languages in Papua New Guinea

Do You Know Which Country Uses over 800 Languages?

Would it surprise you that Papua New Guinea has over 800 languages?  This small, relatively obscure nation, is home to unprecedented language diversity.  Read on to find out more information about that. We’ll also discuss how this linguistic phenomenon came to be, as well as what it means for business owners, interpreters, and translators.

Languages in Papua New Guinea

Nobody is surprised to hear that residents of China and the US speak many languages because both countries are large and highly populated. But it’s not just the size of the country or its population that determines how many languages are spoken.  There’s a country in the Pacific Ocean the size of the state of California that speaks over 800 languages! In fact, Papua New Guinea is known for being the most linguistically diverse place on Earth. Why are there are so many languages spoken there? The first factor is the age of the country itself.  Papua New Guinea was occupied by people for over 40,000 years, so it’s easy to imagine how many humans were settled there with a native language.  Nowadays Papuan people speak 3 official languages: English, Hiri Motu and Tok Pisin (or New Guinea Pidgin.)  The second reason Papua New Guinea is so linguistically diverse is that it was actually divided into 2 separate colonies ruled to be two different countries: Papua, ruled by Brits and New Guinea, ruled by Germany.  Lastly, even before Western colonization, the geography of Papua New Guinea encouraged people to live in separate, discrete communities.

Business in Papua New Guinea

If you are opening a business or running a conference on the island, you’ll need to have all your materials translated into each of the Papuans’ official languages. You’ll need to use local translation services to achieve this goal accurately and if you host an event, you’ll need interpreting services to provide linguistic access for speakers of any of these 3 languages.  Furthermore, businesses seeking to connect with Papua New Guinean clients cannot simply translate their materials into the 3 official languages.  Businesses must should also utilize localization services for their marketing materials.  Though the island is small, the profusion of languages spoken there also means a profusion of cultures that you’ll want to consider as you try to appeal to the diverse residents of this country.

Interpretation and Translation in Papuan Languages

From an interpreter’s and translator’s point of view, working in Papua New Guinea is one giant work opportunity.  There’s a great deal of translation services, legal translation, medical translation, and interpretation services needed in a country with over 800 spoken languages. If this interests you and you’re bilingual (or trilingual, etc.), you can attend language interpreter courses. You can also select the appropriate course that is more suitable, for instance, Portuguese translation, if you think that Portuguese is a language that you should focus on.  It can be hard for interpreters and translators to choose a language to focus on from over 800 choices.  However, it’s certainly recommended to study interpretation or translation for at least one of the official languages (which are English, Hiri Motu and Tok Pisin). It can be helpful to research and find out which languages are more in use especially in fields that will pay money for translators or interpreters. Hiri Motu may be a worse bet since it’s now a language that is primarily spoken by the elderly.  Meanwhile, Tok Pisin would be a great choice to focus on as an interpreter or translator since it’s a first language for many people. Some public documents are produced partially or entirely in Tok Pisin, and it is also taught in elementary school.


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