East Ambae language

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East Ambae
Region Ambae, Vanuatu
Native speakers
5,000 (2001)[1]
Language codes
ISO 639-3 omb
Glottolog east2443[2]

East Ambae (also known as Omba, Oba, Aoba, Walurigi, Lolovoli, Northeast Aoba, and Northeast Ambae) is an Oceanic language spoken on Ambae, Vanuatu. The data in this article will concern itself with the Lolovoli dialect of the North-East Ambae language.


North-East Ambae distinguishes 5 vowels and 16 consonants, shown in the tables below.

Bilabial Alveolar Velar Labiovelar Glottal
Voiceless Stop t k
Prenasalised Voiced Stop ᵐb ⁿd ᵑɡ ᵑɡʷ
Nasal m n ŋ
Fricative β s h
Tap/Trill r
Lateral Approximant l
Glide w

Front Central Back
Close i u
Mid e o
Open a



In Ambae there are four different pronominal forms, one set of free forms, independent pronouns and three sets of bound forms, subject proclitics, object enclitics and possessive suffixes. All sets of pronominals distinguish between singular, dual and plural and between inclusive and exclusive in the first person. Independent pronouns are preceded by the personal article when the head of a noun phrase.

Independent Pronouns[edit]

Person Number
Singular Dual Plural
1INC gideru gide
1EXCL neu gamaru gamai
2 niko gimiru gimiu
3 ngie garue ngire

Subject Proclitics[edit]

The subject proclitic is the first part of a verb phrase and can attach to an aspect, mood, negative particle or verb head.[5] Dual forms cliticise to the marker ru. In Lolovoli, no= is applied when cliticised in 1st person exclusive singular.

Person Number
Singular Dual Plural
1INC da=ru da=
1EXCL na=, no= ga=ru ga=
2 go= ne=ru ne=
3 Ø, na=, vi= ra=ru ra=


Go=ni inu rongo na malogu
2SGS=IRR drink feel ACC kava
"You will taste the Kava"

Da=hivo da=si~siu
1NSG.INS=go.down 1NSG.INS=REDUP~fish
"Let's go down and fish."

Object Enclitics[edit]

Object enclitics occur when attached to the predicate head or last adverb in a verb phrase. These only occur in singular forms and all 3rd person forms.[6]

Person Number
Singular Dual Plural
1INC gideru gide
1EXCL =eu gamaru gamai
2 =go gimiru gimiu
3 =a =e =ra, =re =ra, =re


Ra=u hui i gide
"They asked us."
Go=mese wehe i netu-ku
2SGS=DEHOR hit PERS child-1SGP
"Don't hit my children."

Possessive Suffixes[edit]

Possessive suffixes are attached to the head noun in a direct possessive construction, or a relational classifier in an indirect possessive construction.[6]

Person Number
Singular Dual Plural
1INC -da=ru -da, -de
1EXCL -ku -ma=ru -mai
2 -mu -me=ru -miu
3 -na, -ne =ra, =re =ra, =re


Nago-mu u memea
face-2SGP TEL red
"Your face is red."

no-ku bue
CL.GEN-1SGP knife
"my knife"


East Ambae has four different possessive constructions, these are the distinctions between direct and indirect possession, and simplex and complex possession (Hyslop, 2001, p. 165).[7]

If the possessor is marked on the possessed noun, this is a direct possessive construction, whereas if the possessor is marked on a relational classifier rather than the possessee, this is an indirect possessive construction. Additionally, a simplex construction, where the possessor is pronominal, a possessive suffix occurs on the possessee or the relevant classifier, while a complex construction is one in which the possessor is represented by a nominal (Hyslop, 2001, p. 166).[7]

The table below illustrates the four different possessive constructions.

Direct Indirect
Simplex possessee-poss.suffix



my child

classifier-poss.suffix possessee

me-mu malogu


your kava

Complex possessee-i possessor

netu-i Margaret

child-CONST Margaret

Margaret's child

possessee classifier-i possessor

malogu me-i retahigi

kava CL:DRINK-CONST chief

the chief's kava

According to Hyslop (2001, p. 167), while it is a morphosyntactic difference between direct and indirect possessive constructions, it is a semantically motivated distinction. In a direct possessive construction, nouns that function as the possessee can be said to be inalienably possessed, which refers to a permanent and inherent connection between the possessor and possessee that is indissoluble. Indirect possessive construction refers to alienable possession, a relationship between two referents of a less permanent and inherent type than inalienable possession, of an item that is to be 'possessed' in the conventional sense (Hyslop, 2001, p. 176).[7]

Inalienable Possession[edit]

There are two distinct categories in East Ambae that nominals taking part in inalienable possession can belong to, these being those reflecting an intimate relationship to the possessor, and part-whole and positional relation expressions (Hyslop, 2001, p. 168).[7] Those that reflect an intimate relationship to the possessor, the 'self' can be divided into four sub-categories: kin relations, body parts and associated body products, natural behaviour and personal attributes, and intimate personal property (Hyslop, 2001, p. 169).[7] These sub categories are explored below.

The 'Self'[edit]


A direct possessive construction is used in all expressions of relationships between kin (Hyslop, 2001, p. 169).

hava-da dolegi
family-1NSG.INP all
all of our family
tama-i netu-i Roselyn
father-CONST child-CONST Roselyn
Roselyn's husband
tue-i re maresu
same.sex.sib-CONST PL child
the (female) children's sister(s) or

the (male) children's brother(s) or

the children's brother(s) and sister(s)

Body Parts and Products[edit]

Any body part of a person or animal is referred to using the direct possessive construction (Hyslop, 2001, p. 170).[7]

my hair
vulu-i Kenneth
hair-CONST Kenneth
Kenneth's hair
vulu-i toa
feather-CONST chicken
(all/the) chicken's feathers

In addition, any bodily features or fluids/secretions (such as tattoos and a person or animal's odour) that could be considered part of, or an extension of the body are inalienably possessed (Hyslop, 2001, p. 170).[7]

Go=ni leo huri na bona-i bigi mate
2SGS=IRR see PURP ACC smell-CONsT meat dead
You must look out for the smell of rotting meat
Tatai-ne ra=u garea
tattoo-3SGP 3NSGS=TEL good
Her tattoos are nice
Gutu-mu lu-mu?
louse-2SGP on-2SGP
Do you have lice?

Behaviour and Personal Attributes[edit]

Natural behaviours, physical attributes, emotions, and mental processes (such as sleep, age, anger, and thought) enter into a direct possessive construction as personal attributes such as these are seen as an inalienable aspect of the concept of the self (Hyslop, 2001, p. 171).[7]

Maturu-ku mo vanai
sleep-1SGP REAL come
I am sleepy (Lit. My sleep is coming)
Higao-mu gai-vihe?
year-2SGP NUM-how.many
How old are you? (Lit. Your years are how many?)
Mero-na u lague
anger-3SGP TEL big
She is very angry (Lit. Her anger is big)
Domi-mu ra=u hesi
thought-2SGP 3NSGS=TEL bad
You have wicked thoughts! (Lit. Your thoughts are bad!)

Intimate Personal Property[edit]

This class of objects can be possessed or 'owned' in the traditional sense, however, in the East Ambae culture, these objects are so closely associated with a person's existence that they are considered inalienable objects, and when referred to, it is using the direct possessive construction. These objects that are considered 'intimate' include things such as a person's pillow, as well as a person's clothes, which are seen as an extension of the body. This can also be said for an animal's cave or bird's nest (Hyslop, 2001, p. 172 & 173).[7]

my pillow
Go=ni gevu-gi na bari-mu
2SGS=IRR clothes-APPL ACC skirt-2SGP
You will dress in your skirt
their nest

Part-Whole and Positional Relations[edit]

Part-Whole Relations[edit]

Part-whole relationships are expressed in a direct possessive construction as it is used to describe parts of objects and plants that are divisible into recognised parts in the same way as body part relations are expressed. The part is the 'possessed' head noun and the whole is the 'possessor' (Hyslop, 2001, p. 174).[7]

rau-i gai
leaf-CONST tree
leaf (leaves) of a tree
qetu-qetu-i vale-na
wall-REDUP-CONST house-3SGP
the walls of his house

This relationship is also used to refer to pieces of a whole. This is done by using the anticausativeised form of a verb, describing the way the object was divided, such as vise 'split', or kore 'break' (as seen in the examples below), and by taking the construct suffix, the form is marked as being a nominal (Hyslop, 2001, p. 175).[7]

ma-vise-i qeta
ANTI-split-CONST taro
a piece of taro
ma-kore-i avi
ANTI-break-CONST firewood
a piece of firewood

Positional Relations[edit]

Positional relations are a small subclass of bound relational location nouns and function as the possessee noun in a direct possessive construct, used to define the position of one object in relation to another, such as ulu- 'above' and mawiri- 'left, as shown below (Hyslop, 2001, p. 175).[7]

Dodo maeto lo ulu-de
cloud black LOC above-1NSG.INP
There were black clouds above us
Danuta mo toga lo mawiri-ku
Danuta REAL sit LOC left-1SGP
Danuta was sitting on my left

Alienable Possession[edit]

Four different relational classifiers are used to express indirect possession, the use of a particular relational classifier is dependent on the possessive relationship between the possessed object and the possessor, rather than any characteristic of the possessee (Hyslop, 2001, p. 176).[7]

The four relational classifiers are:

  • ga- 'food possession'
  • me- 'drink possession'
  • bula- 'natural or valued object possession'
  • no- 'general possession'

Relational Classifier ga-[edit]

This classifier indicates that the referent of the possessee noun is a food item. This can be used for any edible item including food that has already been eaten, food that has ben prepared and ready to eat, unprepared or uncooked food, and so on. Usually, the ga- relational classifier is used only to refer to food that is ready to be eaten, so an animal yet to be slaughtered or plant yet to be harvested would be referred to using the bula- classifier (Hyslop, 2001, p. 177).[7]

Kenneth u geni na ga-na loli beno
Kenneth TEL eat ACC CL.food-3SGP lolly already
Kenneth has already eaten her lollies
Ga-da hinaga u manoga
CL.food-1NSG.INP food TEL cooked
Our food is cooked

Only one relation expressed by ga- does not relate to food possession, and that is illness, despite perhaps expecting it to be categorised inalienably as a body part or product one can never describe one's illness using a direct possessive construct (Hyslop, 2001, p. 177).[7]

ga-ra sege-ana
their illness(es)

Relational Classifier me-[edit]

This classifier indicates that the referent of the possessee noun is something for the possessor to drink, this can be the possession drinkable items such as ti 'tea' or wai 'water', as well as some plants classified as drinkable rather than edible, such as tovu 'sugarcane' and lamani 'lemon' and medicine, whether it is in liquid or tablet form as even then you swallow it with water (Hyslop, 2001, p. 178).[7]

me-ku tovu
CL.drink-1SGP sugarcane
my sugarcane
Go=bitu na lamani me-i Lulu
2SGS=pick ACC lemon CL.DRINK-CONST Lulu
Pick some lemons for Lulu to drink
Go=dono na me-mu panadol
2SGP=swallow ACC CL.DRINK-2SGP panadol
Swallow your panadol

Relational Classifier bula-[edit]

The bula- classifier mainly refers to the relationship between 'natural entities' and their possessor, such as the ownership of crops and animals (Hyslop, 2001, p. 178).[7]

Bula-na boe mo gani na bula-da toa tamwere
CL.NAT-3SGP pig REAL eat ACC CL.NAT-1NSG.INP chicken always
His pig is always eating our chickens
Nu rivu na bule-ku qeta
1SGS:TEL plant ACC CL.NAT-1SGP taro
I planted my taro
Go=dono na me-mu panadol
2SGP=swallow ACC CL.DRINK-2SGP panadol
Swallow your panadol
Ngie u voli na bule-ku toli-gi
She bought me some seeds (to plant)

This category has been broadened to include some items introduced by Europeans that could be said to have some lifelike characteristics (Hyslop, 2001, p. 179).[7] An example of these items are listed below.

  • redio 'radio'
  • taragi 'car, automobile'
  • hanwaj 'watch'
  • tep 'tape recorder'

Another category includes items of adornment as they are not inalienably possessed as clothing is (Hyslop, 2001, p. 179).[7] Examples include:

  • iaring 'earrings'
  • lala 'bracelet'

Relational Classifier no-[edit]

The no- classifier is considered a general classifier, or the default category, for a range of possessive relationships that are not related to any of the other categories of possessive relationships previously mentioned (Hyslop, 2001, p. 180)[7] Possessive relationships included in this category are: traditional ownership of objects, activities such as work, the possessor's relationship with people who are not kin, and natural behaviours and mental processes that are not part of a direct possessive construction (Hyslop, 2001, p. 180).[7]

Ngire no-ra bubusi hate
They didn't have guns
No-da hala mo dadari
CL.GEN-1NSG.INP visitor REAL arrive
Our visitor has arrived
Gai-siwo ra=u vei no-na tabana-gi
NUM-nine 3NSGS=TEL do CL.GEN-3SGP work-NR
Nine (of them) did his work
...mo bulu-tegi na no-ra domi-ana...
...they joined together their thoughts...


  1. ^ East Ambae at Ethnologue (18th ed., 2015)
  2. ^ Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin; Bank, Sebastian, eds. (2016). "East Ambae". Glottolog 2.7. Jena: Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History. 
  3. ^ Hyslop 2001, p.28
  4. ^ Hyslop 2001, p.32
  5. ^ a b Hyslop 2001, p.95
  6. ^ a b Hyslop 2001, p.96
  7. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u Hyslop, C (2001). The Lolovoli dialect of the North-East Ambae language, Vanuatu. Canberra, ACT: Pacific Linguistics. pp. 165–180. ISBN 0858834537. 


  • Ivens, W. G. (1940). "A Grammar of the Language of Lobaha, Lepers' Island, New Hebrides, Melanesia". Bulletin of the School of Oriental Studies, University of London. 10 (2): 345–363. doi:10.1017/s0041977x00087553. 
  • Hyslop, Catriona. (2001). The Lolovoli Dialect of the North-East Ambae Language, Vanuatu. Pacific Linguistics 515. Canberra: Australian National University. 

External links[edit]