Pitkern language

Pitkern, also known as Pitcairn-Norfolk[1][2] or Pitcairnese, is a linguistic cant[3] based on an 18th-century mix of English and Tahitian. It is a primary language of the Pitcairn Islands, though it has more speakers on Norfolk Island. Although spoken on Pacific Ocean islands, it has been described as an Atlantic Creole, due to the lack of connections with the English creoles of the Pacific.[4] There are about 50[5] speakers on Pitcairn Island, Britain's last remaining territory in the South Pacific.[6]

Native toNorfolk Island, Pitcairn Islands, New Zealand
EthnicityPitcairn Islanders
Native speakers
ca. 400 Pitcairn-Norfolk (2008)[1]
36 on Pitcairn (2002)
English–Tahitian cant
Official status
Official language in
 Pitcairn Islands
Language codes
ISO 639-3pih Pitcairn-Norfolk
Glottologpitc1234  Pitcairn-Norfolk


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. 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'kEdit

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, 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. The difficulties in accessing the Pitcairn population have meant that a serious comparison of the two languages for mutual intelligibility has proven difficult.

Common phrasesEdit

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

[citation needed]
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.

Excerpts from a transcription of PitkernEdit

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.[8] 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 lʋŋfə 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 əbæʋʔt
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 get our flour out ship
Translation "We get our bags of flour from ships."

Poetry in PitkernEdit

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

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ a b Pitcairn-Norfolk at Ethnologue (18th ed., 2015)
  2. ^ Hammarström, Harald; Forke, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin; Bank, Sebastian, eds. (2020). "Pitcairn-Norfolk". Glottolog 4.3.
  3. ^ Donald Laycock (1989) 'The Status of Pitcairn-Norfolk: Creole, Dialect or Cant? In Ammon (ed.) Status and Function of Language and Language Varieties, Walter de Gruyter
  4. ^ Avram, Andrei (2003). "Pitkern and Norfolk revisited". English Today. 19 (1): 44–49. doi:10.1017/S0266078403003092.
  5. ^ "Pitcairn Census". library.puc.edu.
  6. ^ Tryon, Darrell T.; Charpentier (2004). Pacific Pidgins and Creoles. Berlin: Jean-Michel. p. 11. ISBN 3-11-016998-3.
  7. ^ Kallgard (1993) Pitcairnese
  8. ^ Mühlhäusler, Peter. "The History of writing Pitkern and Norf’k (talk given at the History Society in 2019)." p. 8
  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 linksEdit

  • 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.
  • History of writing pitkern and norf-k