Thursday, 12 November 2009

How I got to know about Unserdeutsch

I was lucky enough to be the first linguist to document Rabaul Creole German/Unserdeutsch. In the late 1970s I was teaching German at Miami State High School on the Queensland Gold Coast in Australia. A new student, Yvonne, came to be registered at the school who wanted to take German. As usual, I spoke with her in German to see just how much German she spoke-- foreign language teaching standards varied greatly in Australian schools. I was surprised at how fluent her accent was and how comfortable she was trying to speak German, but how unusual her grammar was. When I asked where she had studied German, she said she had never studied it, but that her family spoke it "at home".

As she was a Black girl and "at home" was Papua New Guinea, this was a big surprise. I was a masters student in German at the University of Queensland with a strong interest in German dialects spoken by European emigrants in places like North America and Australia, but I had never heard of a German settler dialect spoken in Papua New Guinea.

As I got to know Yvonne and her family, I learned that this was a language very similar to Tok Pisin (PNG Pidgin English). They were kind enough to introduce me to other members of their community and to prepare me for a visit to Rabaul for fieldwork. I knew I had a topic for my thesis. I did not know how meeting Yvonne would change my life, as PNG became my home and the focus of my professional and personal lives.


  1. Friedel Martin FroweinThursday, 19 November, 2009

    Oh, you never told me this story. I always thought some Professor knew about it and sent you to PNG! This must have been so exciting!

  2. Yeah, it really was exciting once I realised that this was an entirely undocumented language. Serendipitous!

  3. Hi Craig,

    I'm Shiva, a friend of Jalal's from Adelaide. I study linguistics, on exchange at the Universität Stuttgart this semester, taking a class in contact linguistics and I'm doing my major paper on Unserdeutsch. The world is a small place! I must have been around some of these speakers while I was up in Cairns.. And Dr Mühlhäusler teaches at my university at home...

    Anyway, I found this page while looking around for info and thought I'd let you know that I am currently devouring your work !

    And agreed, your story does get points for exciting-ness :)