Vanuatu: A Linguistic Hotspot

The severe destructions by Tropical Cyclone Pam in March 2015 have put the state Vanuatu on the media headlines. Vanuatu is a fascinating country, also from a linguistic perspective: It has the highest number of languages per inhabitant and it is one of the few states that have a creole language among its official languages.


Vanuatu lies in the Pacific and consists of more than 80 islands. Interesting information on Vanuatu, its history and culture can be found on wikipedia, on Vanuatu’s official tourism site, or on its BBC information sheet, to give just some links.

With its 250.000 inhabitants and its over 100 languages, Vanuatu is the worlds’s state with the highest number of different languages by population. A list of 112 indigeneous languages spoken in Vanuatu is given in wikipedia. Besides these, English, French, and, in particular, the creole language Bislama are used.

Bislama is the lingua franca in the country. It is  an English-based creole language with influence from French and local languages. There are a number of very informative resources on Bislama on the internet:

The most prominent researcher on Bislama was Terry Crowley (1953-2005), who published, among others, a reference grammar (Crowley 2004).

Here is  a speech sample from Wikitongue. The speaker first says something in Bislama, followed by a few sentences in Neverver, one of the indigenous Vanuatu languages.

(A transcript and translation to English can be found on the wikitongues channel.)

Bislama is among the few creole languages that have turned into official national languages. Peter L. Patrick (Essex) lists it among eight other such cases at (date: 2005).



  • Crowley, Terry. 2004. Bislama Reference Grammar. Oceanic Linguistics Special Publication No. 31. Honolulu: University of Hawai’i Press. [googlebooks]
  • Miriam Meyerhoff. 2013. Bislama structure dataset.
    In: Michaelis, Susanne Maria & Maurer, Philippe & Haspelmath, Martin & Huber, Magnus (eds.)
    Atlas of Pidgin and Creole Language Structures Online.  Leipzig: Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology.  (Available online at, Accessed on 2015-03-15.)