Avava language

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Native to Vanuatu
Region Central Malekula
Native speakers
700 (2001)[1]
Language codes
ISO 639-3 tmb
Glottolog katb1237[2]

Avava, also known as Katbol or Tembimbe-Katbol, is an Oceanic language of central Malekula, Vanuatu. It has nasalized fricatives and a bilabial trill.

The four Avava-speaking villages speak, or spoke, distinct dialects. Timbembe and Nevaar (Nɨviar) are still spoken. The Nivat (Nevat) and Bangasa (Umbrul) dialects are extinct. Bangasa/Bangsa', or more correctly Bangasak, was known as Numbuwul by its neighbors to the north; the endonym is Umbbuul [(u)ᵐʙuːl].


When the final syllable is light (CV), stress tends to be penultimate. When the final syllable is heavy (CVC, CVV, CVː), stress tends to be final.


Avava has five vowel qualities, /a e i o u/. /u/ is pronounced [ʉ] between a bilabial trill and an alveolar and, in final syllables, between a bilabial trill and /k/. About 2% of vowels are long. Long /eː/ is not attested, and long /oː/ is marginal. This is a pattern shared with Naman. At the end of a prosodic unit – in citation form, utterance-finally and when speaking slowly – word-final vowels other than /i/ tend to be replaced with "diphthongs" /Vi/. Word-initial vowels present in citation form tend to be lost when the word is linked to others, e.g. when the subject of a verb or possessed by a pronoun. This is the reason for the alternative form of the name of the language, vava.


Avava consonant inventory
Labial Labialized Coronal Dorsal Glottal
Nasal m n ŋ
Prenasalized stop ᵐb ᵐbʷ ⁿd ᵑɡ
Voiceless stop p (pʷ) t k
Fricative v [ɣ] h
Prenasalized trill ᵐbʙ⁽ʷ⁾ ⁿdʳ
Tap ɾ
Approximant w l j

/s/ is post-alveolar. The voiceless stops are lightly aspirated. Otherwise the consonants have the values their IPA transcriptions suggest.

/h/ does not occur at the beginning of a word. Labialized consonants are only found before /a e i/. There are some grammatical contexts and perhaps random situations when word-initial /k/ and /t/ are replaced by /ɡ/ and /d/. /pʷ/ is known from only a single word. Word-final /k/ is lost when the word is suffixed or followed by a modifier.

The prenasalized trills may be described as /mʙ, nr/, with the quite audible stop analyzed as excrescent, or as /bʙ, dr/, with the representation common in the area of prenasalized voiced stops as simply voiced stops. /ᵐbʙ/ is quite common in the language. It is generally rounded, [mbʙʷ], and word-finally the trilled release is at least partially devoiced, [mbʙ̥ʷ]. It may occur in word-final position after any vowel, but in CV position the following vowel is overwhelmingly /u/, though other vowels do occur, e.g. /suᵐbʙʷat/ 'coral'. It is generated grammatically when the 3sg-irrealis /b⁽ʷ⁾V/ is prefixed to a verb root beginning with /v, vʷ, v/, as in /bʷe-vʷel/ > /ᵐbʙʷel/ 's/he will come'.

Consonant allophones[edit]

Prenasalization is maintained after oral consonants, e.g. [ⁿdirⁿdir] 'earthquake', but is lost after a nasal, e.g. [luᵑɡamɡem] 'bamboo roof pins'. Prenasalized stops are occasionally devoiced word finally, e.g. [aⁿdʳaᵐb ~ aⁿdʳaᵐp] 'mud'.

/p/ occasionally has a trilled release when followed by /ur/: [pʰura ~ pʙ̥ura] 'spit'.

Nasals and liquids are syllabified in word-final CN, CL clusters and in medial CNC, CLC clusters: [ᵑɡitn̩tl̩] 'we (paucal inclusive)', [kopm̩tl̩] 'we (paucal exclusive)'.

/k/ is [k] word-initially, word-finally, before another consonant, and between front vowels; it is also the more common allophone between front and non-front vowels. It is [ɣ] between identical non-front vowels, and this is the more common allophone between non-identical non-front vowels.

/v, vʷ/ are generally [f, fʷ] word-initially.


  • Terry Crowley, 2006, The Avava language of central Malakula (Vanuatu)
  1. ^ Avava at Ethnologue (18th ed., 2015)
  2. ^ Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin, eds. (2017). "Katbol". Glottolog 3.0. Jena, Germany: Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History.

External links[edit]