Saturday, January 8, 2011


At the moment I am leaving Ancient Rome behind me and playing around with a few new ideas. I have always wanted to write something where several of the characters know a language other than English. Since this story is set in the Pacific, I have chosen Bislama, from Vanuatu. Bislama began as a pidgin English, but is now an officially recognised language. It is similar to Pijin, spoken in the Solomon Islands, and Tok Pisin, spoken in Papua New Guinea. Here are a few of my favourite Bislama words:

Bagarap – broken

Solwota – sea

Bebi - baby

Hoknaet – owl

Fuldrong – completely drunk

Sipos – if

Lelebet – a little

Kilim – to hit *

A lot of Bislama can be followed by English speakers with the right ear, a bit of patience and a lot of leeway. But in the early days it was a clash of cultures as well, where a very new and somewhat limited language was used to describe totally alien objects. The saw:

Wanfala samting blong kaekae wud; i kam i go i kamback; brata blong tamiok.

Literally: Something which eats wood, it comes and goes and comes back again; brother of the axe.

The description of the saw comes from Evri Samting Yu Wantem Save Long Bislama Be Yu Fraet Tumas Blong Askem (Everyting You Wanted to Know about Bislama but Were Afraid to Ask) by Darrell Tryon. It is available from Amazon but do yourself a favour and visit Vanuatu instead, where you can pick up a copy cheap in Port Vila.

* When I was five and living in New Guinea, but not quite bilingual yet, I ran screaming from a girl who threatened in Tok Pisin to kilim me. Kilim ded would have been a death threat. Kilim was just a slapping, and I’d probably mouthed off and deserved it.   


  1. Very cool. Never heard of it, and I like the style.

    And that's an amazing description of a saw. I wonder how they'd describe what a laptop is. Or a blog.

  2. Hi MC! It's an awesome language.

    I think most modern tech words, like laptop or blog, tend to be in English.
    It's the words there were translated about a century ago that are the great ones - the ones that not only had to translate, but to explain as well. To this day, if you need to buy a bra in Vanuatu you have to ask for a "basket blong titi".



Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...