In 1957, fieldworker, Elwyn Flint, an Australian linguist from the University of Queensland, visited Norfolk Island. He conducted some of the first in-depth scientific investigation into the language of the island.
When Flint first began recording, his subjects invariably slipped into standard English; even when speaking to each each other in his presence, they found it difficult to maintain a flowing conversation. Theirs was a private language; English was used with outsiders… To overcome their hesitation, the islanders agreed to speak with each other into the tape recorder without Flint present at all, collaborating to produce conversation topics, scenarios, and loose scripts to follow in his absence. Their topics ranged from the imaginative to the mundane: the recent centennial celebrations, the whaling industry that had once driven the island’s economy, the appearance of a ghostly apparition, and so on. The tapes are full of stops and starts, of mumbles and hesitant statements as well as brashness and laughter—these were improvised performances.