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date: 05 March 2021

Abstract and Keywords

As a creole language developed from an English-lexifier pidgin, the varieties of Melanesian Pidgin English (MPE) are traditionally viewed as consequences of a particular kind of language contact: processes of pidgin-creole (PC) language development. Studies have highlighted the legacy and impact of both indigenous ‘substrate’ languages and ongoing contact with the lexifier that operated as a social ‘superstrate’ in the Solomon Islands, post–World War II New Guinea, and parts of Vanuatu. Stepping outside the debates of pidgin and creole studies, however, MPE provides an incredibly rich and diverse field of study from which to consider language contact phenomena: from the initial contact context of the South Pacific whaling ships and beche la mer and sandalwood traders moving from New South Wales across the islands, to the incredible multilingual melting pot of the plantations in Samoa, Queensland, and Fiji, to the stabilization of Tok Pisin in German-controlled New Guinea between 1880 and 1918 and the substantial Austronesianization of the early jargon, through the impact of shared proto-Oceanic features on the developing language, and the eventual establishment of the currency of this regional lingua franca as previous colonial dominions achieved independence in the last quarter of the twentieth century. Today, MPE varieties are once more under scrutiny as test beds for theories of decreolization: with ongoing contact with English resulting in changes, apparent destabilization, and the possible development of new varieties.

Keywords: language, Tok Pisin, English, Oceanic, Melanesian, Tolai, continuum

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