Book notice: Tok Pisin translation of the Bible

Harold Schiffman hfsclpp at
Wed May 9 15:10:46 UTC 2007

God i tok long yumi long Tok Pisin:
Eine Betrachtung der Bibelübersetzung in Tok Pisin vor dem Hintergrund der
sprachlichen Identität eines Papua-Neuguinea zwischen Tradition und Moderne

Institution: RWTH Aachen University
Program: Researches in Applied Linguistics
Dissertation Status: Completed
Degree Date: 2006

Author: Timo Lothmann

Dissertation Title: God i tok long yumi long Tok Pisin: Eine Betrachtung der
Bibelübersetzung in Tok Pisin vor dem Hintergrund der sprachlichen Identität
eines Papua-Neuguinea zwischen Tradition und Moderne

Subject Language(s): Tok Pisin

Dissertation Director:
Rudolf Beier

Dissertation Abstract:

Tok Pisin, a pidgin/creole language, serves as a lingua franca for the
majority of the population of Papua New Guinea. In 1989, a translation of
the complete Bible has been published. The main aim of this PhD thesis is
to validate in how far this Bible version, i.e. the Buk Baibel, meets the
self-imposed requirements of the translators regarding the functional range
and standardization of the Tok Pisin language used. Moreover, the question
of appropriate target orientation is raised. Is the Buk Baibel a
translation 'of quality,' thus suitable for the recipients in their spheres
of life? In connexion with this, the principle of functional equivalence
served as an idealistic, but nevertheless proven, effective and modern
methodological model for my analysis.

After providing an introduction to contact languages, the linguistic and
socio-historical development of Tok Pisin is depicted. Further, a chapter
on the specificities of Christianity in Papua New Guinea prepares for the
main part of the thesis. It starts out with the history of origins of the
Buk Baibel, including the theoretical framework of its translation and
preliminary language standardization efforts. Subsequently, the results of
an extensive linguistic analysis of several books of the Buk Baibel are
presented. A main conclusion is that a conservative, rural variety of Tok
Pisin is used throughout. By this means, a predominantly oral style was
realised by the translators who, thus, have created a linguistically
consistent and at the same time relevant Bible version for the intended
recipients. In the course of the translation enterprise, a Church Tok Pisin
register has been built up which contributes to the stylistic character of
the Bible. In this regard, the difficulties which can arise when
translating ideologically laden source texts are shown by means of numerous
text examples. The translators of the Buk Baibel have offered diverse
reading and comprehension aids which, besides the transparent usage of
language, serve to demystify the contents for Papua New Guinean audiences.

A survey of how the Buk Baibel is embedded in local networks is included.
In this respect, insights into Church practice on the spot gained from
fieldwork helped to substantiate the findings. A critical assessment of the
official language policy and the speakers' attitude towards 'their' Tok
Pisin adds to the analysis of the current position of Tok Pisin within the
complex social fabric of Papua New Guinea. Finally, the significance of the
Buk Baibel as a linguistic milestone vis-à-vis the anglicization trends in
the in situ media landscape is portrayed as well as the ongoing social
transformation which is modelled on a prestigious Western lifestyle. The
appendix contains a dictionary Tok Pisin--German.

The following hypotheses are verified:
1) Tok Pisin as the most important unifying element of a young
heterogeneous nation has changed massively the traditional linguistic
ecology on the spot. In this respect, the standardized and qualitatively
outstanding Bible translation into Tok Pisin has a retarding effect on the
'natural' development of the language.
2) Christianity as a religious/ideological superstructure has replaced many
functions of traditional belief systems in Papua New Guinea. Thus,
Christian Churches are a decisive element of social change. They have
become catalysts of the pragmatic interests of the individuals during their
postcolonial, increasingly secular quest for identity.
3) The complete Bible in Tok Pisin is a prerequisite for a vital and
autonomous indigenous Church. In this respect, missionaries and, last but
not least, Bible translators act as mediators between opposed worlds, i.e.
between indigenous traditions and mechanized modernity, or orality and

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