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Languages of Vanuatu

Updated: 2017-06-23T03:23Z
Languages of Vanuatu
Official languagesEnglish, 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.

English and French

From the times when Vanuatu used to be an English-French condominium, there is still an unofficial separation line between regions where English or French are taught at school. According to Ethnologue, English is spoken by 1,900 inhabitants (1995), and French by 6,300 inhabitants (1995). Both English and French remain second languages, while Bislama is a principal language for most inhabitants.

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.

LanguageEthn.OLACOther namesSpeakersRegionFamilyNotes
AkeitsrtsrTasiriki650Espiritu SantoNCV
Amblongalmalm300Espiritu SantoNCV
Aoreaoraor0Espiritu Santo, AoreNCV
BakibkibkiBurumba, Paki350EpiNCV
BieriabrjbrjBieri, Vovo, Wowo25EpiNCV
BurmbarvrtvrtBanan Bay, Vartavo900MalekulaNCV
Butmas-TurbnrbnrAti520Espiritu SantoNCV
Central Maewomwomwo1,400MaewoNCV
DaakakabpabpaBaiap, South Ambrym1,200AmbrymNCV
Dixon Reefdixdix50MalekulaNCV
DorigwwowwoWetamut300Banks Islands (Gaua)NCV
Emaemmwmmw400Shepherd Islands (Emae)Polynesian
FortsenalfrtfrtKiai450Espiritu SantoNCV
Futuna-AniwafutfutWest Futuna1,500Futuna, AniwaPolynesian
HiwhiwhiwHiu280Torres Islands (Hiw)NCV
Korokrfkrf250Banks Islands (Gaua)NCV
LamenulmulmuLamen, Varmali850Epi, LamenNCV
LakonlknlknLakona; Vurē800Banks Islands (Gaua)NCV
LamappswpswPort Sandwich1,200MalekulaNCV
Lehalitqltql200Banks Islands (Ureparapara)NCV
LelepalpalpaHavannah Harbour400Lelepa, EfateNCV
LemeriglrzlrzSasar2Banks Islands (Vanua Lava)NCV
LetemboinmsnmsSmall Nambas800MalekulaNCV
LonwolwolcrccrcWest Ambrym1,200AmbrymNCV
Lorediakarkarlnnlnn850Espiritu SantoNCV
Lo-TogalhtlhtLoh, Toga580Torres Islands (Lo, Toga, Tegua)NCV
LöyöpurrurrLehalurup240Banks Islands (Ureparapara)NCV
Malua BaymllmllMiddle Nambas500MalekulaNCV
Maskelynesklvklv1,100Malekula, Maskelynes IslandsNCV
MaveamkvmkvMav̋ea, Mafea34MaveaNCV
Mele-FilamxemxeIfira-Mele3,500Efate, Mele, IfiraPolynesian
Mereilmblmb400Espiritu SantoNCV
Morouasmrpmrp150Espiritu SantoNCV
Motamttmtt750Banks Islands (Mota)NCV
MwerlapmrmmrmMerlav1,100Banks Islands (Merelava)NCV
MwesenmsnmsnMosina10Banks Islands (Vanua Lava)NCV
MwotlapmlvmlvMotlav2,100Banks Islands (Motalava)NCV
NahavaqsnssnsSouth West Bay700MalekulaNCV
Nakanamangallpllp9,500Efate, Shepherd Islands (Nguna, Tongoa)NCV
NamakuranmknmkMakura3,750Efate, Shepherd Islands (Tongoa, Tongariki)NCV
Narangonrgnrg160Espiritu SantoNCV
Navutnswnsw520Espiritu SantoNCV
Nokukunkknkk160Espiritu SantoNCV
North Tannatnntnn5,000TannaSV
North Ambrymmmgmmg5,250AmbrymNCV
Northeast AmbaeombombLolovoli; Aoba5,000AmbaeNCV
NumetgstgsTarasag700Banks Islands (Gaua)NCV
Olratolrolr3Banks Islands (Gaua)NCV
Piamatsinaptrptr150Espiritu SantoNCV
Polonombaukplbplb220Espiritu SantoNCV
RereppgkpgkPangkumu, Tisman380MalekulaNCV
RoriargargaMores75Espiritu SantoNCV
SakaoskuskuHog Harbour, N'kep4,000Espiritu Santo, SakaoNCV
Shark Bayssvssv450Espiritu Santo, LitaroNCV
SieergergSe, Erromanga1,900ErromangoSV
South EfateerkerkErakor6,000EfateNCV
Southeast Ambrymtvktvk3,700AmbrymNCV
Southwest Tannanwinwi5,000TannaSV
SungwadiamrbmrbMarino; North Maewo500MaewoNCV
TamambomlamlaMalo; Tamabo4,000MaloNCV
Tambotalotlstls50Espiritu SantoNCV
Tasmatetmttmt150Espiritu SantoNCV
Tialemnlmnl400Espiritu SantoNCV
Tolomakotlmtlm900Espiritu SantoNCV
Tutubatmitmi500Espiritu Santo, TutubaNCV
Valpeivlpvlp300Espiritu SantoNCV
Vaovaovao1,900Vao, MalekulaNCV
V’ënen TautnmbnmbBig Nambas3,350MalekulaNCV
Vera’avravraVatrata500Banks Islands (Vanua Lava)NCV
VolowmlvmlvValuwa0Banks Islands (Mota Lava)NCV
Vunapuvnpvnp380Espiritu SantoNCV
VurësmsnmsnVureas, Mosina2,000Banks Islands (Vanua Lava)NCV
Wailapawlrwlr100Espiritu SantoNCV
West AmbaenndnndDuidui8,700AmbaeNCV
Wusiwsiwsi300Espiritu SantoNCV


  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.


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