Sandalwood English evolves as island trading language

“Sandalwood English” evolved during the sandal wood and beche-de-mer trades in Vanuatu. The Pacific labor trade came under a lot of public criticism because of several reported incidents of murder and abduction or “blackbirding”

Need to understand agreements: But one of the biggest criticisms of the labor trade was that language barriers made it nearly impossible for most recruits, even those who actually volunteered, to really understand the terms of their contracts. The linguistic diversity of areas in which the recruiters worked has been mentioned above. With so many languages, there was no way the recruiters could learn all the languages of the recruits, and some language of wider communication had to be used if any communication was to take place. Such a language did exist, at least in Vanuatu where most of the recruiting took place in the early years of the Fiji trade. “San- dalwood English” which became the lingua franca during the sandal-
wood and beche-de-mer trades in Vanuatu. As pointed out by Shineberg
(1967: 193). Contract labour for Europeans was a thing familiar to many of the inhabitants of the sandalwood islands before the Queens-land and Fiji “labour trade” got underway Therefore, many recruits were probably familiar with Sandalwood English, and it became the lingua franca of the labor trade as well.

Early Melanesian Pidgin English: Used in the trade and on plantations, Sandalwood English developed further so that by the 1870s it could be considered early Melanesian Pidgin English (Clark 1979:39). At this time it became known around the Pacific as “beach-la-mar” The many contemporary books and articles written about the contro-versial labor trade contain references to “English” used for communication between recruiters and Pacific Islanders. But as mentioned above, writers usually did not distinguish between varieties of English. Some accounts say the islanders spoke English, or even good English, but when samples are given, they are clearly a form of early Melanesian Pidgin (Clark 1979:39-40).

Pacific Studies, Vol. 9, No. 3 July 1986


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