Languages of Vanuatu

Languages of Vanuatu
Official languages English, French, Bislama

Vanuatu has three official languages, English, French, and Bislama, a creole language derived from English. Bislama is the first language of many urban ni-Vanuatu, that is, the residents of Port Vila and Luganville. It is the most common second language elsewhere in the Vanuatu islands. It is similar to Tok Pisin of Papua New Guinea, and other nearby creoles.

In addition, there are over one hundred local languages spread over the archipelago. Vanuatu is the country with the highest density of languages per capita in the world: it currently shows an average of about 1760 speakers for each indigenous language, and went through a historical low of 565;[1] only Papua New Guinea comes close. Some of these languages are very endangered, with only a handful of speakers, and indeed several have become extinct in recent times. Generally however, despite the low numbers for most of the indigenous languages, they are not considered especially vulnerable for extinction.[2]

In recent years, the use of Bislama as a first language has considerably encroached on indigenous languages, whose use in the population has receded from 73.1 to 63.2 percent between 1999 and 2009.[3]

Out of the three official languages, Bislama is the most spoken in Vanuatu, followed by English, and lastly French.

Indigenous languages

Vanuatu is home to more than a hundred indigenous languages: a recent count lists 138.[4] Among them, three became extinct in recent decades. Many are named after the island they are spoken on, though some of the larger islands have several different languages. Espiritu Santo and Malakula are linguistically the most diverse, with about two dozen languages each.

Some language names refer to networks of dialects rather than unified languages. Uripiv, for example, is a dialect continuum spoken across several islands in Malampa Province. In such cases, the decision as to how many languages should be counted is notoriously difficult, and sometimes the object of controversy. The number of 112 listed below may differ from other counts proposed in the literature, depending partly on these difficulties.[5]

All indigenous languages of Vanuatu are Oceanic. Three are Polynesian languages of the Futunic group: Emae, Mele-Fila and Futuna-Aniwa. The remaining languages belong to various branches of the Southern Oceanic branch of Oceanic.


Below is a list of most of the indigenous languages of Vanuatu, which are still spoken or were until recently.[6] It provides links to corresponding Ethnologue entries and to an OLAC list of media resources on the language.[7]

Tip: Click on the column title to change the sort order.

Language Ethn. OLAC Other names Speakers Region Family Notes
Akei tsr tsr Tasiriki 650 Espiritu Santo NCV
Amblong alm alm 300 Espiritu Santo NCV
Anejom̃ aty aty Aneityum 900 Aneityum SV
Aore aor aor 0 Espiritu Santo, Aore NCV
Apma app app 7,800 Pentecost NCV
Araki akr akr 8 Araki NCV
Aulua aul aul 750 Malekula NCV
Avava tmb tmb Katbol 700 Malekula NCV
Axamb ahb ahb Ahamb 750 Malekula NCV
Baetora btr btr 1,330 Maewo NCV
Baki bki bki Burumba, Paki 350 Epi NCV
Bierebo bnk bnk Bonkovia-yevali 800 Epi NCV
Bieria brj brj Bieri, Vovo, Wowo 25 Epi NCV
Burmbar vrt vrt Banan Bay, Vartavo 900 Malekula NCV
Butmas-Tur bnr bnr Ati 520 Espiritu Santo NCV
Central Maewo mwo mwo 1,400 Maewo NCV
Daakie ptv ptv Port-Vato 1,300 Ambrym NCV
Daakaka bpa bpa Baiap, South Ambrym 1,200 Ambrym NCV
Dixon Reef dix dix 50 Malekula NCV
Dorig wwo wwo Wetamut 300 Banks Islands (Gaua) NCV
Emae mmw mmw 400 Shepherd Islands (Emae) Polynesian
Eton etn etn 500 Efate NCV
Fortsenal frt frt Kiai 450 Espiritu Santo NCV
Futuna-Aniwa fut fut West Futuna 1,500 Futuna, Aniwa Polynesian
Hano lml lml Raga 6,500 Pentecost NCV
Hiw hiw hiw Hiu 280 Torres Islands (Hiw) NCV
Ifo iff iff 0 Erromango SV
Kwamera tnk tnk 3,500 Tanna SV
Koro krf krf 250 Banks Islands (Gaua) NCV
Lamenu lmu lmu Lamen, Varmali 850 Epi, Lamen NCV
Lakon lkn lkn Lakona; Vurē 800 Banks Islands (Gaua) NCV
Lamap psw psw Port Sandwich 1,200 Malekula NCV
Larevat lrv lrv Laravat 680 Malekula NCV
Lehali tql tql 200 Banks Islands (Ureparapara) NCV
Lelepa lpa lpa Havannah Harbour 400 Lelepa, Efate NCV
Lemerig lrz lrz Sasar 2 Banks Islands (Vanua Lava) NCV
Lenakel tnl tnl 11,500 Tanna SV
Letemboi nms nms Small Nambas 800 Malekula NCV
Lewo lww lww Varsu 2,200 Epi NCV
Lonwolwol crc crc West Ambrym 1,200 Ambrym NCV
Lorediakarkar lnn lnn 850 Espiritu Santo NCV
Lo-Toga lht lht Loh, Toga 580 Torres Islands (Lo, Toga, Tegua) NCV
Löyöp urr urr Lehalurup 240 Banks Islands (Ureparapara) NCV
Mae mme mme Dirak 1,000 Malekula NCV
Maii mmm mmm 180 Epi NCV
Malfaxal mlx mlx Na’ahai 600 Malekula NCV
Malua Bay mll mll Middle Nambas 500 Malekula NCV
Maragus mrs mrs 15 Malekula NCV
Maskelynes klv klv 1,100 Malekula, Maskelynes Islands NCV
Mavea mkv mkv Mav̋ea, Mafea 34 Mavea NCV
Mele-Fila mxe mxe Ifira-Mele 3,500 Efate, Mele, Ifira Polynesian
Merei lmb lmb 400 Espiritu Santo NCV
Morouas mrp mrp 150 Espiritu Santo NCV
Mota mtt mtt 750 Banks Islands (Mota) NCV
Mpotovoro mvt mvt 430 Malekula NCV
Mwerlap mrm mrm Merlav 1,100 Banks Islands (Merelava) NCV
Mwesen msn msn Mosina 10 Banks Islands (Vanua Lava) NCV
Mwotlap mlv mlv Motlav 2,100 Banks Islands (Motalava) NCV
Nahavaq sns sns South West Bay 700 Malekula NCV
Nakanamanga llp llp 9,500 Efate, Shepherd Islands (Nguna, Tongoa) NCV
Namakura nmk nmk Makura 3,750 Efate, Shepherd Islands (Tongoa, Tongariki) NCV
Naman lzl lzl Litzlitz 15 Malekula NCV
Narango nrg nrg 160 Espiritu Santo NCV
Nasarian nvh nvh 5 Malekula NCV
Navut nsw nsw 520 Espiritu Santo NCV
Nese 160 Malekula NCV
Neverver lgk lgk Lingarak 1,250 Malekula NCV
Ninde mwi mwi Labo 1,100 Malekula NCV
Nisvai Vetbon 140 Malekula NCV Unesco
Nokuku nkk nkk 160 Espiritu Santo NCV
North Tanna tnn tnn 5,000 Tanna SV
North Ambrym mmg mmg 5,250 Ambrym NCV
Northeast Ambae omb omb Lolovoli; Aoba 5,000 Ambae NCV
Nume tgs tgs Tarasag 700 Banks Islands (Gaua) NCV
Olrat olr olr 3 Banks Islands (Gaua) NCV
Paama paa paa Paamese 6,000 Paama NCV
Piamatsina ptr ptr 150 Espiritu Santo NCV
Polonombauk plb plb 220 Espiritu Santo NCV
Repanbitip rpn rpn 90 Malekula NCV
Rerep pgk pgk Pangkumu, Tisman 380 Malekula NCV
Roria rga rga Mores 75 Espiritu Santo NCV
Saa sax sax Sa 2,500 Pentecost NCV
Sakao sku sku Hog Harbour, N'kep 4,000 Espiritu Santo, Sakao NCV
Shark Bay ssv ssv 450 Espiritu Santo, Litaro NCV
Sie erg erg Se, Erromanga 1,900 Erromango SV
Ske ske ske Seke 300 Pentecost NCV
South Efate erk erk Erakor 6,000 Efate NCV
Southeast Ambrym tvk tvk 3,700 Ambrym NCV
Southwest Tanna nwi nwi 5,000 Tanna SV
Sowa sww sww 0 Pentecost NCV
Sungwadia mrb mrb Marino; North Maewo 500 Maewo NCV
Tamambo mla mla Malo; Tamabo 4,000 Malo NCV
Tambotalo tls tls 50 Espiritu Santo NCV
Tangoa tgp tgp 800 Tangoa NCV
Tasmate tmt tmt 150 Espiritu Santo NCV
Tiale mnl mnl 400 Espiritu Santo NCV
Tolomako tlm tlm 900 Espiritu Santo NCV
Tutuba tmi tmi 500 Espiritu Santo, Tutuba NCV
Unua onu onu Onua 520 Malekula NCV
Ura uur uur 6 Erromango SV
Uripiv-Wala-Rano-Atchin upv upv Uripiv 9,000 Malekula NCV
Valpei vlp vlp 300 Espiritu Santo NCV
Vao vao vao 1,900 Vao, Malekula NCV
V’ënen Taut nmb nmb Big Nambas 3,350 Malekula NCV
Vera’a vra vra Vatrata 500 Banks Islands (Vanua Lava) NCV
Vinmavis vnm vnm Neve’ei 500 Malekula NCV
Volow mlv mlv Valuwa 0 Banks Islands (Mota Lava) NCV
Vunapu vnp vnp 380 Espiritu Santo NCV
Vurës msn msn Vureas, Mosina 2,000 Banks Islands (Vanua Lava) NCV
Wailapa wlr wlr 100 Espiritu Santo NCV
West Ambae nnd nnd Duidui 8,700 Ambae NCV
Whitesands tnp tnp 7,500 Tanna SV
Wusi wsi wsi 300 Espiritu Santo NCV


  1. See François et al. (2015:8-9); and also Crowley (2000:50); François (2012:86).
  2. Nettle, Daniel and Suzanne Romaine (2016). Vanishing Voices: The Extinction of the World's Languages. Oxford: Oxford University Press. p. 9. ISBN 0-19-515246-8.
  3. François (2012:104).
  4. See François et al. (2015).
  5. Thus while Tryon (1976) lists 113 separate languages, Lynch & Crowley (2001), using different criteria, propose a lower figure of 88 languages, many of which are dialect continua. See the discussion in François et al. (2015:4-7).
  6. This table lists 112 languages. See François et al. (2015:18-21) for a list of 138 items.
  7. The bibliographical references that underlie this table can be found with each individual language entry.


External links

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