Eastern Melanesia (EME)
Geographic location: Solomon Islands, New Caledonia, Vanuatu
Number of Languages: 499
Number of Genetic Units: 48
Genetic Index: .096
Mean Level of Endangerment:
Mean Documentation Status:
Threat Level: low
map of EME hotspot

Description:

The Eastern Melanesia hotspot covers a large number of small islands, and may hold the highest density of languages per person in the world. Many of the languages in this hotspot are spoken by only a few hundred people, but the level of endangerment is not as severe as in many other hotspots. Despite the small number of speakers for some of these languages, many children learn their ancestral language along with a national language and speakers maintain their language as part of their cultural identity.

The languages of Eastern Melanesia present a challenge to linguists because it is hard to distinguish the boundaries between languages and dialects. For linguists, there is a language boundary if speakers of the two languages cannot understand each other. If they can understand each other, there is only one language with two dialects. In Eastern Melanesia, many small communities consider their language separate from the language spoken in a different community even when they can understand the language in the neighboring community. The use of language as part of cultural identity in this area allows these many languages to survive, but can also pose problems for census takers and researchers attempting to count languages.

Genetic Units found in Hotspot (48):

  1. Austronesian > Malayo-Polynesian > Javanese
  2. Austronesian >> Central Eastern Oceanic > South Vanuatu > Aneityum
  3. Austronesian >> Central Eastern Oceanic > South Vanuatu > Erromanga
  4. Austronesian >> Central Eastern Oceanic > South Vanuatu > Tanna
  5. Austronesian >> Oceanic > Admiralty
  6. Austronesian >> Oceanic > St. Matthias
  7. Austronesian >>> Central Eastern Oceanic > Southeast Sol
  8. Austronesian >>> Central Eastern Oceanic >> East Outer Islands
  9. Austronesian >>> Central Eastern Oceanic >> Micronesian
  10. Austronesian >>> Remote Oceanic > Loyalty Islands
  11. Austronesian >>> Remote Oceanic > North Central Vanuatu > Eastern Santo
  12. Austronesian >>> Remote Oceanic > North Central Vanuatu > Malekula Interior
  13. Austronesian >>> Remote Oceanic > North Central Vanuatu > Northeast Vanuatu/ Banks Islands
  14. Austronesian >>> Remote Oceanic > New Caledonian > Haeke
  15. Austronesian >>> Remote Oceanic > New Caledonian > North
  16. Austronesian >>> Remote Oceanic > New Caledonian > South
  17. Austronesian >>> Western Oceanic >> Bali-Vitu
  18. Austronesian >>> Western Oceanic >> Huon Gulf
  19. Austronesian >>> Western Oceanic >> New Ireland
  20. Austronesian >>> Western Oceanic >> Ngero-Vitiaz
  21. Austronesian >>> Western Oceanic >> Willaumez
  22. Austronesian >>> Western Oceanic >>> Central Papuan
  23. Austronesian >>> Western Oceanic >>> Markham
  24. Austronesian >>> Western Oceanic >>>North Papuan Mainland-D’Entrecasteaux
  25. Austronesian >>> Western Oceanic >>> Papuan Tip Nuclear
  26. Austronesian >>> Western Oceanic >>> Papuan Tip Peripheral
  27. Austronesian >>>> East Fijian-Polynesian
  28. East Papuan > Bougainville > East
  29. East Papuan > Bougainville > West
  30. East Papuan > Reefs Island-Santa Cruz
  31. East Papuan > Yele-Solomons - New Britain > New Britain
  32. East Papuan > Yele-Solomons - New Britain > Yele-Solomons
  33. East Papuan > Yele
  34. Indo-European > Germanic
  35. Indo-European > Romance
  36. Sepik-Ramu > Ramu > Goam
  37. Trans New Guinea > Eleman
  38. Trans New Guinea > Madang-Adelbert Range > Madang
  39. Trans New Guinea >> Central-Western > Angan
  40. Trans New Guinea >> Central-Western > Huon-Finisterre
  41. Trans New Guinea >> East > Binanderean
  42. Trans New Guinea >> East > Central and Southeastern > Dagan
  43. Trans New Guinea >> East > Central and Southeastern > Goilalan
  44. Trans New Guinea >> East > Central and Southeastern > Koiarian
  45. Trans New Guinea >> East > Central and Southeastern > Kwalean
  46. Trans New Guinea >> East > Central and Southeastern > Mailuan
  47. Trans New Guinea >> East > Central and Southeastern > Manubaran
  48. Trans New Guinea >> East > Central and Southeastern > Yareban
  49. Creole (4)

Hotspots Formula:

List of Languages:

Endangered Languages include:

  • Araki (< 10 speakers, Northeast Vanuatu, spoken in Vanuatu)
  • Maragus (< 10 speakers, Malekula Interior, spoken in Vanuatu)
  • Polonombauk (< 225 speakers, East Santo, spoken in Vanuatu)
  • Sowa (< 20 speakers, Northeast Vanuatu, spoken in Vanuatu)
  • Ura (< 6 speakers, Southern Vanuatu, spoken in Vanuatu)

Some Features of Languages in Hotspot include:

  • complex vowel systems, including length distinctions
  • serial verb constructions
  • more complex syllables than other Oceanic languages

Trivia:

  • The name for the doublebar goatfish in West Nggela (10,000 speakers, Solomon Islands), is Mala bulua, from the words mala, position or rank, and bula, to light with a lamp or torch. Together, they explain the way the fish is caught, by illuminating a reef at low tide and taking fish from the surface of the water.

  • The Marovo people (8,000 speakers, Solomon Islands) classify schools of fish based on their behavior. For example, fish form chapa schools while they patrol for food, umoro schools when they spot prey, and udumu schools, of fish packed so densely they seem like one object.

  • Hovid can mean either three days ago or three days from now, depending on context, in Aneityum (600 speakers, Vanuatu)

  • There are three verbs for 'to go' in Lolovoli (5,000 speakers, Vanuatu) because of the steep hills of the island where it is spoken: 'go up' (hage), 'go across' (vano) and 'go down' (hivo)

Media:

Sources:

Bennardo, Giovanni, ed. 2003. Representing Space in Oceania: Culture in Language and Mind. Canberra: Pacific Linguistics.

Crowley, Terry.  2000.  Language Planning in Vanuatu.  In Current Issues in Language Planning, 1:1.  Online at http://www.channelviewpublications.net/cilp/001/0047/cilp0010047.pdf

Foale, Simon. 1999. What’s in a name? An analysis of the West Nggela (Solomon Islands) fish taxonomy. SPC Traditional Marine Resource Management and Knowledge Information Bulletin 9: 3-19.

Terrill, Angela. 2002. Why make books for people who don’t read? A perspective on documentation of an endangered language from Solomon Islands. International Journal of the Sociology of Language 155/156: 205-219.