In the late 19th century at the height of the practice of Blackbirding, thousands of Ni-Vanuatu were forced to work on plantations in Australia and Fiji. With several languages being spoken in these plantations, a form of pidgin English was developed, combining English vocabulary with grammatical structures typical of languages in the region. This early plantation pidgin is the origin not only of Bislama, but also of Tok Pisin of Papua New Guinea and Pijin of the Solomon Islands.
This pidgin started spreading over the Vanuatu archipelago at the turn of the 20th century, as the survivors of Blackbirding began to come back to their native islands. Knowledge of this pidgin would facilitate communication not only with European traders and settlers, but also between native populations of remote islands within the archipelago.
Ni-Vanuatu began to add their own words and pronunciation (today 95% of Bislama is based on English, with a few dozen French words and ‘island language’ thrown in).
Over the past century or so, Bislama has evolved to what is currently spoken and written in Vanuatu.
In order to understand Bislama, common advice is to throw in the words "long" and "blong" a few times every sentence and you'll just about have It.
Stoa kolosap long haos: The store next to the house.
Mi bin stap long ples ia bifo: I have stayed at this place before. Breakdown of the sentence:
- "Mi" means "I"
- "bin" is a past tense marker, indicating that the action happened in the past.
- "stap" means "staying" or "living."
- "long" is a preposition that means "in" or "at."
- "ples" means "place."
- "ia" is a demonstrative marker that can mean "this" or "that" depending on the context.
- "bifo" means "before" or "previously."
Mi stap long stoa: I am at the store.
Jea long haos: The chair in the house.
Buk blong mi: The book that belongs to me, my book
Man Amerika: Man from America, American.
Hemi woman blong saiens: She is a woman of science, she is a scientist.
Here's a few other phrases to get you going on your journey to discovering this fascinating and fun new language.
- How much is that? Hamas long hem?
- How much is this? Hamas long hemia?
- Do you know..? Yu save (pronounced savvy)
- I don’t know. Mi no save
- This is broken Samting ia hemi bugarup or Samting ia i brok
- The best Nambawan
- How are you? Olsem wanem
- I'm okay la oreat
- Water Wota
- Drinking water Freswota
- Ocean Solwota
- Full / too much Fulap
- Thank you Tankyu
- Thank you very much Tankyu tumas
- My name is... Nem blong mi
- What time does the plane land? Wanem taem plen ia lan?
- Food/eat Kai Kai
- Dictionary Diksonari