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28. Healing or Hilding?

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...Or about being careless with languages.

Sven speaks: There were (and still are) vast amounts of various tribal languages in Papua New Guinea. To enable contact and business, a pidgin language (Tok Pisin = Melanesian Pidgin) was constructed. Since it only covers about 3000 words, there are those who have the notion that the pidgin language is too simple to express yourself fully while speaking it. Of course, indeed it has very poor vocabulary in comparison to English and Swedish, but by using words in different ways and contexts, you can actually express everything you would want to say. There was an army colonel from Australia who used to teach officers in Papua New Guinea. At one point, he wrote an article in the local newspaper about the fact that some felt that it was not possible to undertake a higher education in Pidgin. In the article, he claimed that everything that could be expressed in English was also possible to express in Pidgin.

Unfortunately, a lot of missionaries, and even some nationals, have used English words where they should have used Pidgin. Now, I am not referring to borrowed words from other languages, but rather concepts that one could definitely say in Pidgin where English words are used instead. As there usually is a key word in a sentence, the whole sentence does not make sense for a person who can only speak Pidgin. Some missionaries do it because they do not understand better, but some do it because they are lazy since its equivalent explanation in Pidgin is much longer than the English term (usually). Some nationals, who know a little English, mix in some English expressions to show people just how clever they are. But the result is the same, that is, the sentences become incomprehensible for those who only understand Pidgin.


Hilding with some native friends

The following incident shows how crazy it can get. A female missionary in the Southern Highlands held a Bible study about the gift of healing. She was preaching in Pidgin but was also interpreted by someone who knew the local tribal language. In her sermon, she said, among other things, that when God sends someone to a new mission area He often lets the missionary use the gift of healing for people to come to faith. But she did not use the Pidgin word for healing, but used the English word “healing”. Hilding Eriksson was a well-known person in these parts and the interpreter heard and perceived the name of “Hilding” instead of “healing”. The missionary said: "When God wants us to start a new operation, he often uses healing." When the interpreter translated this, he added, "And Ludvig too." The interpreter believed that the missionary was talking about Hilding Eriksson. He then thought that you could not just forget to mention Hilding’s missionary companion, Ludvig Eriksson. This is a fun example of how crazy it can get if you do not express yourself correctly in Pidgin.

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