Broken English — a song

Since 1992 Peace Corps Writers has annually recognized the outstanding writing of Peace Corps Volunteers both returned and still in service. One of the awards is the Peace Corps Experience Award given to the writer of a short piece that best captures the experience of being a Peace Corps Volunteer. We are sharing the past Peace Corps Experience Award winners with our Peace Corps Worldwide readers. In 1993 the winner was a song by Greg Horn.

Broken English — a song

by Greg Horn
(Papua New Guinea 1991-92)

Now your friends have all gone and the parlor is empty
‘cept for me in this chair with a book full of words
and your thoughts and your deeds, they all come back to claim you
’cause no one’s understood anything they just heard.
So you try to explain in your broken English
’bout the rivers of pain that keep crossing your mind
but they’re too wide to cross and they’re too deep to see through
and I’m not really sure what you want me to find.


But please, I don’t want to go
and please, I just gotta know
if I should put out the light
when I get done for the night.

There are times when you think that there’s nobody watching
when you stand by the mirror in front of your bed
and your lips spit out all kinds of useful directions
but I can’t understand anything that you’ve said.
I try to follow along with your broken English.
I pretend that I know what you’re trying to say,
keep in mind I’m in somebody else’s country
and I’m not really sure who got lost on the way.

(Repeat chorus)

Tasol bai mi tingim orait sapos uu stap,
sapos yu stap isi, stap isi wantaim mi.
Yumipela bai singim ol gutpela singsing.
Nau yu kutim lewa, kutim lewa b’long mi.*

(Repeat chorus)

* Translation
But it would be all right if only you’d stay,
if only you’d stay and be with me.
We would sing all the wonderful songs,
but now you’re breaking my heart, breaking my heart.

One Comment

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  • I delighted in seeing the song and translation but admit being shocked that you consider Tok Pisin broken English. It’s a language with many English words, true, but mostly Melanesian grammar. One of the most moving plays I have seen in my life was presented in Port Moresby completely in this language.

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