. (2009). Romancing the Pacific Isles before Byron: Music, Sex, and Death in Mitford's "Christina" ELH, 76(2), 277-308. JSTOR 27742937
  • Buse, J. (1965). Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London, 28(3), 667-668. JSTOR 612133
  • Connell, J. (1988). The End Ever Nigh: Contemporary Population Change on Pitcairn Island. GeoJournal, 16(2), 193-200. JSTOR 41144196
  • Ehrhart, S., Mair, C., Mühlhäusler, P. (2004). Language Planning in the Pacific: Endangered English-based Creoloids on Norfolk and Palmerston Islands Linguistic Agency.
  • English-Based Pidgins and Creoles. (1975). Oceanic Linguistics Special Publications, (14), 341-344. JSTOR 20006621
  • Garrett, P. (2012). Dying Young: Pidgins, Creoles, and Other Contact Languages As Endangered Languages. In Sodikoff G. (Ed.), The Anthropology of Extinction: Essays on Culture and Species Death (pp. 143–162). Indiana University Press. JSTOR j.ctt16gzk1m.11
  • Källgård, A. (1993). Present-Day Pitcairnese. English World-Wide, 14.1, p. 71-114. doi:10.1075/eww.14.1.05kal
  • Kingston, N., Waldren, S., & Bradley, U. (2003). The Phytogeographical Affinities of the Pitcairn Islands: A Model for South-Eastern Polynesia? Journal of Biogeography, 30(9), 1311-1328. JSTOR 3554596
  • Langdon, R. (2000). 'Dusky Damsels': Pitcairn Island's Neglected Matriarchs of the "Bounty" Saga. The Journal of Pacific History, 35(1), 29-47. JSTOR 25169464
  • Mühlhäusler, P. (1999). On the Origins of Pitcairn-Norfolk Stellenbosch Papers in Linguistics.
  • Mühlhäusler, P. (2006). The Norf'k Language as a Memory of Norfolk's Cultural and Natural Evironment
  • O’Collins, M. (2010). British Experiments on Norfolk Island: 1788–1897. In An Uneasy Relationship: Norfolk Island and the Commonwealth of Australia (pp. 1–17). ANU Press. JSTOR j.ctt24h2qc.5
  • Ross, Alan Strode Campbell and A.W. Moverly. The Pitcairnese Language (1964). London: Oxford University Press.
  • Schreier, D., Trudgill, P., Schneider, E. W., & Wiliams, J. P. (2009). The Lesser-Known Varieties of English
  • South Pacific phrasebook (1999). Hawthorn, Australia: Lonely Planet Publications.