Raga language

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Native toVanuatu
RegionPentecost Island
Native speakers
6,500 (2001)[1]
Latin alphabet
Language codes
ISO 639-3lml

Raga (also known as Hano) is the language of northern Pentecost island in Vanuatu. Raga belongs to the East Vanuatu languages, a branch of the Austronesian languages family. In old sources the language is sometimes referred to by the names of villages in which it is spoken, such as Bwatvenua (Qatvenua), Lamalanga, Vunmarama and Loltong.

With an estimated 6,500 native speakers (in the year 2000), Raga is the second most widely spoken of Pentecost's five native languages (after Apma), and the seventh largest vernacular in Vanuatu as a whole. There are significant communities of Raga speakers on Maewo island and in Port Vila and Luganville as a result of emigration from Pentecost.

The Raga spoken by most people today is heavily mixed with Bislama, Vanuatu's national language. The Turaga indigenous movement, based at Lavatmanggemu in north-eastern Pentecost, have attempted to purge the language of foreign influences by coining or rediscovering native words for introduced concepts such as "torch battery" (vat bongbongi, literally "night stones") and "hour" (ngguha, literally "movement"). Members of the Turaga movement write in Raga language using Avoiuli, a unique writing system inspired by local sand drawings.

Raga is generally considered an easy language to speak and learn, and is known as a second language by a number of speakers of other Vanuatu languages.

Modern Raga is relatively homogeneous, with no significant dialectal variation. A distinctive southern dialect of Raga, Nggasai, is now extinct; its last native speaker died in 1999.

Several grammatical sketches, vocabulary lists and short papers on Raga have been published, beginning with the work of R H Codrington and von der Gabelentz in the late 19th century, and a number of religious texts have been translated into the language. However, no thorough description of Raga has ever been published.


The consonants of Raga are as follows,

Raga consonants
Labial Labialized
Alveolar Velar Glottal
Nasal m n ŋ ⟨n̄⟩
Voiced plosive b~p ⟨b⟩ d ᵑɡ ⟨ḡ⟩
Voiceless plosive t k
(Voiced) fricative v~f ⟨v⟩ vʷ~fʷ ɣ~x ⟨g⟩
Voiceless fricative s h
Sonorant w l, r

In this article, the sounds /ŋ/ and /ᵑɡ/ (like the ng of 'singer' and 'finger', respectively), which are written and in standard orthography, will be written ng and ngg. G is typically pronounced like the ch in Scottish "loch".

Prenasalization of the voiced plosives, such that b becomes mb (always voiced) and d becomes nd, occurs when the preceding consonant is nasal (m, n or ng). Thus mabu "rest" is pronounced mambu.

V, vw are labiodental, unlike in Apma to the immediate south, where they are bilabial [β, βʷ]. Descriptions describe v as [v] and g as [x] more commonly than as [f] or [ɣ], but there is evidently some variation.

Raga has the five basic vowels a, e, i, o and u. Vowels are not generally distinguished for length.

Word roots in Raga nearly always end with a vowel. However, word-final vowels are often dropped within phrases, so that, for example, tanga "basket" and maita "white" combine to make tang maita "white basket".

Stress occurs on the penultimate syllable of a word.


Basic word order in Raga is subject–verb–object.


Personal pronouns are distinguished by person and number. They are not distinguished by gender. The basic pronouns are as follows:

Person Raga English
1st person singular inau "me"
2nd person singular ginggo "you" (singular)
3rd person singular kea "him / her / it"
1st person dual (inclusive) gidaru "us" (you and me, two of us)
1st person dual (exclusive) kamaru "us" (me and another)
2nd person dual kimiru "you (two)"
1st person plural (inclusive) gida "us" (you and me)
1st person plural (exclusive) kamai "us" (me and others)
2nd person plural kimiu "you" (plural)
3rd person dual/plural kera "them"


Plurality is indicated by placing ira before a noun:

manu = [the] bird
ira manu = [the] birds

Nouns may be suffixed to indicate whom an item belongs to. For example:

iha = name
ihaku = my name
ihamwa = your name
ihana = his/her name
ihan ratahigi = the chief's name

Possession may also be indicated by the use of possessive classifiers, separate words that occur before the noun and take possessive suffixes. These classifiers are:

  • no- for general possessions (nonggu tanga, "my basket")
  • bila- for things that are cared for, such as crops and livestock (bilada boe, "our pig")
  • ga- for things to be eaten (gam bweta, "your taro")
  • ma- for things to be drunk (mara wai, "their water")

Historically there was also a classifier wa- for sugarcane to be chewed (wan toi, "his sugarcane"); this has fallen out of use among younger speakers.

The possessive suffixes are as follows:

Person Raga English
1st person singular -ku or -nggu "of mine"
2nd person singular -mwa "of yours" (singular)
3rd person singular -na "of his/hers/its"
1st person dual (inclusive) -daru "of ours" (yours and mine, two of us)
1st person dual (exclusive) -maru "of ours" (mine and another's)
2nd person dual -miru "of yours" (two of you)
1st person plural (inclusive) -da "of ours" (yours and mine)
1st person plural (exclusive) -mai "of ours" (mine and others')
2nd person plural -miu "of yours" (plural)
3rd person dual/plural -ra "of theirs"
Generic -i -

A verb may be transformed into a noun by the addition of a nominalising suffix -ana:

bwalo = to fight (verb)
bwaloana = a fight (noun)

Modifiers generally come after a noun:

vanua = island
vanua kolo = small island
vanua gairua = two islands


Verbs in Raga are usually preceded by a subject pronoun and by a marker indicating the tense, aspect and mood of the action.

The subject pronouns are as follows:

Person Raga English
1st person singular na- "I"
2nd person singular go- "you" (singular)
1st person plural (inclusive) ta- "we" (you and I)
1st person plural (exclusive) ga- "we" (others and I)
2nd person plural gi- "you" (plural)
3rd person plural ra- "they"

There is no 3rd person singular subject pronoun ("he/she/it").

Raga has five sets of tense/aspect/mood markers:

Tense / Aspect / Mood Used for Marker (full form) Marker (short form)
Imperfective Actions in the present tense
Temporary or changing states
mwa -m
Perfective Actions in the past tense
Fixed states
nu -n
Potential Things that may happen in the future vi -v or -i
Prospective Things that are about to happen men -men
Hypothetical Things that have not happened and probably won't si -s

The full forms of these markers are used in the 3rd person singular, when there is usually no subject pronoun:

mwa lolia = he does it
nu lolia = he did it
vi lolia = he will do it

Elsewhere, short forms of these markers are suffixed to the subject pronoun:

nam lolia = I do it
nan lolia = I did it
nav lolia = I will do it

There are also dual (two-person) forms incorporating a particle ru "two":

ram lolia = they do it
ramuru lolia = the two of them do it

Historically there were trial (three-person) forms incorporating a particle dol or tol, but these have fallen out of use.

There is a pattern of verb-consonant mutation whereby v at the start of a verb changes to b, vw to bw, g to ngg, and t to d. This mutation occurs in imperfective aspect, and in the presence of the additive marker mom:

nan vano = I went
nam bano = I am going

Negative sentences are indicated with the two-part marker hav...te(he) "not", which encloses the verb and anything suffixed to it:

nan hav lolia tehe = I didn't do it

The passive voice can be formed by attaching the suffix -ana to the verb:

nu lolia = he did it
nu loliana = it was done

The direct object immediately follows the verb. Some object pronouns take the form of suffixes attached to the verb:

Person Raga English
1st person singular -(a)u "me"
2nd person singular -go "you" (singular)
3rd person singular (or inanimate plural) -a or -e "him" / "her" / "it" (or "them")
3rd person plural (animate) -ra "them"

In some cases a particle -ni- interposes between the verb and the object pronoun:

nam doronia = I like it

Sample phrases[edit]

English Raga
Where are you going? Gomen van (hala) behe?
Where have you come from? Gon mai (hala) behe?
Where is it? Mwa ndo (hala) behe?
It's here Mwa ndo teti
Come here! Mai teti!
Go away! Van dagai!
What's your name? Ihamwa be ihei?
My name is... Ihaku be...
Where are you from? Ginggo ata behe? / Ginggo nin behe?
I am from... Inau ata... / Inau nin...
How much? / How many? Gaiviha?
one tea / gaituvwa
two (gai)rua
three (gai)tolu
four (gai)vasi
five (gai)lima
six (gai)ono
seven (gai)bitu
eight (gai)vwelu
nine (gai)sivo
ten hangvulu
Thank you Tabeana
It's just fine Nu tavuha ngano


  1. ^ Raga at Ethnologue (18th ed., 2015)
  2. ^ Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin, eds. (2017). "Hano". Glottolog 3.0. Jena, Germany: Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History.

External links[edit]