Bislama Bons Mots

In Bislama’s most common usage, the laughing, chaffing repartee that punctuates our daily exchanges, it’s good-natured, inventive and cheeky, strikingly similar to the bawdy discourse in a Dublin pub on any given Friday.

My point – and I do have one – is that visitors ignore the nuance and linguistic flair inherent in Vanuatu discourse at their peril. No one can truly say they understand Bislama until they’ve grasped its vividly metaphorical, highly contextual fluidity and made it their own.

[Originally published in the Vanuatu Daily Post’s Weekender Edition.]

I’m going to leave current events alone for a week. Not for lack of news, but because the smaller things in life need our attention, too.

This week, let’s take a lighthearted look at a few expressions that make Bislama such a delightful language. Before we do, though, I must apologise to native Bislama speakers: I’m not going to tell you anything you don’t already know. Nonetheless, it’s sometimes useful to record such trifles for posterity.

Because of its impoverished vocabulary, Bislama relies heavily on metaphor, imagery and euphemism. The pictures it paints are remarkably vivid and often frankly indecent, generating wild laughter among the interlocutors. Propriety dictates that I leave out the most scandalous of them….

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