The Tongue-Tied Laef

Many Peace Corps volunteers will tell you that although learning a new language is a challenge, trying to remember your English is a different monster entirely. Random words in Bislama will insert themselves into the conversation, often baffling both yourself and your interlocutor. It’s funny to see what Bislama words show up in your daily vocabulary. Ocean is replaced with “solwota,” near is now “clossap to,” with is “witem.” The list goes on!

When you’re on the island, you don’t fully realize how many lines get crossed in your brain. It only gets worse if you add other languages to the mix; yesterday I had the opportunity to meet with our new PC medical officer, a woman who is originally from France, and found that rather than speaking French, the language that came out of my mouth was a bizarre combination of French, English, and Bislama and sounded nothing like any of the three. Both my tongue and my brain felt as though they had been tied into an uncomfortable linguistic knot.

This isn’t the first time my words were lost in a mangled translation; my host-family often asks me to say various phrases in any of my four other languages. English, French, Japanese, or Arabic. It often leads to words of the wrong language slipping in to the conversation. Thankfully, my host-family is none the wiser.

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