Olrat language

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Native toVanuatu
Native speakers
3 (2012)[1]
Language codes
ISO 639-3olr
Olrat is classified as Critically Endangered by the UNESCO Atlas of the World's Languages in Danger

Olrat was an Oceanic language of Gaua island, in northern Vanuatu. It became extinct in 2009, with the death of its last speaker Maten Womal.[2]


The name Olrat (spelled natively as Ōlrat [ʊlrat]) is an endonym. Robert Codrington mentions a place south of Lakon village under the Mota name Ulrata.[3] A few decades later, Sidney Ray mentions the language briefly in 1926 under the same Mota name ‒ but provides no linguistic information.[4]

The language[edit]

A. François with †Maten Womal, the last storyteller of Olrat (Gaua, Vanuatu, 2003)

In 2003, only three speakers of Olrat remained, who lived on the middle-west coast of Gaua.[5] Their community had left their inland hamlet of Olrat in the first half of the 20th century, and merged into the larger village of Jōlap where Lakon is dominant.[1][2]

Alexandre François identifies Olrat as a distinct language from its immediate neighbor Lakon, on phonological,[6] grammatical,[7] and lexical[8] grounds.


Olrat has 14 phonemic vowels. These include 7 short /i ɪ ɛ a ɔ ʊ u/ and 7 long vowels /iː ɪː ɛː aː ɔː ʊː uː/.[9][2]

Olrat vowels
  Front Back
Near-close i ⟨i⟩ ⟨ii⟩ u ⟨u⟩ ⟨uu⟩
Close-mid ɪ ⟨ē⟩ɪː ⟨ēē⟩ ʊ ⟨ō⟩ʊː ⟨ōō⟩
Open-mid ɛ ⟨e⟩ɛː ⟨ee⟩ ɔ ⟨o⟩ɔː ⟨oo⟩
Open a ⟨a⟩ ⟨aa⟩

Historically, the phonologization of vowel length originates in the compensatory lengthening of short vowels when the voiced velar fricative /ɣ/ was lost syllable-finally.[10]


The system of personal pronouns in Olrat contrasts clusivity, and distinguishes four numbers (singular, dual, trial, plural).[11]

Spatial reference in Olrat is based on a system of geocentric (absolute) directionals, which is typical of Oceanic languages.[12]

Notes and references[edit]


  1. ^ a b François (2012).
  2. ^ a b c François (2022).
  3. ^ See page 378 of: Codrington, R. H. (1885). The Melanesian Languages. Vol. 47. Oxford: Clarendon Press. pp. 25–60.
  4. ^ See page 428 of: Ray, Sidney Herbert (1926). A Comparative Study of the Melanesian Island Languages. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. pp. xvi+598. ISBN 9781107682023. .
  5. ^ List of Banks islands languages.
  6. ^ François (2005)
  7. ^ François (2007)
  8. ^ François (2011)
  9. ^ François (2005:445), François (2011:194).
  10. ^ François (2005:461).
  11. ^ François (2016).
  12. ^ François (2015).


External links[edit]