I know the language only has 'two' prepositions (though there seems to be a some dispute to that). Regardless, the two prepositions 'long' and 'bilong' seem to be quite broad in definition.

I do wonder though how this works in practice. Note that I've been having a hard time finding information about the language other than 'introductory' grammars. Like, has there been any major publications or translations in the language? Is the language so context sensitive that it doesn't work when written? Can you explain complex thoughts in it? Like, can you debate philosophy or science or what not. Does anyone speak nothing but Tok Pisin?

I'm asking this because there's lots of auxlangs out there that try to be minimalistic, with some rediculing languages that have more than Tok Pisin.

Of course, I know such a minimal list isn't always what it seems. Like Tagalog, which just marks everything on the verb. I think the Polynesian languages do this too to an extent. Essentially, the verb takes markings (well, I think the Polynesian languages use particles, but not like that's relevant) that give more precise meanings to the prepositions. For example, they only have one generic preposition for locations, they use affixes/particles to disambiguate whether the one locative preposition means 'in, on, outside of, etc...' But to my knowledge Tok Pisin doesn't do this. You just have to rely on context on common sense it seems to figure out the intended meaning.

  • Is it attached to verbs or something? Like Run+out Jan 31, 2018 at 8:12

2 Answers 2


According to the Tok Pisin Wikibook, Tok Pisin does have compound prepositions beyond the two "basic" prepositions.

There are two basic prepositions in Tok Pisin: bilong and long.

  • bilong is used for attribution. Examples: haus bilong mi, My home; Han bilong diwai, Arm of a tree; branch.
  • long is used as a universal preposition for other meanings.

Nevertheless, there is one other self standing preposition: wantaim, with.

There are also all kinds of compound prepositions like ananit long, under; insait long, in; antap long, on, above, etc.

So Tok Pisin does have more than two prepositions when there is a need to make a distinction between different ones.

However, a lack of prepositions doesn't necessarily mean that it's impossible to express complex philosophical ideas — it just means that the ideas are different than what we're used to. For instance, Ugaritic doesn't distinguish between motion towards ("to") and motion away ("from"), both being l /li/. But many cases in which it would be natural for an English speaker to say "to" use the preposition "with" (‘m /ʕimma/). I don't speak Tok Pisin, but the case could be similar here.

  • 2
    +1, I also thought about Ugaritic. Polysemy is of course very common with prepositions. In at some languages, there seem to be abstract nuances that are general for many usages. So Tyler and Evans 2003, The Semantics of English Prepositions: Spatial Scenes, Embodied Meaning, and Cognition. 37: "native speakers of both English and Dutch tend to recognize relationships between distinct meanings associated with the same spatial particle." But Ugaritic, and apparently Tok Pisin likewise, shows that this does not need to be the case. Context can disambiguate a lot.
    – Keelan
    Jan 31, 2018 at 11:05
  • This seems pretty similar to Japanese and Chinese. Japanese only has a few prepositions and spatial relationships will use one or two of them in combination with a noun. "no" is "of" and "ni" is "in, at, on". So "insait long X" would "X no naka ni". Chinese is pretty similar but uses verbs like "zai" and "you" with much the same characters Japanese uses but pronounced differently so something like "X li you". Apr 24, 2018 at 12:26
  • So why isn't 'insait' considered to be a preposition, as 'inside' can be?
    – amI
    Dec 3, 2018 at 18:37
  • @amI I am not an authority on the language, but I imagine "insait long" would be a prepositional phrase, like the English "on the other side of" where the preposition is "of."
    – b a
    Dec 3, 2018 at 19:54
  • That has nested PPs, as does "inside of". Why not see two prepositions there? Note that bilong (belong) is used for possessive 'of', and long (along) is used for other relationships (at, by, to, with, etc.), requiring another word to be specific. I just don't see why that other word isn't called a preposition too.
    – amI
    Dec 3, 2018 at 20:10

Besides the compounds as b_a explained, simple context will get you a long way. Below I have rewritten Sylvia Plath's prepositions using only long and bilong.

My grandfather and I had a standing joke. He was the head waiter bilong a country club bilong close my home town, and every Sunday my grandmother drove here long bring him home long his Monday off. My brother and I alternated going long, and my grandfather always served Sunday supper long my grandmother and whichever of us was there, long suppose we were regular club guests. He loved introducing me long special tidbits, and bilong age nine I had developed a passionate taste long cold vichyssoise and caviar and anchovy paste.

The joke was that long my wedding my grandfather would see I had all the caviar I could eat. It was a joke because I never intended long marry, and even if I did, my grandfather couldn't have afforded enough caviar unless he robbed the country club kitchen and carried it away long a suitcase.

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