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Rabaul Creole German
Native toPapua New Guinea
Native speakers
100+ (2014-2017)[1][2]
German-based creole
Language codes
ISO 639-3uln

Unserdeutsch ("Our German"), or Rabaul Creole German, is a German-based creole language that originated in Papua New Guinea as a lingua franca.[4][5] The substrate language is assumed to be Tok Pisin, while the majority of the lexicon is from German.[6] German was the language of instruction in Catholic mission schools, which is where the language originated and children residing in a German-run orphanage later used the language regularly outside of their classrooms.[7] The language developed into a first language for some when these children had families of their own.[8] Oral stories tell a version that Unserdeutsch originated by children sharing stories where they used German vocabulary with Tok Pisin grammar, this change in language is referred to as relexification.[9][10][2] The majority of Unserdeutsch speakers and their families migrated to Australia after Papua New Guinea's independence in 1975. During fieldwork conducted by researchers between 2014 and 2017, there were about 100 speakers found in Australia and around 10 speakers found in Papua New Guinea.[2][1] The language is no longer learned as a first language.[8]

Most speakers of Unserdeutsch are bilingual; speaking either Standard German, English, Tok Pisin or Kuanua. Most surviving speakers are middle-aged or older, although younger members of the community may comprehend the language. Unserdeutsch is likely a descendant of a pidginised form of Standard German which originated in the Gazelle Peninsula of New Britain during German colonial times among the Catholic mixed-race (Vunapope) community. With increased mobility and intermarriage, it has been disappearing in the last few decades.

Unserdeutsch presumably influenced the development of its neighbour, Tok Pisin. Unlike Namibian Black German in Namibia, it is a creole; indeed, it is the only creole that developed from colonial German.[11]

Further, Unserdeutsch is only composed of three characteristics movement rules, questions, question words according to Bickerton and his Bioprogram Hypothesis.[12]

alle boy-s raus schuv him boat
PL boy-PL get.out shove TR boat
German English German Ger/Eng English English

‘Everybody get out, shove the boat![7]


  1. ^ a b Unserdeutsch, Special Broadcasting Service, 16 March 2016
  2. ^ a b c Maitz, Peter; Volker, Craig Alan (2017). "Documenting Unserdeutsch: Reversing colonial amnesia" (PDF). Journal of Pidgin and Creole Languages. 32 (2): 376. doi:10.1075/jpcl.32.2.06mai.
  3. ^ Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin, eds. (2017). "Unserdeutsch". Glottolog 3.0. Jena, Germany: Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History.
  4. ^ Strazny, Philipp, ed. (2013). "Encyclopedia of Linguistics": 803 – via Chicago: Routledge. ProQuest Ebook Central.CS1 maint: Multiple names: authors list (link) CS1 maint: Extra text: authors list (link)
  5. ^ "Rabaul Creole German (Unserdeutsch)". University of Bern. Retrieved 11 March 2018.
  6. ^ Maitz, Peter, Craig Alan, Volker (2017). "Documenting Unserdeutsch Reversing Colonial Amneasia" (PDF). Journal of Pidgin and Creole Languages: 365–397.
  7. ^ a b Volker, Craig (1991). "The birth and decline of rabaul creole german". Journal of the Linguistic Society of Papua New Guinea 22 (1-2): 143.
  8. ^ a b Miyaoka, Osahito, Sakiyama, Osamu, and Krauss, Michael E. (2007). Vanishing Languages of the Pacific Rim. Oxford: Oxford University Press. p. 136.CS1 maint: Multiple names: authors list (link)
  9. ^ Volker, Craig. "The birth and decline of rabaul creole german". Journal of the Linguistic Society of Papua New Guinea. 22 (1-2): 143 – via UBC Okanagan.
  10. ^ Volker 1991
  11. ^ John Holm, 1989, Pidgins and Creoles, vol. 2: Reference Survey
  12. ^ Romaine, Suzanne, and Taylor & Francis (2017). Pidgin and creole languages. Abingdon: Routledge [Imprint]. p. 63.CS1 maint: Multiple names: authors list (link)

Further reading[edit]

  • Peter Mühlhäusler: Tracing the roots of pidgin German. In: Language and Communication, 4/(1)/1984, S. 27–57. ISSN 0271-5309
  • Craig A. Volker: Rabaul Creole German Syntax. In: Working Papers in Linguistics, University of Hawaii 21/1989, S. 153–189 (online)
  • Craig A. Volker: An Introduction to Rabaul Creole German (Unserdeutsch). unpublished Master thesis (1982), University of Queensland. (online)
  • Craig A. Volker: The birth and decline of Rabaul Creole German, Language and Linguistics in Melanesia. In: John Lynch (ed.): Oceanic studies : proceedings of the first international conference on oceanic linguistics Australian Nat. Univ., Canberra 1996, ISBN 0-85883-440-5 (online)

External links[edit]