Wednesday, February 07, 2007

7 February 2007: Bislama

Nephew Matt, Salisbury's very own four-year-old Playmobil expert, got a book about the countries of the world. The game is to look at the back of the book, where there's a page containing all the flags of the world organised by continent, and for Matt to pick out a flag. He then spells the name of the country, you then pronounce the name of the country (or guess in case it's a country you've never heard of) and then turn to the appropriate page of the book and find that country on the map.

However, it appears that's not enough. Reports reach us that he is now asking questions about these countries, for example 'what do they eat in South Korea?' and 'how many people live in Kyrgyzstan?'. Of these, the most interesting question to emerge was 'what language to they speak in Vanuatu?'

Now, thanks to Maggie and her VSO exploits, I know the answer to this one. Bislama, a form of pidgin English with elements of various other euro-languages, is the official tongue of the southern Pacific island nation. It's a language that can be generously termed 'descriptive' in the sense that instead of having specific words for things (nouns especially), it just tries to describe them. So off I went to that there interweb thing, trawling for examples of Bislama at its most glorious...

Classic example - the piano:
Wan bigfala blak bokis hemi gat waet tut mo hemi gat blak tut, sipos yu kilim smol, hem i singaot gud.

This is literally translated as:
One big fella black box, him he got whitetooth and him he got blacktooth, suppose you kill him small (strike or hit lightly) him he sing out good.

Until recently the word for heart attack as recorded in the offical dictionary was: Prolem blong hart wet mit blon hart is dead it no wokem god no more.

Other examples of Bislama include:
I want beer - Mi wantem bia
What time will the plane land? - Long wanem taem plaen i fol daon(=fall down)?
His Royal Highness, Prince Charles : nambawan pikinini blong Missus Kwin (nambawan = number one)
A super supreme pizza will come with evri samting
A violin - wan smol box blong white man, oli scratchem beli hem i singaot gudfala
A saw - Pulem i kam, pushem i go, wood i fall down
A helicopter - mixmaster blong Jesus Christ

This last one, apparantly, references Jesus Christ as a result of Cargo Cults which, just like cow-tipping, are not rural myths but documented realities.

Elsewhere I discovered that in Bislama, all motorised vehicles are truks, all birds are pidjins, all creatures in the sea are fis:

Fis i gat naef long tel blong hem = literally fish he got knife on tail belong him (surgeon fish)
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.

Finally, from the Christmas narrative, the word 'manger' is translated in a highly descriptive fashion - apparantly they laid the baby Jesus in:
wan bokis we oltaim ol man oli stap putum gras long hem, blong ol anamol oli kakae
- which translates as: one box where always all men they are putting grass in him, for all animals always eat.

So, the key question is, can we translate the shipping forecast into Bislama? The whole thing makes 'skirt universe' seem quite tame.

1 comment:

andy said...


The good Lord obviously invents some languages simply for pure hilarity! Love it...