Languages of Vanuatu

Languages of Vanuatu

Vanuatu has three official languages, English, French, and Bislama, a creole language evolved from English. Bislama is the first language of many urban ni-Vanuatu, that is, the residents of Port Vila and Luganville. It is the most common second language elsewhere in the archipelago. It is similar to Tok Pisin of Papua New Guinea, and other nearby creoles.

In addition, however, there are over one hundred local languages spread over the archipelago. Vanuatu is considered to be the country with the highest density of languages per capita in the world, with an average of about 2,000 speakers for each indigenous languages; only Papua New Guinea comes close. Some of these languages are very endangered, with only a handful of speakers, and indeed several have become extinct in recent times.

All of the unofficial languages of Vanuatu are in the Austronesian language family. Most of them are in the group of North and Central Vanuatu languages. The Melanesian languages of Tafea province in the south are South Vanuatu languages. Many of the languages are named after the island they are spoken on, though some of the larger islands have several different languages. Espiritu Santo and Malakula are the most linguistically diverse, with about two dozen languages each. Many of these languages are very little-studied.

There are three Polynesian outlier languages, Emae on the island of the same name, Mele-Fila on the southern part of Efate, and West Futunan on West Futuna and Aniwa. These are all Futunic languages.

According to Ethnologue's somewhat outdated statistics, the eight most commonly spoken local languages are: Raga (wrongly called Hano by Ethnologue; 7,000 speakers), Lenakel (6,500), Paama (6,000), Uripiv-Wala-Rano-Atchin (6,000), East Ambae (5,000), West Ambae (4,500), Apma (4,500), and South Efate (3,750). However, because none of these languages have a standard form, and generally diverse dialects, it is difficult to distinguish when these represent separate languages or merely dialects. This is compounded by the fact that many of the languages have not received adequate linguistic treatment. Uripiv-Wala-Rano-Atchin, whose name is composed of the names of several islands in Malampa Province with similar speech, is such a dialect continuum of languages similar to Uripiv.

Despite the low numbers for most of the indigenous languages, they are not considered especially vulnerable for extinction. [Daniel Nettle and Suzanne Romaine. "Vanishing Voices: The Extinction of the World's Languages". Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000. Page 9.]


*Oceanic languages
**"North Vanuatu languages"
**East Santo languages
***North East Santo languages
***South East Santo languages
**Malekula Interior languages
***Malekula Central languages
***Small Nambas languages
**Northeast Vanuatu-Banks Islands languages
***East Vanuatu languages
***Epi languages
***Malekula Coastal languages
***West Santo languages
**"South Vanuatu languages"
***Erromanga languages
***Tanna languages
***Futunic languages
****West Futunan or Futuna-Aniwa (Futuna and Aniwa in Vanuatu)
****Emae (Emae in Vanuatu)
****Mele-Fila (Mele, southern Éfaté island in Vanuatu)


External links

* [ An annotated bibliography of Vanuatu languages] , by John Lynch (last update January 1996; now outdated)
* [ Ethnologue report for Vanuatu, including maps]
* [ A.François, a linguist involved in the documentation and preservation of northern Vanuatu languages]
* [ A linguist active in preserving Vanuatu languages]
* [ The language situation in Vanuatu by Terry Crowley]

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