What Languages Are Spoken In Papua New Guinea?

Papua New Guinea is one of the most linguistically diverse countries on Earth.
Papua New Guinea is one of the most linguistically diverse countries on Earth.

Papua New Guinea is an Oceanian country, occupying the eastern half of the New Guinea Island. It established its sovereignty in 1975 after 60 years of Australian administration. The country, including its islands, covers an area of approximately 178,704 square miles and has a population of about 7 million people. Papua Guinea is a culturally diverse country, boasting of 856 known languages, with 12 languages having no known living speakers. It is the most linguistically diverse country in the world, accounting for 12% of the world’s total languages. However, most of the languages have less than 1,000 speakers, with the most popular language spoken by approximately 200,000 people. There are over 820 indigenous languages spoken in Papua New Guinea. The Indigenous languages are classified into two categories Austronesia and non-Austronesia languages.

Official Languages Of Papua New Guinea

Papua New Guinea adopted four official languages after independence. These official languages are English, Tok, sign language, and Hiri Motu. Of the four official languages, Tok Pisin is the most frequently used language for business and government activities. At least two official languages are used in most of the institutions around the country. The official languages are used to promote unity and enhance communication in the country. Despite adopting only 4 out of the over 850 languages as the official languages, the lack of state recognition has not quashed the other languages.


English is one of the official languages spoken in the country. However, it is spoken by about 100,000 people or 1-2% of the population. English was introduced into the country as part of the Indo-European language by the Australians who colonized it for some time. English is mainly spoken by migrants and expatriates working in the country. Most of the government communications and publications are often made in English. English is also the main language in the education system. The English language has evolved over time to form some of the most popular languages in the country including Tok Pisin and Hiri Motu languages.

Tok Pisin

Tok Pisin is a Creole language that evolved from English. It is one of the four official languages of Papua New Guinea and the most widely spoken language in the country. About five million people in the country can use Tok Pisin to some extent, although not all speak it fluently. Perhaps one million people are using Tok Pisin as their first language, particularly the urban families. The language is also slowly crowding out other languages spoken in the country. Tok Pisin is often used in parliamentary debates and some of the public information campaign. Some of the schools in the country use Tok Pisin language alongside English in the early years of elementary education to promote early literacy.

Hiri Motu

Hiri Motu is also among the officially recognized languages of Papua New Guinea and a simplified version of Motu. The language is sub-divided into two dialects - Austronesian and Papuan. The two dialects are derived from the Motu language. Papuan language was used as a standard for official publication from 1964 and was widely spoken during the heyday. However, since the early 1970s, the use of Hiri Motu has been gradually declining due to the growing popularity of English and Tok Pisin.


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