Pitkern language

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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 Creole
  • Pacific
    • Pitkern
Official status
Official language in
 Pitcairn Islands
Language codes
ISO 639-3pih Pitcairn-Norfolk
Glottologpitc1234  Pitcairn-Norfolk[2]

Pitkern, also known as Pitcairn-Norfolk[1][2] or Pitcairnese, is a creole language based on an 18th-century dialect of English and Tahitian. It is a primary language of the Pitcairn Islands, though it has more speakers on Norfolk Island. Unusually, although spoken on Pacific Ocean islands, it has been described as an Atlantic Creole.[3] There are about 50 [4] speakers on Pitcairn Island, Britain's last remaining colony in the South Pacific.[5]


Following the Mutiny on the Bounty on April 28, 1789, the British mutineers stopped at Tahiti and took 18 Polynesians, mostly women, to remote Pitcairn Island and settled there. 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.

Relationship to Norf'k[edit]

Norf'k is descended predominantly from the Pitkern spoken by settlers on Norfolk Island originally from the Pitcairn Islands. The relative ease of travel from English-speaking countries such as Australia and New Zealand 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. The difficulties in accessing the Pitcairn population have meant that a serious comparison of the two languages for mutual intelligibility has proven difficult.

Common phrases[edit]

Pitkern English
Whata 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!

Note: Pitkern spelling is not standardised.

Poetry in Pitkern[edit]

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

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Pitcairn-Norfolk at Ethnologue (18th ed., 2015)
  2. ^ a b Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin, eds. (2017). "Pitcairn-Norfolk". Glottolog 3.0. Jena, Germany: Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History.
  3. ^ Avram, Andrei (2003). "Pitkern and Norfolk revisited". English Today. 19 (1): 44–49. doi:10.1017/S0266078403003092. Retrieved 2007-04-09.
  4. ^ https://library.puc.edu/pitcairn/pitcairn/census.shtml
  5. ^ Tryon, Darrell T.; Charpentier (2004). Pacific Pidgins and Creoles. Berlin: Jean-Michel. p. 11. ISBN 3-11-016998-3.

External links[edit]

  • Ross, Alan Strode Campbell and A.W. Moverly. The Pitcairnese Language (1964). London: Oxford University Press.
  • South Pacific phrasebook (1999). Hawthorn, Australia: Lonely Planet Publications.