Bislama is a creole language that’s the lingua franca of Vanuatu, the Pacific island country. Although the islands that make up Vanuatu are home to only ~300,000 people, those people speak 113 languages between them, and so a common dialect is necessary.

It’s a really interesting language. From a vocabulary perspective, it’s 95% English, with a few words of French and some words from local languages to describe local flora and fauna. But from a grammatical perspective, it’s much closer to Oceanic languages. So it has the fundamental feel and appearance of English, but with a totally different grammar – which makes for a really interesting experience listening to it as a native English speaker. It’s simultaneously very familiar and uncannily unfamiliar.

While interesting linguistically, the language’s history is more traumatic. It’s the result of “blackbirding”: the kidnapping of Pacific islanders to work as indentured labourers on farms and plantations in Australia and Fiji. These labourers developed their own mutually intelligible pidgin language and, when they eventually returned home, took the language with them where it flourished into the form that exists today.