Concept: Solomons Pijin English

Alternative Names
  • Pijin English


There are seventy-four different languages in the Solomon Islands, and many different dialects within many of these. Many islands have several different languages groups. There was never one vernacular dominant throughout the Protectorate, although the Roviana language became quite dominant throughout the Western Solomons because the Methodist Church used it. Pigeon English, as it was first known, was originally a trading language in the South Pacific with a small English-language vocabulary, some indigenous words, and Melanesian grammar. The origins of Pijin can be found in trade jargon that was spread throughout the Pacific by the whaling industry in the late eighteenth and through to the mid-nineteenth centuries and by the bĂȘche-de-mer trade of the 1850s. The main formation of the language occurred on the sugar plantations in Queensland, and also in Fiji, Samoa and New Caledonia. Pijin was brought back by returning labourers onwards from the 1870s, and became increasingly sophisticated until by the end of the nineteenth century it had reached the status of a fully developed language. A pijin form of Fijian also entered the Solomons during the same period, brought by returning labourers, but has not survived. Solomon Islands Pijin became the main lingua franca in the Protectorate, even as English became more used as the twentieth century progressed. Men on Protectorate plantations used Pijin, which provided linguistic unity and a prerequisite for the development of nationalism in later decades.

In the 1960s, there was considerable debate amongst Western educated Solomon Islanders as to the future of Pijin, but it continued to develop and became a major second language to English. Solomons Pijin is distinct from the Bislamar spoken in Vanuatu, and even more so from Papua New Guinea's Tok Pisin and the Broken or Creole in Torres Strait. While dictionaries exist and there have been Solomons Pijin English newspapers, and there is a Pijin translation of the Bible, it remains largely a spoken language and thus far the government has made no effort to standardise its orthography or grammar. The Solomon Islands Christian Association produced a Pijin dictionary, the only effort to standardise to date. This means that Pijin is a very flexible language and the focus is on the delivery of the message not on formal sentence construction or high literary form. (Keesing 1988; Crowley 1990; Jourdan 2002)

Related Concepts

Published resources


  • Crowley, Terry, Beach-la-Mar to Bislama, Clarendon Press, Oxford, 1990. Details
  • Keesing, Roger M., Melanesian Pidgin and the Oceanic Substrate, Stanford University Press, Stanford, Calif., 1988. Details