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

From behng (bang) we get behng orf (bang off), behng down (bang down), behngetstefnet (to bang it and stiffen it), and behng’ tiebl (to bang the table ie play cards, esp. jarro)

Died (dead) is also often used, perhaps because it gives us such a sense of the absolute; ‘ai dieden f’ laik hem’ (I am dying in admiration of him), gu died (go to blazes), ai s’ died (I am out of trumps); ai died f’ sohri faret (I am dying of sorrow for him/her) and ai s’ died f’ taiyed (I am dead with exhaustion).

Bas (burst) is another basic concept which is applied and extended in a multitude of ways, basap means to burst, break, pull, beat or shatter something or someone.  You can also ‘bas’ gat’, ‘bas’ pupu vaelv’, ‘baswana’, ‘musa bas’ or ‘bas aut klai’.  On this occasion the list goes on and on.  You can also be a ‘bas as’ or a ‘baswaagas’ – neither is particularly complimentary.

Kech (catch) is among one of the most colourful and expressive of these foundation words.  You can ‘kech aa dorg’ (catch the dog ie a barking cough), you can ‘kechet’ (be in trouble); ‘kechfaret’ (be lumbered with someone), you can ‘kech’kraek’ (get a smack) or kech’kord (catch a cord when you are singing) or you cankechwaili (become caught up and wound around) a tree, a vine, a fence or a role of wire for example and if ‘yu s’ kech’ you are pregnant – which of course doesn’t apply if you are a boy!

Kaa (can’t or cannot) is another very widely used source word and a very useful negative.  Here are just a few examples of its usage ‘kaaduu’ (can’t do), kaa w’said(don’t know where), kaa staan (can’t stand to, not game enough to), kaa laan (can’t say), and kaa fut (don’t know why).

Among those words and phrases which have tek (take) as its foundation we find ‘teket staat’ (take him/her and go); tek iin (take in eg visitors, children, etc),tek’waa (take what), and ‘tek flai’ (take off very fast).

If we speak in Norfk we tork (talk) such that we ‘tork Norf’k’ (speak Norfolk); if someone is torktorken they are speaking a lot or using empty words; to ‘torkagli; is to speak improperly or ill of someone or something; and tork’wieh is to keep talking.

Tal (tell) is another foundation word.  ‘Dem tal’ means ‘they say’, it is also the local grapevine; aitalyiwaa is an emphasiser which means ‘I’ll tell you what’;noetalen means ‘there is no telling’ and ‘du tal’ is ‘don’t tell or you don’t say’.

If we 'gwen wieh'  we are 'going away'; daefiwieh is ‘that way’; defiwieh is ‘this way’ and daa d’ wieh is ‘that’s the way’.  The Island greeting watawieh basically means ‘what way are you?’

Tear (teya) has also received a similar kind of treatment; teyateya is torn in many places; teya raun is to dash around madly, teya ubn is to tear open and flai teyais to move very fast.

As one might expect the word Norf’k word ‘sor,’which comes from the English word ‘sore’, has endured from a much earlier time and been extended over time.  InNorf’k it is generally used in reference to being ill or unwell e.g. sor baeli (sore stomach), but if you have a ‘sor nek’ it’s likely the ‘pain’ you feel is from having not received an invitation to a function, and if you have been ‘ap en daun sor in’ bied’ (unwell and in and out of bed with your illness) we hope you get better soon 

The English derived tan (turn) has also been utilised along a similar vein.  In Norf’k we find ‘tantan’ (turncoat), tanaut (turn out or it turns out); tanetor (turn it over) and tanwieh (turn away).

Mad (maad), time (taim), heave (hiiw), break (brek), come (kam), why (fut), mind (main) snitch (snich), fly (flai), on (orn) bend (ben), worser (wasa); run (ran), scrape (skrep), take (tek), tip (tip), and jug (jag) are also widely built on multifunctional words and of course in another place and time each and very word and their derivatives deserve full and proper explanation in regards to the breadth of usage and the context in which they might be used.

By now you must have certainly built a fairly comprehensive word picture.  These base words, or concepts, and their derivatives are very characteristic of Norf’k.  When you look at the core concepts each of these base words represents there is an innate practicality about them; they are easily understood, obviously communally verbalised and therefore can be immediately put to work, or re-worked, in any number of ways.  In essence they are short, sharp, direct and multifunctional - all wonderful building blocks towards a universal, mutually intelligible and ever-expanding Pitkern-Norf’k vocabulary.

Daaset yorlye, tek keya tal neks taim; en ef ai s’ pat eni yorlye t’ slip, rimemba daa thing f’ Elvas ‘wieki-wieki’!!!

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

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

Quite often when it comes to making ourselves understood to others we human beings really come unstuck – even when we profess to speak the same language and share the same cultural background.  Where, for example, does one begin to find the words to tell someone that you love them.  What is this word ‘love’?  Does this abstract thing call ‘love’ exist in all languages and cultures, does it hold the same weight and relevance?  How do you explain what love is and what love means to you?  Go tell it to the moon perhaps for I suspect only the moon might understands this thing called love.  Many might argue that love is in fact the only universal language; luckily for us love is an action word.  If she throws the wild daisies you picked for her back in your face, clearly she loves you not.  It is the non-verbal cues, that which is unspoken, which speaks louder than any empty meaningless words ever might.

When there is no easily verbalised and mutually intelligible word, particularly for such abstract concepts, trying to make oneself understood can be an embarrassing, painful, confusing, frustrating and confounding experience – it takes time, patience, perseverance, a liberal dose of good humour, and optimism to reach a point of true and complete understanding.  With the best of intentions it can still all blow up in your face.

Imagine an Inuit Indian trying to explain to a New York businessman why his wife won’t let him go fishing on Friday’s.  It might sound simple but it isn’t – unless he is very good at charades.  Imagine the Tahitian foremothers trying to explain to the mutineers the complex and vastly differing rituals and beliefs they held regarding death and dying; let alone any interior decorating workshops which might have been on the cards.  Not easy.

Certainly because the Bounty has been so long in Tahiti in the course of collecting and establishing the breadfruit plants for the onward journey to the West Indies, almost six months, many of her crew would have perhaps got up a working Tahitian vocabulary, certainly the narrative of boatswain’s mate James Morrison and the missing Tahitian vocabulary taken by midshipman Peter Hayward suggests they were very much interested in Tahitian life on any number of levels.  Following the mutiny just how much English the Polynesians on board the Bounty may, or may not, have spoken by the time the ship left Tahiti’s shores for the last time can only be second-guessed.

Once the Bounty dropped anchor at Pitcairn’s Island and was burnt to the water line and dropped away into the deep the little community of twenty-seven adults and one new born girl-child were committed to a shared future and to combining language, culture, gender and personality differences in such a way that they had a workable and reasonably cohesive society.  Bound together by circumstance they would now need to work through the hierarchy of needs and wants in order to survive – to do this they would require a certain level of mutual comprehension.  In the very early period given the language and cultural barriers which existed it was bound to be a very simple, accessible and workable solution; very much akin to natural selection – this one works, this one doesn’t, yes we understand that; we can say that, that’s too hard; that one’s good, it works for us if it works for you and so on and so forth.

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

In the overall scheme of things Pitkern-Nor’k is a very new language; and for this reason alone it makes it an interesting subject for linguists to study.  The main living languages in the world today was here long before we came on the scene and for academics and more serious-minded human beings relatively ‘new’ languages such as Pitkern-Norf’k offer an intriguing and rarely presented opportunity to study language development.

There are indicators which help us to understand how languages, old and new are formed in the first place; the impetus for development, the rate of development, and what influences and factors are at play in their formation and in their maintenance.  For over ten years now I have been collecting words, phrases and idioms, simply because I find Pitkern-Norf’k extremely fascinating, but probably also because I also like the way words can paint pictures and the pictures that the Norf’k language in particular paint appeal very strongly to my sentimental self and my sense of family and belonging.  About two years ago now, as my little word pile became a mountainous muddle, I noticed a very curious trend emerging; the prevalence of a core body of root words and a propensity to word-build around a group of these simple high frequency words or concepts.  This was a real revelation to me and although I may well be misguided in my thinking it appears to me that this is one of the very strong indicators as to how the Pitkern-Norf’k language may have emerged during the early years of isolation on Pitcairn Island lies with these foundation words.  For twenty years the Englishmen of the north and Polynesians of the south and their off-spring on Pitcairn Island saw no-one else but each other – plenty of time to work out who was going to dig the yams for dinner and to call a family meeting to iron out any ‘residual issues’ which might have arisen from such directives.  Irrespective of who were the linguistic socialisers a deal of diglossic word selection would certainly have gone on during this time to arrive at a point of mutual intelligibility.

If you have ever shared a roof with someone who does not speak the same language or does not have the same or a similar cultural background as you; if you have ever dated or married someone from another part of the world, travelled to a country where you do not speak their language, and they could not speak yours then you will understand a little of the problems and complexities relating to the cultural and linguistic barriers and challenges in communication which may have occurred during those early years on Pitcairn Island.

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Rachel History - Captain George Rennie McArthur visits the Pitcairn (Part Four)... by Rachel Borg

While there are several intriguing aspects to this old 1856 article; many today will be more than interested to learn that the Pitcairners, at least some of them, were made aware of the proposal to establish the Melanesian Mission headquarters on Norfolk Island before they came to the Island.

According to David Hilliard in God’s Gentleman while Governor Denison had rejected Bishop Selwyn’s initial plan to re-establish the diocese at Norfolk Island on the basis that it was ‘crude and undigested’ and that he smelt the threat of ‘ecclesiastical tyranny’ over the 200 newly arrived Pitcairner descendants of the Bountymutineers.  A few short years later the matter was finally settled and Bishop Patteson was at last able to purchase for mission purposes 933 acres and was also bestowed a free grant of 99 acres; permission now having been granted for him to do so by Sir John Young, Governor of New South Wales at the behest of the home government.  

Anecdotally, I understand that relations between the Mission and the Pitcairners were sometimes strained but generally cordial.  Despite the understandable resentment from some quarters of the Pitcairner community there was of course some necessary and mutually beneficial interaction between both camps.  The residual resentment which perpetuated over some generations among the Pitcairner community regarding the Mission’s presence on the Island quite clearly emanated from a belief on the part of a number of Pitcairners that Norfolk Island would be reserved for their sole and exclusive use.  In retrospect however, few would now argue thatthe Mission’s presence has added a subtle overlay to Island life and made for a far richer and fascinating history.

Following the Pitcairners relocation in early June 1856 Captain McArthur again visited Norfolk Island.  On Monday 22 September 1856 The Hobart Town Mercurycarried the following short article:

      The Southern Cross arrived from Valparaiso, bringing 4084 bags of wheat, or about 12,250 tons biscuit. ... On the 2nd September theSouthern Cross touched at Norfolk Island and took in fire-wood.  Captain George Rennie McArthur reports that the Pitcairners in consequence of their potatoes and yams not having come to perfection, and having no other vegetable, were complaining of the want of bread stuffs.  One death that of an elderly female had occurred on the island.  The Bishop of New Zealand’s lady was residing ashore.  His lordship was on a cruise to the eastward, but was expected back daily.  Captain McArthur supplied the Islanders with some bread, potatoes, and sugar, and in return they assisted in getting him his firewood.  No colonial whalers had touched at Norfolk Island since the Pitcairners had been there. 

It is both speculative and fanciful to think that Captain McArthur was somehow touched by the Pitcairners plight and that he held some paternalistic concern regarding the fate of this small community of people, whom he had encountered so briefly in a state of angst and turmoil over the prospect of moving en masse to a new and distant land. It would be nice to think that he did however and nice to believe that his feelings fell on the side of humanity and were not alone founded  ing the fulfilment of his duties.

If nothing else Captain McArthur more than likely played a dual role in easing wary minds and better equipping the Pitcairners for what might lay ahead of them on Norfolk Island; and following the Pitcairners initial weeks of settling in he again helped to see them more comfortably provisioned until their own crops were established.

While in the overall scheme of things many may feel that the part Captain McArthur played in our history was small and insignificant, yet to his descendants today and to the early Pitcairners here on Norfolk Island in 1856 he surely looms large as a good and benevolent man.  Here was a man with choices; a man who chose to hold out his hand, who chose (despite less than favourable conditions on Pitcairn) not to simply sail onward and outwards or turn his back on the Islanders.  Captain George Rennie McArthur was much more than that; in the sum total of things he was a friend to the Islanders at time when they needed one.

On more than one occasion the Southern Cross had brought windfalls to the Pitcairners.  Many of the whalers which plied the southern oceans were referred to as ‘lucky’ ships; and those who had ‘greasy lucky’ were the luckiest of all.  Unfortunately the Southern Cross itself eventually ran out of luck - she was lost off Cape Douglas in January 1880 while on a voyage from Adelaide to Newcastle, all hands getting safely ashore.  By the time the sun was setting on the final days of theSouthern Cross the Pitcairners themselves had hoist their sails and caught the breeze setting the course for their new life on Norfolk Island.

Very special thanks this week to John Christian for sharing  information passed on through Captain McArthur’s great-great grandson during his visit to the Island recently.

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