Pidgin Poetics

Bislama is more than the sum of its words. People ignore this lesson at their peril. A poor Bislama speaker may be forgiven, but a poor listener suffers more than they know.

More than once, I’ve had to pull some well-meaning soul aside and explain that they can’t get another meeting with some functionary because they didn’t pay any attention to what they were told at the last one. Often enough, they’ll angrily retort that nothing important was said.

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

I have a terrible confession to make: When I was young, working towards a degree in English Literature, I not only studied poetry, I wrote it too.

Now that I’ve got that dirty little secret out of the way, I can talk a little about one of the enduring delights of living in Vanuatu: The poetry of the language.

In literature and linguistics, pidgin tongues usually come across as the simple country cousin of ‘proper’ languages. That may be, but too many people seem to think that ‘simple’ and ‘stupid’ are synonymous. Nothing could be farther from the truth.

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