Themes: Language

Communications in Papua New Guinea

Diversity of language

The number of indigenous languages spoken in Papua New Guinea is at least 800, and may be well over a thousand.  In urban areas, such as around the capital, the commonly spoken language is Austronesian, meaning that it relates to languages spoken in the wider Pacific region. In rural areas, however, especially in the highlands and on some of the islands, the languages are much older, and sometimes only spoken by relatively small groups.


Melanesian Pidgin

The official languages of Papua New Guinea are English and Tok Pisin. Tok Pisin (also known as Melanesian Pidgin) serves as a lingua franca and allows easy communication between different language groups.  It is a creole of English and has a developed vocabulary and grammar.  There is a weekly Tok Pisin newspaper Wantok which is read by 10,000 people. Instead of inventing new words for things, Tok Pisin speakers often combine existing words.  The toe, for example, is pinga bilong lek, (finger belonging to the leg).    


Communication technology

Telephones in remote rural areas are usually radio phones powered by solar energy. New mobile phone technology augments this system and is very popular in both urban and rural areas.  An alternative to the telephone service is the kwik piksa leta (quick picture letter), or fax. Fax machines can be used by members of the public as a service provided by many post offices.  Internet cafés are increasingly common, and offer other means of communication, using email and the World Wide Web.