Friday, April 6, 2012

Hello there you, and you, and you. Not you.

I’ve talked before about my love for words, and my love for Bislama, which is the language spoken in Vanuatu. It is a type of pidgin English, and comes from the French beche-de-mer meaning "sea cucumber". Because, in the early days, that was all the white people wanted to talk about. For the same reason, in Papua New Guinea the pidgin English is called Tok Pisin, which is kind of an evolution of “talk business”.

It’s sometimes tempting to look at languages like Bislama and Tok Pisin as simplistic languages or a form of bastardised English, but that’s not the case. Certainly they are utilitarian languages, but they have their own complex rules. In fact, common to all Melanesian languages is something called the dual set pronoun. I wish we it had in English.

Let’s look at the pronoun “you”.  How boring is that? More importantly, how do you know who I’m talking about? It could be anyone who’s not me. Know what would be really handy? A pronoun that differentiates between you (just yourself there), you (a pair of you) and you (a group of you). Check this out:

yu - just you 

yutufala - the two of you

yufala - a group of you

I am also fond of us
yumi - all of you as well as me
Here is a list of awesome Bislama words where the English root is evident:

bigmaot - a boastful person
draon - to sink
bol - testicle
etkwek - earthquake
brekfas - breakfast
nambawan - excellent
fiksimap - to repair
puskat - cat
toktok - discussion
longwe - some distance away


Do you have any favourite foreign words or phrases? 

All of these words are found in Evri samtin yu wantem save long Bislama be yu fraet tumas blong askem, by Darrel Tryon. You can buy it at Amazon, but it would be much more fun to go to Vila and get a copy there. 


  1. Don't have any favourite foreign words to offer righ now, but it's been fun introducing Canadians to some choice Britishisms from time to time. The first time I said "gobsmacked", everyone looked at me like I was crazy, but it's caught on now.

    1. I love "gobsmacked". I use it all the time!

  2. Only yu could have written this. :-)

    And a favorite foreign phrase is treppenwitz, or "staircase wit." It means the cutting remark you think of only once you're leaving the party.

    1. I dunno..I think yumi coud have written it!

      Treppenwitz is fantastic! Why do the Germans have so many great words? I'm sure it's no accident that Freud spoke German. English just doesn't provide the same insight into human psychology!

  3. Super interesting, Jen. In the island where I live (Curacao), the local language is Papiamentu. And it *is* a language in its own right, according to linguists (something to do with the grammar structure or something), even though it's descended from Portuguese, Dutch, and African dialects/languages, with some Spanish and English thrown in for spice. There are plenty of words that show this parentage--here are a few that relate to English:

    baiskel (say it quickly, you'll notice it comes out as "bicycle" :D)
    waya (wire)
    karchi (card)
    buki (book)

    1. That's fascinating, Guilie. I love utilitarian languages -- those that have evolved from simple need where cultures collide.
      Thanks so much for sharing these great Papiamentu examples!

      And "basikel" is fun!

  4. Oh wow, how interesting! I love learning about pidgin languages.

    I've always liked "la esperanza," which means hope in Spanish. It has always sounded hopeful to me, at least, more so than "hope."

    I've left you a blog award over at:

    1. Thanks, Lyla! Yay, awards!

      "la esperanza" does sound much more grand than "hope". And of course, it's the root of "esperanto" which is a manufactured international language. The only thing I learned in Esperanto was "Mi esporas ke kiam vi venos la vetero estos milda" -- "I hope when you come the weather will be clement." And I learned that from Red Dwarf.

  5. I just love longwe. It is what it is:-)

    1. That's secretly why I love "bol". No ambiguity there!



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