Mavea language

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Native toVanuatu
RegionMafea Island
Native speakers
34 (2008)[1]
Language codes
ISO 639-3mkv
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Mavea (also known as Mav̈ea or Mafea or Mavia) is an Oceanic language spoken on Mavea Island in Vanuatu, off the eastern coast of Espiritu Santo. It belongs to the North–Central Vanuatu linkage of Southern Oceanic. The total population of the island is approximately 172, with only 34 fluent speakers of the Mavea language reported in 2008.[1]

There are 94 languages in the North Vanuatu linkage, including Mavea. The closest linguistic relative to Mavea, sharing a little over 70% of cognates, is Tutuba. Following Tutuba, Aore, South Malok, Araki, and Tangoa are the next closest relatives.[3]

Language endangerment[edit]

Mavea is a moribund language and there are many factors as to why this is.

One factor would be the arrival and Christianization by the Seventh-day Adventist and Church of Christ missionaries in 1839. Only 16% of the population can speak Mavea. These native speakers of Mavea belong to Generation 1, 2, and 3[further explanation needed] which ranges from the ages of 20–80 years old. Those born after 1980 ("Generation 4") are less fluent. Commonly, this generation is not taught the language, because the language is inactive and not used in any new domain.[3]

Mavea is not used very commonly outside of the home; in particular, it is not used in school, which reduces the younger speakers’ exposure to the language. Most speakers do not feel concerned with the possible loss of the Mavea language.[3]

Bislama, the national lingua franca of Vanuatu, is used more frequently. This creole is the first language for many people in Vanuatu who live in the city. It is used for business, religious sacraments, politics, and is seen as a way to move upward in society.[3]


Mavea has 15 consonants and 8 vowels.[3]

Bilabial Labiodental Linguolabial Dental Alveolar Retroflex Velar
Stop p t ɖ k
Fricative v ð̼ s
Trill r
Nasal m n ŋ
Approximant w
Lateral l

Plosives in Mavea are not aspirated.[5]

i e a o u
High + +
Back + + +
Low +
Rounded + +


Linguolabial consonants are represented using the corresponding labial consonant with a diaeresis diacritic on top: [t̼]; [ð̼]; [n̼].[6] The retroflex [ɖ] is represented in the orthography as d.



There are both free and bound pronouns. Free pronouns are common in many Pacific languages. These free pronouns do not change for gender, but shows numerical differences, including singular, plural, dual, or paucal.[3]

For example:

  • /mo/ = he/she/it (third person singular subject)
  • He eats taro. = /mo-an pete/

Proper Nouns

Proper nouns includes personal names, vocatives, relational terms, and locatives. They do not proceed an article and can not be used with a determiner. To show gender distinction, males use the prefix /mol-/. For females, the prefix /vo-/ or /va-/ was added.[3]

Common Nouns

Similar to the proper nouns, there are both bound and free common nouns. Both can be used in an argument, be quantified with a marker, be modified with a determiner, be the head of a relative clause, and be questioned with “who” or “what”. Bound common nouns are separated into nouns of kinship, body parts, bodily functions, and whole part relations. Also shows possessives.[3]


Verbal predicates are marked with a subject agreement prefix. There are intransitive verbs, transitive verbs, ambitransitive, ditransitive, and auxiliary.

Intransitive verbs are used when the subject has no direct object receiving the action.[3]


There are two kinds of adverbs: phrasal adverbs and sentential adverbs. Sententail adverbs take up the entire sentence and appear after or before the verb's core argument. For example: to show frequency, /te pong/ meaning “sometimes” is used as a sentential adverb.

Spatial adverbs are used to show the location of the speaker and the direction the speaker is speaking towards. For example: konaro means “here, at speaker’s location.” This is common in many Pacific languages.[3]


Mavea shows partial reduplication in its grammar. Reduplication is used to show emphasis. For example: sua means “to paddle” and suosua means “to paddle intensely”. Sometimes when using reduplication, the vowels can change. Usually the “a” changes to “o” or “e”.[3]


Adjectives can only be used as noun modifiers. There both adjectives as independent lexical items and also adjectives pulled from transitive verbs by using reduplication. For example: pulua is “paint” and “ima pulpulu” means “painted house”.[3]


There are seven prepositions in Mavea.

to/from valu
straight domdomi
for lape
to/for suri
around dal
with tuan
in/at na


Personal pronouns in Mavea do not inflect for case or gender, but do show number (singular, dual, paucal, plural). First person non-singular has an inclusive/exclusive distinction. Independent personal pronouns are not obligatory, but are used for emphasis, contrast or focus.[7]

Person Number
Singular Plural Dual Paucal
1INC (n)ida darua/ô datol
1EXCL na(o) kam̋am kam̋arua/o kam̋atol
2 nno kam̋im kamruo/a kamtol
3 nna nira rarua/o ratol


me ro nno me ko -l -suruv atano, na nao me ro ka suruv aul pere -n vuae
FUT then 2SG FUT 2SG -IMPF -sleep ground but 1SG FUT then 1SG.IR -sleep above branch -CONS tree
"You, you will sleep on the ground, but I, I will sleep in the tree"

Bound Pronouns[edit]

Bound pronouns are obligatory at the beginning of a predicate phrase. Only 1SG and 3SG inflect for mood.[8]

Subject Agreement Markers[9][edit]

Person Number
Singular Plural Dual Paucal
Realis Irrealis Realis and Irrealis
1INC na- ka- da- dar- datol-
1EXCL ki- kir- kitol-
2 ko- ko- ki- kir- kitol-
3 mo- i- ra- rar- ratol

Object Enclitics[9][edit]

Person Number
Singular Plural
1INC -ao (i)da
2 -o -
3 -a (i)ra


Varua nno ko-kolai=ao
bird 2SG 2SG-lie=1SG
"Cardinal, you lied to me"

Counting System[edit]

The Mavea counting system is very similar to other Proto Oceanic languages, especially numbers 1 through 5, and 10.[3]

1 tea
2 rua
3 tol(u)
4 vat(i)
5 lima
6 marava
7 rave rua
8 rattol(u)
9 rappat(i)
10 anavul(u)


Mavea distinguishes direct and indirect possession. Direct possessive constructions nouns take a bound possessive clitic. On the other hand, indirect possession is expressed by the presence of a classifier to which a possessive clitic is suffixed.[10]

Direct possession[edit]

Direct possession is expressed by a possessive clitic attached to the noun when the possessor is not expressed as a Noun Phrase (NP). Alternatively, if no suffix exists for the person and number of the possessor, the nouns are followed by an independent pronoun.[10]

The semantic classes of nouns participating in direct possessive constructions, include, body parts, and bodily functions, kinship terms, articles of clothing, and household goods.[10]

Table of Possessive Clitics

Singular Plural Dual Paucal/trial
1INCL -(i)da darua/o datol
1EXCL -ku -mam -mamrua/o -mamtol
2 -m -mim -mrua/o -mtol
3 -n(a) -(i)ra -rarua/o ratol

A noun, which is directly possessed, takes a possessive clitic matching the possessor's features.[11]

For example:

Ka-deo mo-adia ro me ko-on tae=ku.

1SG.ιR-defecate 3SG-first then FUT 2SG-look excrement=lSG.POSS

Ί will defecate first, then you will look at my excrement’ [11]


This third person singular possessive clitic, pronounced as [na], is suffixed to the noun ‘Laloa’ for ‘saliva’.

Lalao=na mo-si mo-va.

saliva=3SG.POSS 3SG-go.down 3SG-go

'Her saliva was hanging down.’ [10]

Non-pronominal possessors

If a full NP expresses the possessor, the possessee takes the construct suffix –n, or can be pronounces [na], although this construct suffix is a homophony of the possessive clictic –n and –na the distribution is different as displayed in the following example(s);[11]

Note that the case of Full NP, the possessee precedes the possessor

Ra-tau ese-n Piria.

3PL-put name-CONS wild.yam

'They named it Piria’ [12]


Natu-n vomae mo-sa mo-sakel na patu-n kou.

child-CONS dove 3SG-go.up 3SG-sit LOC head-CONS fowl

'Dove's child went up and sat on Fowl's head.[12]

Possession is recursive, in the following example, the noun ‘vulu’ which is possessed by the noun ‘vanatu’ which in turn is possessed by John, therefore both nouns a suffixed with –[n].

vulu-n vanatu-n John

hair-CONS daughter-CONS John

'John's daughter's hair’ [11]

Indirect possession[edit]

Nouns in indirect possession constructions do not take a possessive clitic, they require a classifier to which a possessive clitic (or construct suffix) is attached.[11]

There are six classifiers in Mavea:

a- ‘to be eaten’

ma- ‘to be drunk’

no- ‘general possession, valuables’

pula- ‘anima raised, vegetable planted’

sa- ‘housing and land’

madoue- ‘a dead man’s possession’ [13]

classifier "a-" infers that the item is possessed is meant to be eaten

Mo-vir loko a=na.

3sG-throw laplap

'She threw his laplap (to eat)’ [14]

If the possessor is a full NP, the classifier is market with the construct -n

           Nira ra-ve       inanan vaisesea a-n                    re  famli.

3pl 3PL-make food small PL family

'They make a small party for the families (to eat)’ [14]


Possession Type Possessee Possessor
Direct N -n

N CLF -n

Personal Noun

Personal Noun

Direct N -n

N CLF -n



Direct N (+human) -n

N (-human) -i

Indirect N CLF -n Non-specific



Intonation is used to distinguish yes-no questions because there is no syntactic way to do so. There are also tag questions which uses the negative tag /te modere/ at the end. In English, /te modere/ means “or not”.[3]

Some monoclausal content questions include:

  • ape = where
  • ingese = when
  • ise = who
  • ivisa = how much/many
  • matai = for what reason
  • matan = why
  • sa = what
  • sava = which/what kind?
  • se = which
  • sur sa = about/for what


[3] Sentential negation is expressed with the bound prefix /sopo/ and appears right after the subject agreement prefix. The order is subject ---> negation ---> verb.

  • Ex1: mo -sopo- rongo = a —> he didn't see him
  • 3SG- NEG - see = 3SG

Sometimes /sopo/ can be shorten to /po/.

  • Ex2: na - po - sasa —> I don't work.
  • 1SG - NEG - work

When the subject agreement marker is absent, the bare negation marker jumps to the front.

  • Ex3: Sopo te ta-mavea... —> There is not one Mavea man...
  • NEG - some - from - Mavea

To show the aspectual meaning “not yet”, /lo/ is added to the negation marker /sopo/. This refers to events that have not happened yet but are likely to in the future. Added to the end of this form of negation is /pa/ which means “still” or “yet”.

  • Ex4: nno ko - sopo - l - on diu pa? —>
  • you haven't seen a coconut crab yet?
  • 2 SG - NEG - IMPF - look crab yet?

When combined with /me/ the negation changes into “not anymore, no more”.

  • Ex5: mo - sopo - me - l - suruv —> She does not sleep anymore.
  • 3SG - NEG - IT - IMPF - sleep
  • She - doesn't - anymore - sleep

Equative clauses are shown by adding the negative marker /sopo/ to the subject marker for third person singular /mo-/. Mosopo meaning “ it is/was/not.”

  • Ex6: Ko -v mo - sopo nno. —> You said it wasn't you.
  • 2SG- say 3SG - NEG - 2SG
  • you - say - it - wasn't - you

Negative locational predicates are similar to equative clauses, by adding the locational marker /na/ to the equative clause /mosopo/.

  • Ex7: Mo - sopo na ono. —> It is not on the sand.
  • 3SG - NEG LOC sand.
  • It - not - on - sand


  1. ^ a b Guérin 2008, p. 2
  2. ^ Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin, eds. (2017). "Mafea". Glottolog 3.0. Jena, Germany: Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History.
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o Cf. Guérin 2011.
  4. ^ a b Guérin 2008: p. 30
  5. ^ Guérin 2008: p. 12
  6. ^ Presentation of Mavea Archived 2012-04-25 at the Wayback Machine.
  7. ^ Guérin 2008: p. 76
  8. ^ a b Guérin 2008: p. 77
  9. ^ a b c Guérin 2008: p. 78
  10. ^ a b c d Guérin 2011, p.168.
  11. ^ a b c d e Guérin 2011, p.170.
  12. ^ a b Guérin 2011, p.169.
  13. ^ Guérin 2011, p.171.
  14. ^ a b Guérin 2011, p.172.
  15. ^ Guérin 2011, p.176.


External links[edit]