Bislama is the language of Vanuatu (here is an extract from the Vanuatu Tourism Site) 

Because of a long history of inter island and inter village trading, many ni-Vanutau speak numerous languages. However, over 113 distinct languages and many more dialects are found throughout the group.When Europeans arrived, a lingua franca evolved. It's name, Bislama, derived from the Bech-der-mer (sea cucumber) traders who developed a form of pidgin English throughout the Pacific. It began as a simplified form of phonetic English, with Spanish, French and colloquialisms added for good measure. As with all languages, it soon took on a life of its own, borrowed then incorporated new words and evolved. Today, although similar to Solomon and New Guinea pidgin, it is nevertheless distinctive.

Bislama, though phonetically English with a broad acccent, is grammatically simpler. Everything, including women, are spoke of in the masculan (political correctness having not yet come into play !) Being a simpler language means that complex ideas or new concepts must be described functionally. The results are descriptions and stories can be a great deal longer than if told in English.

Spoken Bislama is relatively easy to understand if the speaker is slow and enunciates the phrases. Written Bislama is also relatively easy to comprehend. However, in the same way that a Welch barman may have absolutely no trouble in undertsanding your spoken English, and Australian or American may have great difficulty understanding the barman, simply because of a strong accent.

There are some key words that are used in most sentences:

  • Blong: literally - belong. It is used in reference to any noun which has a possesive relationship with any other noun. Example:
    • Pikikini blong mi = literally child belong me (my child)
    • pikinini blong kanu = literally pikinini (the outrigger) belonging to the canoe
    • Laet blong trak = literally light belong truck, a light on a truck
    • finga blong tri - literally finger belong tree, branches of a tree
    • bras blong tut = literally brush belong tooth (toothbrush)

  • Long: literally meaning from, to, in, on; in association with something, but not in possesive sense.. Example:
    • Pikinini i go long skul = literally pikinini he go toschool
    • pikinini blong kanu = literally pikinini (the outrigger) belonging to the canoe
    • truk i kam long hotel = vehicle he come from (a/the) hotel
    • finga blong tri - literally finger belong tree, branches of a tree
    • tri i foldaon long trak = tree he fall down on (the) vehicle

In vocabulary, most object groupings are simplified.

Thus, all motorised vehicles are truks, all birds are pidjins, all creatures in the sea are fis. To distinguish the differences in these groupings, their relationship to size or the enviroment is used, or a description is given, rather than a distinctive name. Example:

  • bigfala trak = big fella truck (large truck)
  • smol trak = small car
  • trak blong doti = truck belong dirty (garbage truck)
  • pidgin blong solwota = bird belonging to the saltwater, eg tern, pelican, duck etc.
  • pidjin blong bus = all birds belonging to the bush
  • kaofis = cow fish (dugong)
  • manfis = man fish (dolphin)
  • Fis i gat naef long tel blong hem = literally fish he got knife on tail belong him (surgeon fish)

Personal pronouns are simplified: I, me, myself, becomes simply mi. Example:

  • Mi go long skul = I go to school
  • Trak blong mi = my vehicle
  • mi wan nomo mi go long truk = I went by myself in the vehicle.

Historically, some objects were so unfamiliar to everyday use that their functions were described in full. The classic example is a piano:

    Wan bigfala blak bokis hemi gat waet tut mo hemi gat blak tut, sipos yu kilim smol, hemi singaot gud.
    Literally; One big fella black box, him he got white tooth and (or more/in addition to) him he got black tooth, suppose you kill him small (strike or hit lightly) him he sing out good.

For everyday use, you will come across the following words or phrases:

  • One/ two / three - wan / tu / tri
  • plenty or many - plenti
  • filled to capacity / overfilled - fulap / fulap tumas (too much)
  • me / you - mi / yu
  • him / her / it (neither masculine nor femenin)///this here - hem /// hemia
  • us /we / all of us - mifala / mifala evriwan
  • you / you (plural) - yu / yufala
  • Day / evening / night - dei / sava (literally supper) / naet
  • hot / cold - hot / kol
  • I am ill/ my stomach (belly) is sore - mi harem no gud/bel blong mi i soa
  • What / what is that - wanem / wanem ia (literally wanem here?)
  • Why / why did you - frowanem (for why?)
  • Water / Drinking water / cold water / ocean - wota / freswoto / kolwota / solwota (also dipsea or seep sea, depending on the context in which it is used)
  • please / thank you / sorry (very sorry) - plis / tangkyu / sori (sori tumas) - sorry too much
  • How much (is that) - hamas (long hem)
  • Do you know - yu save (pronounced savee)
  • I do not know/understand - mi no save
  • this is broken down/ not working - samting ia hemi bugarap (literally something here is buggered up)
  • Can you take me to Vila - yu save sakem mi long Vila (where sakem literally me chuck)
  • I am very happy - mi glad tumas (me glad too much)
  • See you later / ta ta - Lukim yu/ tata
  • I am going now - ale (French derivation of allez) mi go

There are numerous books and light hearted dictionaries on Bislama found in many gift shops and bookstores around Vila.