Where does one begin to find the words? (Part Three) ... by Rachel Borg

Friday, July 28, 2017

Even today Pitkern-Norf’k is primarily a ‘working’ language; it does not lend itself well to the halls of academia, to science laboratories, or even to high English prose.  It is a language of pragmatics reflective of our fishing, farming, whaling and spiritual life and designed for the practicalities of life, death, child bearing and rearing and general every day intercourse between people.  It is disarmingly simple, honest and direct and with good reason – it needed to be.  This is in fact part of its charm and in no way is this reality meant to undermine its strengths, in fact in many ways Norf’k has not always been given the credit it is due (it is smart to keep it simple) and in so many other ways it is witty, creative, astute, and fun.  It is a language of happiness and togetherness interwoven with good humour.  Perhaps its innate strength lies in its beautiful simplicity and the fact that it makes its speakers feel good about themselves and the world?

Most of us can remember reasonably well the simple word building exercises we did at school – take one root word and see how many derivatives you can find.  This building upon core concepts or root words is a characteristic of both Tahitian and English; perhaps this inclination is simply no more than a basic human attribute and one I do not profess to know anything about.  This week I would like to look briefly at the world of root words in Norf’k.  These are just a few of the ones that seem to crop up time and time again in my word compilations; there may of course be many more like them.  From a distance, over the several hundred years that Pitkern-Norf’k has bumped along, these words seem to firstly illustrate a little of how those men and women who sailed in to Pitcairn’s Island in 1790 may have begun to work out their world and verbalise it to each other; as well as, secondly being indicative of the multifunctional way in which base words were applied and meanings extended beyond the scope of use in the language of origin.

It is also interesting to note that this word building is generally based around verbs (doing words) and adjectives (descriptive words) making the language lean towards being more literal rather than figurative or abstract.  It was a language designed for working rather than thinking, intellectualising, or waxing lyrical; although of course there would be nothing stopping you from waxing lyrical in your spare time; if you had any.

‘Up’, ‘down’, ‘across’ and ‘around’ are among the most frequently extended words; there are literally hundreds of variants on these general spatial or directional themes.  Above all the word ‘up’ seems to have more derivatives than any other.  Here are a few examples pat ap’ dena (put up dinner), tipap (tip up, fall down, up turn, turn upside down); diwi ap (divide up); tiketap (to tick it up, or book it up), ap raun gen (up around against); ap’worl (to sleep up against the wall); pupu ap (to make a mistake or a hash of something); apin’stik (up in the bush and mountain areas); and natietap (to tie or knot it).

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