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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….
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
- The language you speak at home and in your village.
- The language you speak between villages and around the country.
- 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.