Bislama: Pidgin English of Vanuatu


Waiting for communal lunch after Sunday church service in Tanna, Vanuatu.


Vanuatu is an archipelago in the Southern Pacific. It is composed of 80 plus islands ergo 80 plus beautiful coastlines for swimming and snorkeling. Be careful of the sharp corals though as they are slow to heal.

Its capital and biggest city is Port Vila in the island of Efate and is a frequent stop for cruise ships. It  is a typical small and quaint resort town. However, when the cruise ships roll in the prices of souvenir items in the island spikes up.

English, French and Bislama are widely spoken in the islands. This also means that there is a dual education system as the country was once ruled jointly by UK and France. So, some schools teach in English while others teach in French.

The natives, who are called ni-Van(uatu) speak in Bislama, a form of pidgin or creole English and a couple of indigenous dialects. With Bislama (bish-lama) they use a lot of blong and blo in between the sentences. It is said to use 95% words with English origin and the rest is French and the local dialects.

Bislama was developed during the Blackbirding era in the 1870's to 1880's wherein the natives were forced to work in the sugar plantations in Australia and Fiji. It developed from trying to communicate with other islanders and the European slave drivers. It is based on the "South Sea jargon" used by sailors and pirates.

Bislama comes from the French word, beche-de-mer or sea cucumber, an important export from the South Pacific those days.  Bislama is called Tok Pisin in Papua New Guinea and Pijin in the Solomon Islands.

I've mentioned earlier that Vanuatu has 83 islands but do you know that its population is only 250,000? But they speak 113 languages! This makes them of the most linguistically diverse places on earth!

Here are some Bislama phrases which I think are more useful than the ones written in the travel magazine:

  • Hello! Halo!  
  • How are you today? Olsen wanem the day? 
  • I'm good. Me good! 
  • I'm ok. I oraet nomo.
  • What is your name? Wanem olsen blo you? 
  • My name is... Name blo me... 
  • Good morning! Gud moning!
  • Good afternoon! Gud aftenun!
  • Good evening/night! Gud naet!
  • No. No kat.
  • Yes. Stret.
  • Mine. Blong me.
  • Yours. Blong you.
  • How much is this? Hamas long hemia?
  • Do you know...? Yu save...
  • Thank you! Tangkiu!
  • Thank you very much! Tangkiu tumas!
  • Good bye! Baibai! Tata!
  • Eat...Kakai...
  • Take care! Look at em coot you!
  • I love you.  Me lavem you!
Here are other words I learned but I think these are only useful if you are in Lowanatom, Tanna:
  • Good morning! Rawut laplipen! 
  • Good noon! Rawut latina! 
  • Good afternoon! Rawut lemankat! 
  • Good evening! Rawut lanayo
  • Pee. Pispis. 
  • Poo. Sitsit.
  • Diarrhea. Sitsit water.
Counting in Tanna:
  1. Karena
  2. Kiu
  3. Kisel
  4. Kuar
  5. Katilum
And we stop there as they only count up to five.

If you want to learn Bislama, these are good jump off sites for learning:

1. Bislama.org

The site offers a downloadable dictionary and e-mail addresses of their translators are posted as well. So if you need a contact in Vanuatu, these e-mail addresses will be handy.

2.  Pentecostisland.net

This site gives a practical guide on how to learn the language fast. The tips and tricks are really useful. The site also has a language guide for some dialects in the Pentecost Island like Raga (Hano), Apma, Sowa, Ske and Sa.  Sowa is an extinct language. Its last fluent speaker died in 2000. The others are endangered.

3.  Live Lengua Project

There are free US Peace Corps Bislama sources on the site. This includes e-books and audios. All of which are downloadable.


4. Dominicweb.eu

The site offers a downloadable dictionary of the Lenakel or Netwar language. This is a language spoken on the island of Tanna, predominantly in the vicinity of Lowanatom, Lowaneai, Ipai and Lokwaria.His site also has amazing photos and videos taken in the Ambrym, Lowanatom in Tanna, and Espiritu Santo in Port Olry as well as recordings of Catholic prayers in the local dialects.


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