South Efate language

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South Efate
Fate, Erakor
Native to Northeast Vanuatu
Region Efate Island
Native speakers
6,000 (2001)[1]
Language codes
ISO 639-3 erk
Glottolog sout2856[2]

The South Efate language is a Nuclear Southern Oceanic language of the Malayo-Polynesian language family, spoken on the island of Efate in central Vanuatu. As of 2005, there are approximately 6,000 speakers who live in coastal villages from Pango to Eton. The language's grammar has been described by Nick Thieberger, who is working on a book of stories and dictionary of the language.[3]

South Efate is closely related to Nguna and to Lelepa. Based on shared features with southern Vanuatu languages (including echo–subject marking, and the free and preposed 1st-singular-possessive morphemes), Lynch (2001) suggests it could form part of a southern Vanuatu subgroup that includes New Caledonia.


Adnominal Possession[edit]

There are two ways of marking adnominal possession in South Efate: through the use of a possessive pronoun (indirect possession), or directly on the noun (direct possession). Indirect possession is used for general possession, while direct possession is used for nouns that are closely associated items (e.g., body parts or products, kinship terms, etc.).[4]

Indirect/general possession[edit]

Indirect possession is morphosyntactically represented through the use of the possessive markers ni (of) or knen (of it), or of the presence of a possessive pronoun such as nakte (my/mine).[4]

When possession is marked by a possessive pronoun, the pronouns follow the possessed NP:

     Nasum̃tap   pur   nigmam      nen   i=tarpek.
     church     big   1p.exPOS    REL   3sg.RS=fall down
     It was our church that fell down.[5]

ni possession: the preposition ni only occurs when the possessum is a noun. The NP follows the form of ‘possessed ni possessor’.

     I=pi      nawesien  ni   Atua.
     3sgRS=be  work      of   God
     It is God’s work.[5]

knen possession: This form is used as an inanimate referent, and often indicates a previously mentioned participant in the discourse. It is positioned following the referent noun.

     Natrauswen   karu   i=pitlak     nalag   knen.
     story        next   3sgRS=have   song
     The next story, it has its song.[6]

Direct possession[edit]

Direct possession is used for inalienably possessed nouns. This is similar to other languages of Vanuatu that denote inalienable nouns as those that refer to relationships of part-whole association such as kinship terms, body parts or products, and associated parts (such as leaf/stem).[7] These nouns take directly suffixed possession markers, however they can also occur without possessive marking when the possessor is encoded by a noun. The directly possessed (DP) suffix only attaches to the class of directly possessed nouns. For sg and 3p forms, an unpredictable vowel (V) may be inserted to aid DP suffixation.[6]

     Go   ra=paos-ki-n        ki,     “Gag     tm-a-m          go     rait-o-m         wa?"
     and  3d.RS=ask-TR-3sgO   PREP    2sgPOS   father-V-2sgDP  and    mother-V-3sgDP   where
     And they asked, “Where are your father and mother?”[8]

If the directly possessed noun has no possessive suffix, the referent is presumed unknown or disembodied. Lack of possession also occurs when possession is encoded by the possessed noun preceding the possessor. As in the following example, the directly possessed noun rait (mother) is preceded by the noun tesa (child).

     Go    rait    tesa    ke=fo           tae    toleg      preg     tete   namrun   ses.
     and   mother  child   3sgIRR=PSP:IR   able   stand.up   make     some   thing    small
     And the child’s mother can stand up and do some small things.[9]

Access to resources[edit]

Thieberger's field recordings have been archived with Paradisec. A summary of the collection of material in South Efate can be found here.

A listing of all material available via the Open Language Archives Community for South Efate can be found here.


  1. ^ South Efate at Ethnologue (18th ed., 2015)
  2. ^ Nordhoff, Sebastian; Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin, eds. (2013). "South Efate". Glottolog. Leipzig: Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology. 
  3. ^ South Efate — English dictionary
  4. ^ a b Thieberger, p.127.
  5. ^ a b Thieberger, p.128.
  6. ^ a b Thieberger, p.129.
  7. ^ Payne, 1997
  8. ^ Thieberger, p.130.
  9. ^ Thieberger, pg.131


  • Anon. 1868. Nalag nig Efat. Trans. D. Morrison. Sydney: Mason, Firt, nigar asler (Mason, Firth and Co).
  • Anon. 1892. Tusi nalag Efate Niu Ebrites. Sydney: F. Cunninghame and Co.
  • Anon. 1979. Natus nalag (213 pp).
  • Bible. 1864. Nadus iskei nig Fat. Aneityum: Mission Press.
  • Bible. 1866. Nafsanwi nig Iesu Krist nag Mark. Trans. D. Morrison. Sydney: Sheriff and Downing.
  • Bible. 1874. Kenesis natus a bei nag Moses ki mtir i. Trans. Cosh, J. Sydney: British and Foreign Bible Society.
  • Bible. 1875? Nafisan nafousien. Sydney: F. Cunninghame and Co.
  • Bible. 1883. The Gospel according to Luke. Trans. Macdonald, D.D. Melbourne: M.L. Hutchinson.
  • Bible. 1885. The Gospel according to John, Tus Nanrognrogona Uia ni Iesu Kristo nag Ioane i mitiria. Trans. Mackenzie, J., Macdonald, D.D. Sydney: F. Cunninghame and Co.
  • Bible. 1919. Natus bei ni nafisan ni Efate. Sydney: Epworth Press.
  • Bible. 1919. Tusi tab fao (New Testament). Trans. Mackenzie, J., Macdonald, D.D. Melbourne: British and Foreign Bible Society.
  • Bible. 1923. Scripture History. Sydney: Epworth Printing and Publishing House.
  • Bible. 1923. Nafakoron ni aliat. Erakor Efate, New Hebrides. Nouméa: Imprimerie A.-L. Laubreaux.
  • Bible. n.d. Nawisien nig Nagmer Apostol. Sydney: F. Cunninghame and Co.
  • Clark, Ross. 1973. Transitivity and case in eastern Oceanic languages. Oceanic Linguistics 12(1–2). 559–606.
  • ––––– 1978. The New Hebridean outliers. In Wurm, S.A. and L.Carrington, (eds.), Second International Conference on Austronesian Linguistics: proceedings. Fascicle 2: eastern Austronesian. (Pacific Linguistics Series) Department of Linguistics, Research School of Pacific Studies, The Australian National University. 911–928.
  • ––––– 1982. “Necessary” and “unnecessary” borrowing. In Halim, A. (ed.), Papers from the Third International Conference on Austronesian Linguistics. Vol.3: Accent on variety. C 76 ed. (Pacific Linguistics Series): Department of Linguistics, Research School of Pacific Studies, The Australian National University. 137–143.
  • ––––– 1985. The Efate dialects. Te Reo 28.:3–35.
  • ––––– 1996. Linguistic consequences of the Kuwae eruption. In J. M. Davidson, G. Irwin, B. F. Leach, A. Pawley and D. Brown (eds.), Oceanic culture history: essays in honour of Roger Green. New Zealand Journal of Archaeology Special Publication. 275–285.
  • ––––– n.d. The Efate-Tongoa dialects (Ms).
  • Codrington, Robert Henry (R. H.). 1885. The Melanesian Languages. Oxford: Clarendon Press.
  • Lynch, John. 2000. South Efate phonological history. Oceanic Linguistics 39(2):320–338.
  • ––––– 2001. The linguistic history of Southern Vanuatu. Canberra: Pacific Linguistics, Research School of Pacific and Asian Studies, Australian National University.
  • ––––– 2004. The Efate-Erromango Problem in Vanuatu Subgrouping. Oceanic Linguistics 43(2):311–338.
  • Thieberger, Nicholas. 2006a. A Grammar of South Efate: An Oceanic Language of Vanuatu Oceanic Linguistics Special Publication, No. 33. Honolulu: University of Hawai'i Press.
  • ––––– 2006b. The benefactive construction in South Efate. Oceanic Linguistics, Volume 45, no. 2, 297-310.
  • ––––– 2007. The demise of serial verbs in South Efate. Diana Eades, John Lynch and Jeff Siegel (eds.), Language Description, History and Development: Linguistic Indulgence in Memory of Terry Crowley. Amsterdam: Benjamins. 237-251.
  • ––––– 2011a. Natrauswen nig Efat. Melbourne: The author. ISBN 978-1-921775-50-5.
  • ––––– 2011b. A dictionary of South Efate. Melbourne: The author. ISBN 978-1-921775-51-2.
  • ––––– 2012. Mood and Transitivity in South Efate. Oceanic Linguistics. Volume 51, no. 2, 387-401.
  • Thieberger, Nicholas and Chris Ballard. 2008. Daniel Macdonald and the 'compromise literary dialect' in Efate, central Vanuatu. Oceanic Linguistics, Volume 47, no.2: 365-382
  • Payne, Thomas Edward. 1997. Describing morphosyntax: a guide for field linguists. Cambridge, U.K.; New York: Cambridge University Press.

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