|Region||Mota Lava island, Banks Islands|
Mwotlap (pronounced [ŋ͡mʷɔtˈlap]; formerly known as Motlav) is an Oceanic language spoken by about 2,100 people in Vanuatu. The majority of speakers are found on the island of Motalava in the Banks Islands, with smaller communities in the islands of Ra (or Aya) and Vanua Lava, as well as migrant groups in the two main cities of the country, Santo and Port Vila.
Mwotlap was first described in any detail in 2001, by the linguist Alexandre François.
Volow, which used to be spoken on the same island, may be considered a dialect or a separate language.
The language is named after the island.
Mwotlap is spoken by about 2,100 people in the Banks Islands, in the North of Vanuatu. Among them, 1,640 live on the island of Mota Lava and its neighbor island, Ra. It is also spoken by a few hundred people living elsewhere in Vanuatu:
- Vanua Lava, particularly in the northeast
- Several other northern Vanuatu islands including Ureparapara, Gaua, and Ambae
- Port-Vila, the capital of Vanuatu
- Luganville, the country's second largest city, located on the island of Espiritu Santo
Mwotlap belongs to the Austronesian language family, which includes more than 1,200 languages. Inside its family, Mwotlap is an Oceanic language, descending from the hypothetical common ancestor of all Oceanic languages, Proto-Oceanic. More specifically, it is a Southern Oceanic language.
Robert Henry Codrington, an Anglican priest who studied Melanesian societies, first described Mwotlap in 1885. While focusing mainly on Mota, Codrington dedicated twelve pages of his work The Melanesian Languages to the "Motlav" language. Despite being very short, this description can be used to show several changes that occurred in Mwotlap during the 20th century, such as the change of r to y (a process demonstrated already in the loanword Epyaem "Abraham"). Furthermore, Codrington described Volow, a language closely related to Mwotlap (sometimes even considered a dialect of Mwotlap). Volow, which is extinct today, was spoken in the east of Mota Lava, in the area of Aplow.
Because Mwotlap has been passed down by oral tradition, it has no official writing system. This article uses the orthography devised by linguist Alexandre François, based on the Latin alphabet.[a 1]
Mwotlap contrasts 16 consonant phonemes.
Consonants Labiovelar Bilabial Alveolar Dorsal Glottal Nasal ŋ͡mʷ ⟨m̄⟩ m ⟨m⟩ n ⟨n⟩ ŋ ⟨n̄⟩ Stop voiceless k͡pʷ ⟨q⟩ t ⟨t⟩ k ⟨k⟩ prenasalized ᵐb ⟨b⟩ ⁿd ⟨d⟩ Fricative β[a] ⟨v⟩ s ⟨s⟩ ɣ ⟨g⟩ h ⟨h⟩ Approximant w ⟨w⟩ l ⟨l⟩ j ⟨y⟩
- [p] exists as the allophone of /β/ word-finally, as in the name of the language, /ŋ͡mʷɔtlaβ/ [ŋ͡mʷɔtˈlap].
Mwotlap is not tonal. Stress always falls on the last syllable of a word. Historically, before syncope of unstressed vowels, it always fell on the penultimate syllable. When syncope took place, the stressed vowel became part of the last syllable.
Mwotlap's syllable structure is (C)V(C), historically resulting from the syncope of unstressed vowels in pre-modern times. This means that no more than two consonants can follow each other within a word and that no word can start or finish with more than one consonant. Recent loanwords, like skul (from English school), are exceptions to this structure.
When a root beginning with two constants forms the beginning of a word, an epenthetic vowel (the same as the next vowel) is inserted between the two consonants. For example, the root tron̄ ("drunk") can form the following:
- me-tron̄ [mɛt.rɔŋ] ("[he] got drunk"): the consonants t and r belong to two different syllables;
- toron̄ [tɔ.rɔŋ] ("[they are] getting drunk"): the insertion of a vowel between t and r is necessary to prevent the syllable from starting with two consecutive consonants.
Vowel copying is the tendency of certain prefixes to copy the first vowel of the following word. Notable vowel copying prefixes include the article na-, the locative le-, and te-, a prefix used to form adjectives describing origin. These prefixes form nō-vōy ("volcano"), ni-hiy ("bone"), and to-M̄otlap ("from Mota Lava"), but also na-pnō ("island") and na-nye-k ("my blood"). Words stems beginning with two consonants do not permit vowel copying. Thus the stems VŌY and HIY allow their vowel to be copied, while the stems VNŌ and DYE do not.
Mwotlap is an SVO language: the word order of a sentence is fixed and is always subject-verb-complement-adverbial.
The system of personal pronouns contrasts clusivity, and distinguishes four numbers (singular, dual, trial, plural). Human nouns also have four numbers; as for non-human nouns, they do not inflect for number and are expressed as singulars.
- François (2012):88).
- List of Banks islands languages; map of the 17 north Vanuatu languages.
- François (2012):97).
- François (2005a): 445); François (2005b): 116).
- François (2000).
- See entry vōy in the Online Mwotlap dictionary.
- See entry hiy in the Online Mwotlap dictionary.
- See entry v[ō]nō in the Online Mwotlap dictionary.
- See entry d[e]ye~ in the Online Mwotlap dictionary.
- François (2016).
- François (2005:) 122-125).
- François (2003), François (2015:) 175-176).
- Pages from: François, Alexandre (2001), Contraintes de structures et liberté dans l'organisation du discours. Une description du mwotlap, langue océanienne du Vanuatu. PhD dissertation, Université Paris-IV Sorbonne. 1078 pp.
- pp. 77–78
- François, Alexandre (2001), Contraintes de structures et liberté dans l'organisation du discours. Une description du mwotlap, langue océanienne du Vanuatu. PhD dissertation, Université Paris-IV Sorbonne. 1078 pp.
- —— (2003), La sémantique du prédicat en mwotlap (Vanuatu), Collection Linguistique de la Société de Linguistique de Paris, Leuven-Paris: Peeters, ISBN 978-90-429-1271-7
- —— (2005), "A typological overview of Mwotlap, an Oceanic language of Vanuatu" (PDF), Linguistic Typology, 9 (1): 115–146, doi:10.1515/lity.2005.9.1.115, S2CID 55878308
- —— (2020), Mwotlap–English–French online dictionary (Electronic files, work in progress), CNRS.
- François, Alexandre (2000), "Vowel shifting and cloning in Motlav: historical explanation vs formal description", in Klamer, Marian (ed.), Proceedings of AFLA 7 (The Seventh Meeting of Austronesian Formal Linguistics Association), Amsterdam: Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam, pp. 49–68
- —— (2003), "Of men, hills and winds: Space directionals in Mwotlap" (PDF), Oceanic Linguistics, 42 (2): 407–437, CiteSeerX 10.1.1.512.609, doi:10.1353/ol.2003.0021, S2CID 16908769
- —— (2004), "Chains of freedom: Constraints and creativity in the macro-verb strategies of Mwotlap" (PDF), in Bril, Isabelle; Ozanne-Rivierre, Françoise (eds.), Complex predicates in Oceanic languages: Studies in the dynamics of binding and boundness, Empirical Approaches to Language Typology, Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter, pp. 107–143
- —— (2005), "Unraveling the history of the vowels of seventeen northern Vanuatu languages" (PDF), Oceanic Linguistics, 44 (2): 443–504, doi:10.1353/ol.2005.0034, S2CID 131668754
- —— (2006), "Serial verb constructions in Mwotlap" (PDF), in Dixon, R.M.W.; Aikhenvald, Alexandra (eds.), Serial Verb Constructions: A cross-linguistic typology, Explorations in Linguistic Typology, Oxford: Oxford University Press, pp. 223–238
- —— (2007), "Noun articles in Torres and Banks languages: Conservation and innovation", in Siegel, Jeff; Lynch, John; Eades, Diana (eds.), Language Description, History and Development: Linguistic indulgence in memory of Terry Crowley, Creole Language Library 30, Amsterdam: Benjamins, pp. 313–326
- —— (2009), "Verbal aspect and personal pronouns: The history of aorist markers in north Vanuatu", in Pawley, Andrew; Adelaar, Alexander (eds.), Austronesian historical linguistics and culture history: A festschrift for Bob Blust, vol. 601, Canberra: Pacific Linguistics, pp. 179–195
- —— (2011), "Social ecology and language history in the northern Vanuatu linkage: A tale of divergence and convergence" (PDF), Journal of Historical Linguistics, 1 (2): 175–246, doi:10.1075/jhl.1.2.03fra, hdl:1885/29283.
- —— (2012), "The dynamics of linguistic diversity: Egalitarian multilingualism and power imbalance among northern Vanuatu languages", International Journal of the Sociology of Language, 2012 (214): 85–110, doi:10.1515/ijsl-2012-0022, S2CID 145208588
- —— (2015). "The ins and outs of up and down: Disentangling the nine geocentric space systems of Torres and Banks languages" (PDF). In Alexandre François; Sébastien Lacrampe; Michael Franjieh; Stefan Schnell (eds.). The languages of Vanuatu: Unity and diversity. Studies in the Languages of Island Melanesia. Canberra: Asia-Pacific Linguistics. pp. 137–195. hdl:1885/14819. ISBN 978-1-922185-23-5.
- —— (2016), "The historical morphology of personal pronouns in northern Vanuatu" (PDF), in Pozdniakov, Konstantin (ed.), Comparatisme et reconstruction : tendances actuelles, Faits de Langues, vol. 47, Bern: Peter Lang, pp. 25–60.
- (in French) Introduction to Mwotlap and Motalava culture, photos, maps, songs, myths and stories
- Presentation of the Mwotlap language, with links to audio recordings in open access, by A. François (Pangloss Collection, CNRS).
- Access to several stories in Mwotlap (with English and French translations, by A. François).
- Nalne Genyon Ta Melanesia A Liturgy for Melanesia in Mwotlap (1970)