Tolomako language

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Native to Vanuatu
Region Big Bay, Espiritu Santo Island
Native speakers
900 (2001)[1]
  • Tolomako proper
  • Tsuréviu
Language codes
ISO 639-3 tlm
Glottolog tolo1255[2]

Tolomako is a language of the Oceanic subgroup of Austronesian languages. It is spoken on Santo island in Vanuatu.


It distinguishes four numbers for its personal pronouns: singular, dual, trial, plural. Its verbs have no tense or aspect marking, but two moods, realis and irrealis. Substantives and numerals also have the same two moods. E.g.

na tatsua mo tea mo tsoa
realis person realis one realis not to be

Someone is missing

te tatsua i tea mo tsoa
irrealis person irrealis one realis not to be

There is nobody.

Tolomako proper is characterized by having dentals where the mother language had labials before front vowels. It shares this feature with Sakao, but not with its dialect Tsureviu, which is otherwise very close. Thus:

Tolomako Tsureviu
tei pei "water"
nata mata "eye"

When labials do occur preceding front vowels they seem to be reflexes of older labiovelars:

Tolomako Tsureviu
pei pei "good"
mata mata "snake"

Compare with Fijian ŋata "snake" (spelt gata).

It is possible that Tolomako is a very simplified daughter-language or pidgin of the neighboring language Sakao. However, Tolomako is more likely a sister language of Sakao, not a pidgin. It cannot be phonologically derived from Sakao, whereas Sakao can be from Tolomako to some extent. Comparing Tolomako with its close dialect of Tsureviu allows to reconstruct an earlier state, from which most of Sakao can be regularly derived. This earlier state is very close to what can be reconstructed of Proto-Vanuatu. Thus Tolomako is a very conservative language, whereas Sakao has undergone drastic innovations in its phonology and grammar, both in the direction of increased complexity.


Tolomako has a simple syllable structure, maximally consonant-vowel-vowel: V, CV, VV, CVV.


There are three degrees of deixis, here/this, there/that, yonder/yon.


Tolomako has inalienably possessed nouns, which are regularly derived:


Tolomako syntax is isolating. It has a single preposition, ne, for all relationships of space and time; below it is used to distinguish the object of a verb from the instrument used.

mo losi na poe ne na matsa
S/he hits ART pig PREP ART club
"He hits (kills) the pig with a club"

See also[edit]

  • Sakao language, for parallels to the above in a closely related but grammatically more complex language


  1. ^ Tolomako at Ethnologue (18th ed., 2015)
  2. ^ Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin; Bank, Sebastian, eds. (2016). "Tolomako". Glottolog 2.7. Jena: Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History. 

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