When Vanuatu became an independent country in 1980, they needed an official language for everyone to speak. This was not an easy task, as Vanuatu is the most linguistically rich country in the world, with over 100 distinct languages! That ruled out all of the indigenous languages, because each of those is only spoken by a small population in a small area. Then, there are English and French, because, like Canada, Vanuatu was colonized by those two countries. That means two school systems- so depending on which school someone went to, they speak either one or the other. The Vanuatu government did not want to favour one language over the other, because that would mean favouring some niVans over others. That ruled out English and French.
That’s how they decided on Bislama, a “Pidgin” or “Creole” English (language based on a simplified version of English), with some French mixed in. It is part of the Pacific Creole language group, which also includes the Pijin of the Solomon Islands, and the Tok Pisin of Papua New Guinea (PNG).
Bislama (say Bishlama) originated during the “Blackbirding” years, the 1870s and ’80s. My dad talked about this in his entry: Vanuatu: Why are they so happy? It was pretty much enslaved niVans being forced to work on sugar cane plantations in Fiji and Australia. NiVans, Solomon Islanders, and Papua New Guineans from different islands had to work together, but they all spoke different languages! That’s why a Creole English language emerged, and later evolved into different dialects in different countries.
Very surprisingly, Bislama is extremely similar to Krio, the Pidgin of Sierra Leone in West Africa (my dad spent time there). That is still a mystery to us!
NiVans in urban areas mostly learn Bislama first, and most people in the rural areas learn it as a second language. In Canada, speaking two languages is good, and speaking three is amazing. In Vanuatu, most people speak their native language, Bislama, either English or French, and sometimes the native language of their mother or spouse! Speaking 3-4 languages is no big deal.
I think that choosing Bislama as their official language was a very smart choice. It allows niVans from different islands to communicate, and it also helps communication between Vanuatu and other South Pacific countries. It makes it much easier to go to University or travel in Solomon Is. or PNG. It’s very useful, but it’s also a lot of fun to speak and read! Now I’m going to give you a mini Bislama lesson. Bae mi givim yufala wan smol lesson blong Bislama!
The pronunciation of Bislama is very easy. Once you know the basics, there are no exceptions. Vowels:
A= like in the word after
E= like in the word melt
O= like in the word no
The consonants are pronounced the same as in English, with a couple of exceptions:
J= “ch”, so chest is spelled Jes. Jake is a very difficult name to say in Bislama- one girl we met called him “Cha”!
S= “sh”, so Bislama is pronounced Bishlama.
The most important words you need to know in Bislama are blong and long. They appear in almost all sentences, often multiple times. These words are everywhere!
Blong originates from the English word belong. It is used for:
example: Taro blong mi, The taro that belongs to me/ My taro.
-and a bunch of other things, too!
I named this blog entry Blog Blong Bislama, Blog of Bislama.
Blong often gets shortened to blo.
Long is used for distance, location or position. Some examples:
-Taek mi long Luganville (Take me to Luganville)
-Kaia stap long haos (Kaia is inside the house)
-Mi bin kukum long ples ia bifo (I have cooked at this place before)
Long is often shortened to Lo.
Here are some more Bislama expressions we liked:
Hello, How are you? = Halo, olsem wanem?
I’m good = i stret nomo (it’s straight no more) *Jake’s favourite
What’s your name? = Wanem nem blong yu?
My name is Kaia = Nem blong mi Kaia
Where are you from? = Wanem ples yu blong? (Which place do you belong)
I am a Canadian girl = Mi wan gel Canada
Goodbye! = Ale Tata!
Children = pikinini
Thank you very much! = tank yu tumas! (Thank you too much)
eat/food/bite = Kaekae
I like this food very much! = Mi laekem kaekae tumas! *Cam’s favourite
Us/We = Mifala (my fellas)
You (plural) = Yufala (your fellas)
You and me = yumi
everyone = evriwan
ocean = solwota (salt water)
Sea plane = Plen blong solwota *Yvonne’s favourite
Sightseeing = lukluk ples * Kaia’s favourite
No smoking in public transport = Tabu blong smok long pablik transpot
Do not wake chickens! = koaiet! no noes! yu no wekem jikin! (Quiet! No noise! you don’t wake chickens!) *All-around best
Tank yu tumas blong ridim blog blong Bislama! Ale tata long evriwan!