Norfuk language

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Norfuk, Norf'k
RegionNorfolk Island
Native speakers
2,000 (2002–2017)[1]
6 on Lord Howe Island[2]
English–Tahitian creole
Official status
Official language in
 Norfolk Island[3]
Language codes
ISO 639-3pih Pitcairn-Norfolk
Glottologpitc1234  Pitcairn-Norfolk
Norfuk is classified as Vulnerable by the UNESCO Atlas of the World's Languages in Danger

Norfuk (Pitcairn-Norfolk: Norfuk) (increasingly spelt Norfolk) or Norf'k[4] is the language spoken on Norfolk Island (in the Pacific Ocean) by the local residents. It is a blend of 18th-century English and Tahitian, originally introduced by Pitkern-speaking settlers from the Pitcairn Islands. Along with English, it is the co-official language of Norfolk Island.[5][6]

Norfuk has always been a linguistic cant.[7] As travel to and from Norfolk Island becomes more common, Norfuk is falling into disuse.[8] Efforts are being made to restore the language to more common usage, such as the education of children, the publication of English–Norfuk dictionaries, the use of the language in signage, and the renaming of some tourist attractions – most notably the rainforest walk "A Trip Ina Stik" – to their Norfuk equivalents. In 2007, the United Nations added Norfuk to its list of endangered languages.[9]


In the 1970s, the Norfolk community and specialists from mainland Australia noted that the Norfuk language was falling into decline and talks about how to implement Norfolk into the school system were under way.[10] At this point in time, Norfuk did not have a standardized writing system as it was mostly an oral language. Several other individuals and groups took it upon themselves to help craft the necessary tools to help promote the Norfolk language. One of the first noted instances in which Norfolk was being taught in schools was in the 1980s, by Faye Bataille. Additionally, the Society of the Descendants of Pitcairn Islanders was founded in 1977 and they proved to be a large driving force for the campaign to include Norfuk language as a teachable subject in schools.[10]

The first Norfolk dictionary was compiled in 1986 by Beryl Nobbs-Palmer.[10] It was titled A Dictionary of Norfolk words and usages and contained examples of words in the Norfuk language and how to use them.

The book Speak Norfuk Today was written by Alice Buffett and Dr Donald Laycock. It is an encyclopedia incorporating a large majority of the information about the Norfuk language and was one of the first instances in which the orthography of Norfuk was documented.[10]

Norfuk became a language of Norfolk Island in 2004 by virtue of the Norfolk Island Language (Norf'k) Act 2004 passed by the island's legislative assembly.[11][4]

In 2018, Eve Semple and colleagues received a grant from the Australian Research Council, in order to promote and facilitate revival.[12]

Relationship to Pitkern[edit]

Norfuk is descended predominantly from the Pitkern (Pitcairnese or Pi'kern) spoken by settlers from the Pitcairn Islands. The relative ease of travel from English-speaking countries such as Australia and New Zealand to Norfolk Island, particularly when compared with that of travel to the Pitcairn Islands, has meant that Norfuk 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.


Norfuk has been classified as an Atlantic Creole language,[13] despite the island's location in the Pacific Ocean, because of the heavy influence of Ned Young, a Saint Kitts Creole-speaker, and his role as a "linguistic socializer" among the first generation of children born on Pitcairn.[14]

The language is closely related to Pitkern but has no other close relatives other than its parent tongues of English and Tahitian. It is generally considered that English has had more of an influence upon the language than Tahitian, with words of Tahitian extraction being confined largely to taboo subjects, negative characterisations, and adjectives indicating that something is undesirable.[15]

Many expressions which are not commonly used in modern English that are spoken in most areas of the world carry on in Pitkern. These expressions include words from British maritime culture in the age of sailing ships. The influence of Seventh-day Adventist Church missionaries and the King James Version of the Bible are also notable.

In the mid-19th century, the people of Pitcairn resettled on Norfolk Island; later, some moved back. Most speakers of Pitkern today are the descendants of those who stayed. Pitkern and Norfuk dialects are mutually intelligible, but differ significantly in vocabulary and grammar.[16]

The Norfolk language is ordered in subject verb object.[17]


One target sounds Two target sounds
group 1 group 2
i e ʌʊ
ɪ o ɑɪ
ɛ ɔɪ


The language is largely a spoken rather than written language,[19] and there is a lack of standardisation.[15] However, a number of attempts have been made at developing an orthography for the language. Early attempts either attempted to enforce English spelling onto the Norfuk words,[20] or used diacritical marks to represent sounds distinct to the language.

Alice Buffett, a Norfolk Island parliamentarian and Australian-trained linguist, developed a codified grammar and orthography for the language in the 1980s, assisted by Dr Donald Laycock, an Australian National University academic. Their book, Speak Norfuk Today, was published in 1988. This orthography has won the endorsement of the Norfolk Island government, and its use is becoming prevalent.[21]


The language itself does not have words to express some concepts, particularly those having to do with science and technology. Some Islanders believe that the only solution is to create a committee charged with creating new words in Norfuk rather than simply adopting English words for new technological advances. For example, Norfuk recently adopted the word kompyuuta, a Norfuk-ised version of computer. Processes similar to this exist in relation to other languages around the world, such as the Māori language in New Zealand and the Faroese and Icelandic languages. Some languages already have official bodies, such as New Zealand's Māori Language Commission or France's Académie française, for creating new words.[22]

Norfuk vocabulary has been heavily influenced by the history of Norfolk Island. Many words were created for specific animals or plants on the island and the way in which these things are named is unique to the Island of Norfolk.[23] For example, many fish that are indigenous to the island were named either by the people who caught them or by whoever received them after dividing the catch.[23] One such instance is the naming of the fish Sandford which received its name by a man named Sandford Warren after receiving the fish as his share.[23]

Personal pronouns[edit]

Norfuk pronouns[7]
Subject Object Possessive Predicate
1sg ai mii mais main
2sg yu yuu yus yoen
3sg.masc hi hem his
3sg.fem shi her hers
1du.excl.masc miienhem auwas miienhis
1du.excl.fem miienher miienhers
1du.incl himii himiis
2du yutuu yutuus
3du demtuu demtuus
1pl wi aklan auwas
2pl yorlyi yorlyis
3pl dem dems

There is also et for 'it' in its object form.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Norfolk at Ethnologue (25th ed., 2022) closed access
  2. ^ "2016 Census QuickStats: Lord Howe Island".
  3. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 25 July 2008. Retrieved 12 January 2022.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  4. ^ a b Norfolk Island Language (Norf'k) Act 2004 [Act No. 25 of 2004]
  5. ^ The Dominion Post. 21 April 2005. p. B3. {{cite news}}: Missing or empty |title= (help)
  6. ^ "Save our dialect, say Bounty islanders". The Daily Telegraph. 19 April 2005. Archived from the original on 10 December 2005. Retrieved 6 April 2007.
  7. ^ a b 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
  8. ^ Feizkhah, Elizabeth (6 August 2001), "Keeping Norfolk Alive", TIME Pacific, archived from the original on 13 October 2005
  9. ^ "UN adds Norfolk language to endangered list". ABC News. Retrieved 5 May 2013.
  10. ^ a b c d Mühlhäusler, Peter (2007). "The Pitkern-Norf'k language and education". English World-Wide. 28 (3): 215–247. doi:10.1075/eww.28.3.02muh.
  11. ^ Velupillai, Viveka (15 April 2015). Pidgins, Creoles and Mixed Languages: An Introduction. Amsterdam. ISBN 9789027268846. OCLC 900333013.{{cite book}}: CS1 maint: location missing publisher (link)
  12. ^ "Preserving and reviving language and culture of Norfolk Island". Research Data Australia. Retrieved 31 October 2021.
  13. ^ Avram, Andrei (2003). "Pitkern and Norfolk revisited". English Today. 19 (1): 44–49. doi:10.1017/S0266078403003092. S2CID 144835575.
  14. ^ Mühlhäusler, Peter. Expert Report on the Distinctiveness of Norfolk Islander Ethnicity, Culture and the Norf'k Language (Norfolk Island — South Pacific) (PDF) (Report). pp. 104, 109.
  15. ^ a b Ingram, John; Mühlhäusler, Peter, Norfolk Island-Pitcairn English (Pitkern Norfolk) (PDF), archived from the original (PDF) on 25 February 2009, retrieved 20 April 2020, 2006
  16. ^ Hogan-Brun, Gabrielle; O’Rourke, Bernadette (11 December 2018). The Palgrave Handbook of Minority Languages and Communities. Springer. p. 535. ISBN 978-1-137-54066-9.
  17. ^ Daval-Markussen, Aymeric (2015). "Book Review: 2013. The Atlas of Pidgin Creole Language Structures, edited by Michaelis Susanne Maria, Philippe Maurer, Martin Haspelmath and Magnus Huber". Journal of Language Contact. 8 (2): 430–434. doi:10.1163/19552629-00802008.
  18. ^ Harrison, Shirley (1972). The language of Norfolk Island. p. 18.
  19. ^ Buffett, Alice, An Encyclopædia of the Norfolk Island Language, 1999
  20. ^ Buffett, Alice, An Encyclopædia of the Norfolk Island Language, 1999, p. xvi
  21. ^ Buffett, David E., An Encyclopædia of the Norfolk Island Language, 1999, p. xii
  22. ^ "Norfolk Online News". Archived from the original on 17 December 2013.
  23. ^ a b c Nash, Joshua; Mühlhäusler, Peter (2014). "Linking language and the environment: the case of Norf'k and Norfolk Island". Language Sciences. 41: 26–33. doi:10.1016/j.langsci.2013.08.004.

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