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Evri samting you wantem save long Bislama be yu fraet tumas blong askem*

Do Not Climb in Bislama - Vanuatu (by Everything Everywhere)

First, I’d like to suggest the following to every college student who needs to satisfy a foreign language requirement to graduate, but doesn’t really want to study a language….

LEARN BISLAMA.

I was totally able to understand a conversation a man who was helping me had with a coworker. Only a few words were beyond my comprehension. Zero experience in the language.

To anyone who says it isn’t a language: 1) it is on the money in Vanuatu “Reserve Bank Blong Vanuatu“, 2) Its the national motto of Vanuatu “Long God yumi stanap” (I believe it means “We stand up for God”), 3) It is spoken in different forms in the Solomon Islands and Papua New Guinea, 4) The national anthem is in Bislama, 5) there is a bible written in Bislama.

Vanuatu has about 120,000 people and 100 languages. You read that right. They have a language for every 1,200 people. Moreover, it was colonized jointly by the British and French, so both are spoken widely on the island.

This sounds like a recipe for disaster. Think of the problems of Canada on steroids. Yet, in the 27 years of independence that Vanuatu has had, it has been relatively peaceful. I think one reason has been Bislama.

One thing I’ve noticed in the Pacific is that most people are bilingual. There is a good reason for this. In the case of Samoa or Tonga, there is a unified language in the country, but they also speak English as their conduit to the outside world. The same is true much of French Polynesia, but some islands speak slightly different variations and they speak French instead of English.

This allows them to get most of the benefits of the outside world. In school they have ample text books, they can watch TV stations from New Zealand or Australia, American movies, etc.

In the case of Fiji, English also serves as sort of a neutral language. Half the population speaks Hindi and half speaks Fijian. English gets them the same links to the outside world as in Samoa or Tonga, but the added benefit of having a common language between the different groups.

In Vanuatu, Bislama serves as the neutral language and English/French serve as the outside languages. From what I understand, outside of the Capital, not many people speak both French and English, so they can’t really be used as a neutral language as it is in Fiji.

You can almost think of languages in this region (and other places for that matter. India, Nigeria and Singapore all use English as a neutral language between many different language groups) as serving different levels

  1. The language you speak at home and in your village.
  2. The language you speak between villages and around the country.
  3. The language you speak to communicate with the outside world.

In Fiji, number 2 and 3 are the same. In Samoa and Tonga, number 1 and 2 are the same. In Vanuatu, they are all different. (I’m sure on the remote islands, some skip number 3 entirely).

There are similar English pidgin languages in the Solomons and Papua New Guinea too.

Here are some of my favorite words/phrases I’ve come across in Bislama (dirty words first of course):

  • Bra: Basket blong titi
  • Sexual Intercourse: Hambag
  • Diving Mask: daevaglas
  • Everything Everywhere:Evri samting Evri samwea
  • Helicopter:Mixmaster blong Jesus Christ
  • Piano: black fala box we igat black teeth, hemi gat white teeth you faetem hard I singout
  • Saw: Pulem I kam, pushem I go, wood I fall down

*Everything you wanted to know about Bislama but were afraid to ask
I ripped this title off from a book I purchased.

  • 9 Comments... What's your take?

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Comments

  1. McDingo says:

    To write “I walk with God”
    It is “mi wokabaot wetem God”
    Me walkabout with God
    God can also = Papa blong ol wol

    Wok means Work
    So “mi wok lo God” means I work form God
    Jisas

  2. Josh says:

    To leanne…..
    Mifala I wokwok wetem papa blo evan
    or in some places
    mifala I wok wetem masta
    it’s a very diverse language especially from rural to city blo vanuatu

  3. Josh says:

    Actually due long god yumi stanup means in god we stand
    long means in (in this case)
    god is god
    yumi is we
    stanup is stand
    but ye totally agree with u mate, Bislama is an easy language if u save English already. I’m a missionary in vanuatu and it only took me 6 months until I was speaking fluently

  4. jo says:

    this is awesome! having met some lovely people from vanuatu, i decided it was only right to try learning some of their language so we can meet halfway! so far, all i’ve managed is “lookem you” and “me no save tok tok bislama”. i’m hoping that last one will help get me out of any embarrassing mistakes! Don’t suppose anyone can suggest how to master the rolling r’s? This aussie tongue just can’t seem to get it!

  5. grace says:

    mi i stap wokwok wetem God

  6. Lee-Anne says:

    how do you write in Bislama – I walk with God

  7. Heidi says:

    The sentence for helicopter is fantastic, isn't it?

  8. ed says:

    Where would you go to get college credit? or were you just talking.

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About Gary Arndt

My name is Gary Arndt. In March 2007 I set out to travel around the world...
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