On the bus ride back to the office today, I eavesdropped (as I often do) to a couple of women speaking one of Vanuatu’s hundreds of local languages. While I can speak exactly none of them, I know dribs and drabs of about a dozen or so, and it serves as a pleasant game to try to figure out whence the interlocutors originate.
The women shifted between Bislama and language as required, using the former to fill in any gaps that a pre-modern, agrarian vocabulary might expose when discussing life in town. The dialogue, to these ignorant ears, went something like this:
“Language language language language language mobile language language language text language language language credit language language language westem mani nomo!”
It didn’t surprise me that ‘mobile’, ‘credit’ or ‘text’ required substitution. But it is telling indeed that this language had no word for ‘money’ and, even more interesting, ‘waste.’