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UN moves to preserve Bounty mutineers' lingo

Norfolk Island patois under threat

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The United Nations has thrown its weight behind a campaign to preserve the unique patois of Norfolk Island - a legacy of the Bounty mutiny comprising a mixture of platt Deutsch, Tahitian, and 18th-century English.

According to the Telegraph, "Norf'k" or "Norfuk" is spoken by around half of the South Pacific island's 2,000 inhabitants who are descended from the mutineers. The Bounty ne'er-do-wells settled in 1790 on Pitcairn Island, but by 1856 overcrowding forced a relocation to Norfolk.

Norfolk Island now forms part of Oz, but "maintains a fiercely separate identity, including a different flag and national anthem". However, its unique language is under pressure from Australian and New Zealand TV, and the growing tendency for Norfolk Islanders to marry outsiders.

Furthermore, the language was in the past regarded as "an embarrassingly backward patois", and kids who used it were suitably punished. However, it has enjoyed something of a revival, with Norfolk's only school rolling out nursery rhymes and word games to teach the island's 310 children handy phrases such as "Whutta-waye?" (How are you?) and "I gut ar hillie" (I'm in a lazy mood).

The Islanders' determination to preserve their lingo has now got the backing of Unesco, which will include it the next edition of its "Atlas of the World's Languages in Danger of Disappearing".

Norfolk Island chief minister Andre Nobbs said: "The advice from Unesco is a significant step in building recognition of the unique language and culture of Norfolk Island. It is one of the rarest languages in the world."

Government spokesman Peter Maywald added: "It gives us more clout in terms of protecting the language. It's now undergoing a renaissance. People are more interested in their culture and historical roots than they were before."

The Telegraph explains that Norfuk's "broad burr evokes West Country English", but it is "incomprehensible to English speakers". A nice example can be found on the Norfolk Island website, which reads:

Norfolk Telecom Foenkaad
Dieh kaad es uni f'dem kaad foen orn Norfuk - kaa yuuset enisaid aels. Dem punch hoel shoe baut hau mach mani laef in. Dieh kaad uni el yuuset f'ring weih from Norfuk.

For those of you who don't speak Norfuk, this translates as:

Norfolk Telecom Phonecard
This card is for Card Phones on Norfolk Island only. Punched holes show approximate credit remaining. For international calls only.

So now you know. ®

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