Languages of Vanuatu
OfficialEnglish, French, Bislama
Indigenous138 languages, all Oceanic

The Republic of Vanuatu has the world's highest linguistic density per capita.[1]

For a population of 0.3 million,[2] Vanuatu is home to 138 indigenous Oceanic languages.

In addition, modern history has brought new languages, including the country's three official languages: English, French, and Bislama.

Even more languages have been brought by recent migrations (e.g. Samoan, Hakka Chinese, Mandarin Chinese).

A highly multilingual country

Indigenous languages

There are over one hundred local languages spread over the archipelago (listed below), all of them belonging to the Austronesian family of languages.

Vanuatu is the country with the highest density of languages per capita in the world: it currently shows an average of about 1,760 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 to extinction.[3]


A Bislama speaker, recorded in Vanuatu.

Bislama, a creole language derived from English, similar to Tok Pisin of Papua New Guinea and other nearby creoles, 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.

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.[4]

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 was a British-French condominium, there is still an unofficial separation line between regions where English or French are taught at school. English is the first language of about 2% of the population,[5] up from about 1% in 1995.[6] Based on the number of sufficiently educated adults, about 62% of the population speaks English as a second language.[7] French is the first language of 0.6% of the population,[5] down from more than 3% if SIL's figures are comparable.[6] About 31% of the population can at least read and write simple sentences in French.[8]

The majority of the country's population (63.2% in 2009)[4] speak an indigenous language as their first language, with Bislama as a second language. As for English and French, they belong to a third circle, in spite of their official status.

List of Vanuatu’s indigenous languages

A speaker of Mwotlap, recorded in Vanuatu.

Vanuatu is home to more than a hundred indigenous languages: a recent count lists 138.[9] 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.[10]

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 these three groups of the Southern Oceanic branch of Oceanic:


Below is the Ethnologue's list of most of the indigenous languages of Vanuatu, which are still spoken or were until recently.[11] It provides links to corresponding Ethnologue entries and to an OLAC list of media resources on the language.[12]

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

Language Ethn. OLAC Other names Speakers % of total
Region Family Notes
Akei tsr tsr Tasiriki 650 0.2404 Espiritu Santo NCV
Amblong alm alm 300 0.1109 Espiritu Santo NCV
Anejom̃ aty aty Aneityum 900 0.3328 Aneityum SV
Aore aor aor Extinct 0.0000 Espiritu Santo, Aore NCV
Apma app app 7,800 2.8846 Pentecost NCV
Araki akr akr 8 0.0030 Araki NCV Moribund
Aulua aul aul 750 0.2774 Malekula NCV
Avava tmb tmb Katbol 700 0.2589 Malekula NCV
Axamb ahb ahb Ahamb 750 0.2774 Malekula NCV
Baetora btr btr 1,330 0.4919 Maewo NCV
Baki bki bki Burumba, Paki 350 0.1294 Epi NCV
Bierebo bnk bnk Bonkovia-yevali 800 0.2959 Epi NCV
Bieria brj brj Bieri, Vovo, Wowo 70 0.0259 Epi NCV Endangered
Burmbar vrt vrt Banan Bay, Vartavo 900 0.3328 Malekula NCV
Butmas-Tur bnr bnr Ati 520 0.1923 Espiritu Santo NCV
Central Maewo mwo mwo 1,400 0.5177 Maewo NCV
Daakie ptv ptv Port-Vato 1,300 0.4808 Ambrym NCV
Daakaka bpa bpa Baiap, South Ambrym 1,200 0.4438 Ambrym NCV
Dixon Reef dix dix 50 0.0185 Malekula NCV Shifting
Dorig wwo wwo Wetamut 300 0.1109 Banks Islands (Gaua) NCV
Emae mmw mmw 400 0.1479 Shepherd Islands (Emae) Polynesian
Eton etn etn 500 0.1849 Efate NCV
Fortsenal frt frt Kiai 450 0.1664 Espiritu Santo NCV
Futuna-Aniwa fut fut West Futuna 1,500 0.5547 Futuna, Aniwa Polynesian
Hano lml lml Raga 6,500 2.4038 Pentecost NCV
Hiw hiw hiw Hiu 280 0.1035 Torres Islands (Hiw) NCV
Ifo iff iff Extinct 0.0000 Erromango SV
Kwamera tnk tnk 3,500 1.2944 Tanna SV
Koro krf krf 250 0.0925 Banks Islands (Gaua) NCV
Lamenu lmu lmu Lamen, Varmali 850 0.3143 Epi, Lamen NCV
Lakon lkn lkn Lakona; Vurē 800 0.2959 Banks Islands (Gaua) NCV
Lamap psw psw Port Sandwich 1,200 0.4438 Malekula NCV
Larevat lrv lrv Laravat 680 0.2515 Malekula NCV
Lehali tql tql 200 0.0740 Banks Islands (Ureparapara) NCV
Lelepa lpa lpa Havannah Harbour 400 0.1479 Lelepa, Efate NCV
Lemerig lrz lrz Sasar 2 0.0007 Banks Islands (Vanua Lava) NCV Moribund
Lenakel tnl tnl 11,500 4.2529 Tanna SV
Letemboi nms nms Small Nambas 800 0.2959 Malekula NCV
Lewo lww lww Varsu 2,200 0.8136 Epi NCV
Lonwolwol crc crc West Ambrym 1,200 0.4438 Ambrym NCV
Lorediakarkar lnn lnn 850 0.3143 Espiritu Santo NCV
Lo-Toga lht lht Loh, Toga 580 0.2145 Torres Islands (Lo, Toga, Tegua) NCV
Löyöp urr urr Lehalurup 240 0.0888 Banks Islands (Ureparapara) NCV
Mae mme mme Dirak 1,000 0.3698 Malekula NCV
Maii mmm mmm 180 0.0666 Epi NCV
Malfaxal mlx mlx Na’ahai 600 0.2219 Malekula NCV
Malua Bay mll mll Middle Nambas 500 0.1849 Malekula NCV
Maragus mrs mrs 15 0.0055 Malekula NCV
Maskelynes klv klv 1,100 0.4068 Malekula, Maskelynes Islands NCV
Mavea mkv mkv Mav̋ea, Mafea 34 0.0126 Mavea NCV
Mele-Fila mxe mxe Ifira-Mele 3,500 1.2944 Efate, Mele, Ifira Polynesian
Merei lmb lmb 400 0.1479 Espiritu Santo NCV
Morouas mrp mrp 150 0.0555 Espiritu Santo NCV
Mota mtt mtt 750 0.2774 Banks Islands (Mota) NCV
Mpotovoro mvt mvt 430 0.1590 Malekula NCV
Mwerlap mrm mrm Merlav 1,100 0.4068 Banks Islands (Merelava) NCV
Mwesen msn msn Mosina 10 0.0037 Banks Islands (Vanua Lava) NCV
Mwotlap mlv mlv Motlav 2,100 0.7766 Banks Islands (Motalava) NCV
Nahavaq sns sns South West Bay 700 0.2589 Malekula NCV
Nakanamanga llp llp 9,500 3.5133 Efate, Shepherd Islands (Nguna, Tongoa) NCV
Namakura nmk nmk Makura 3,750 1.3868 Efate, Shepherd Islands (Tongoa, Tongariki) NCV
Naman lzl lzl Litzlitz 15 0.0055 Malekula NCV
Narango nrg nrg 160 0.0592 Espiritu Santo NCV
Nasarian nvh nvh 5 0.0018 Malekula NCV
Navut nsw nsw 520 0.1923 Espiritu Santo NCV
Nese 160 0.0592 Malekula NCV
Neverver lgk lgk Lingarak 1,250 0.4623 Malekula NCV
Ninde mwi mwi Labo 1,100 0.4068 Malekula NCV
Nisvai Vetbon 140 0.0518 Malekula NCV Unesco
Nokuku nkk nkk 160 0.0592 Espiritu Santo NCV
North Tanna tnn tnn 5,000 1.8491 Tanna SV
North Ambrym mmg mmg 5,250 1.9416 Ambrym NCV
Northeast Ambae omb omb Lolovoli; Aoba 5,000 1.8491 Ambae NCV
Nume tgs tgs Tarasag 700 0.2589 Banks Islands (Gaua) NCV
Olrat olr olr 3 0.0011 Banks Islands (Gaua) NCV
Paama paa paa Paamese 6,000 2.2189 Paama NCV
Piamatsina ptr ptr 150 0.0555 Espiritu Santo NCV
Polonombauk plb plb 220 0.0814 Espiritu Santo NCV
Repanbitip rpn rpn 90 0.0333 Malekula NCV
Rerep pgk pgk Pangkumu, Tisman 380 0.1405 Malekula NCV
Roria rga rga Mores 75 0.0277 Espiritu Santo NCV
Saa sax sax Sa 2,500 0.9245 Pentecost NCV
Sakao sku sku Hog Harbour, N'kep 4,000 1.4793 Espiritu Santo, Sakao NCV
Shark Bay ssv ssv 450 0.1664 Espiritu Santo, Litaro NCV
Sie erg erg Se, Erromanga 1,900 0.7027 Erromango SV
Ske ske ske Seke 300 0.1109 Pentecost NCV
South Efate erk erk Erakor, Nafsan 6,000 2.2189 Efate NCV
Southeast Ambrym tvk tvk 3,700 1.3683 Ambrym NCV
Southwest Tanna nwi nwi 5,000 1.8491 Tanna SV
Sowa sww sww Extinct 0.0000 Pentecost NCV
Sungwadia mrb mrb Marino; North Maewo 500 0.1849 Maewo NCV
Tamambo mla mla Malo; Tamabo 4,000 1.4793 Malo NCV
Tambotalo tls tls 50 0.0185 Espiritu Santo NCV
Tangoa tgp tgp 800 0.2959 Tangoa NCV
Tasmate tmt tmt 150 0.0555 Espiritu Santo NCV
Tiale mnl mnl 400 0.1479 Espiritu Santo NCV
Tolomako tlm tlm 900 0.3328 Espiritu Santo NCV
Tutuba tmi tmi 500 0.1849 Espiritu Santo, Tutuba NCV
Unua onu onu Onua 520 0.1923 Malekula NCV
Ura uur uur 6 0.0022 Erromango SV
Uripiv-Wala-Rano-Atchin upv upv Uripiv 9,000 3.3284 Malekula NCV
Valpei vlp vlp 300 0.1109 Espiritu Santo NCV
Vao vao vao 1,900 0.7027 Vao, Malekula NCV
V’ënen Taut nmb nmb Big Nambas 3,350 1.2389 Malekula NCV
Vera’a vra vra Vatrata 500 0.1849 Banks Islands (Vanua Lava) NCV
Vinmavis vnm vnm Neve’ei 500 0.1849 Malekula NCV
Volow mlv mlv Valuwa Extinct 0.0000 Banks Islands (Mota Lava) NCV
Vunapu vnp vnp 380 0.1405 Espiritu Santo NCV
Vurës msn msn Vureas, Mosina 2,000 0.7396 Banks Islands (Vanua Lava) NCV
Wailapa wlr wlr 100 0.0370 Espiritu Santo NCV
West Ambae nnd nnd Duidui 8,700 3.2174 Ambae NCV
Whitesands tnp tnp 7,500 2.7736 Tanna SV
Wusi wsi wsi 300 0.1109 Espiritu Santo NCV

François et al. (2015)

The following list of 138 Vanuatu languages is from François et al. (2015:18-21).

No. Language Other names Speakers Ethnologue ISO 639-3 Region
1 Hiw Hiu 280 hiw hiw Torres Islands (Hiw)
2 Lo-Toga Loh, Toga 580 lht lht Torres Islands (Lo, Toga, Tegua)
3 Lehali 200 tql tql Banks Islands (Ureparapara)
4 Löyöp Lehalurup 240 urr urr Banks Islands (Ureparapara)
5 Mwotlap Motlav 2100 mlv mlv Banks Islands (Motalava)
6 Volow Valuwa 1 mlv mlv Banks Islands (Motalava)
7 Mota 750 mtt mtt Banks Islands (Mota)
8 Lemerig Sasar 2 lrz lrz Banks Islands (Vanua Lava)
9 Vera'a Vatrata 500 vra vra Banks Islands (Vanua Lava)
10 Vurës Vureas, Mosina 2000 msn msn Banks Islands (Vanua Lava)
11 Mwesen Mosina 10 msn msn Banks Islands (Vanua Lava)
12 Nume Tarasag 700 tgs tgs Banks Islands (Gaua)
13 Dorig Wetamut 300 wwo wwo Banks Islands (Gaua)
14 Koro 250 krf krf Banks Islands (Gaua)
15 Olrat 3 olr olr Banks Islands (Gaua)
16 Lakon Lakona, Vurē 800 lkn lkn Banks Islands (Gaua)
17 Mwerlap Merlav 1100 mrm mrm Banks Islands (Merelava)
18 Sungwadia Marino, North Maewo 500 mrb mrb Maewo
19 Sungwadaga Central Maewo 1400 mwo mwo Maewo
20 Baetora South Maewo, Sungaloge 1330 btr btr Maewo
21 East Ambae Lolovoli, Aoba 5000 omb omb Ambae
22 West Ambae Duidui 8700 nnd nnd Ambae
23 Raga Hano 6500 lml lml Pentecost
24 Apma 7800 app app Pentecost
25 Ske Seke 300 ske ske Pentecost
26 Sa Saa 3900 sax sax Pentecost
27 Tolomako Bigbay 900 tlm tlm Espiritu Santo
28 Piamatsina 250 ptr ptr Espiritu Santo
29 Vunapu 380 vnp vnp Espiritu Santo
30 Valpei 300 vlp vlp Espiritu Santo
31 Nokuku 250 nkk nkk Espiritu Santo
32 Meri Tasmate, Oa 300 tmt tmt Espiritu Santo
33 Wusi Kula 350 wsi wsi Espiritu Santo
34 Bura 300 Espiritu Santo
35 Merei Tiale, Lametin 400 lmb, mnl lmb, mnl Espiritu Santo
36 Mores Ko 200 mrp mrp Espiritu Santo
37 Ande Morouas 500 Espiritu Santo
38 Toksiki Soisoru, Roria 200 rga rga Espiritu Santo
39 Kiai Fortsenal 450 frt frt Espiritu Santo
40 Moiso 100 Espiritu Santo
41 Kene 300 Espiritu Santo
42 Daruru 100 Espiritu Santo
43 Akei Tasiriki 4000 tsr tsr Espiritu Santo
44 Retlatur 100 Espiritu Santo
45 Wailapa Ale 500 wlr wlr Espiritu Santo
46 Farsaf Narango, Nambel 400 nrg nrg Espiritu Santo
47 Varavara Amblong, Aje 300 alm alm Espiritu Santo
48 Narmoris 220 plb plb Espiritu Santo
49 Biliru Tambotalo 3 tls tls Espiritu Santo
50 Atin 120 Espiritu Santo
51 Ati Polonombauk, Meris 85 Espiritu Santo
52 Farnanto 100 Espiritu Santo
53 Se Fanafo 20 Espiritu Santo
54 Sinia Navut 520 nsw nsw Espiritu Santo
55 Butmas-Tur Ati, Farafi 520 bnr bnr Espiritu Santo
56 Ngen Shark Bay 450 ssv ssv Espiritu Santo, Litaro
57 Tholp Nethalp 0 Espiritu Santo
58 Sakao Hog Harbour, Nkep 4000 sku sku Espiritu Santo
59 Mavea Mav̋ea, Mafea 34 mkv mkv Espiritu Santo, Mavea
60 Tutuba 500 tmi tmi Espiritu Santo, Tutuba
61 Aore 0 aor aor Espiritu Santo, Aore
62 Tamambo Malo, Tamabo 4000 mla mla Espiritu Santo, Malo
63 Tangoa Movono 370 tgp tgp Espiritu Santo, Tangoa
64 Araki 8 akr akr Espiritu Santo, Araki
65 Axamb Ahamb 750 ahb ahb Malakula
66 Lendamboi Small Nambas, Letemboi 800 nms nms Malakula
67 Nasvang 275 Malakula
68 Sörsörian 3 Malakula
69 Avok 500 Malakula, Avok
70 Uliveo Maskelynes 1100 klv klv Malakula, Maskelynes
71 Port Sandwich Lamap 1200 psw psw Malakula
72 Nisvai Vetbon 200 Malakula
73 Burmbar Banam Bay, Vartavo 900 vrt vrt Malakula
74 Mbwenelang <10 Malakula
75 Aulua 750 aul aul Malakula
76 Niolean Repanbitip 90 rpn rpn Malakula
77 Rerep Pangkumu, Tisman 380 pgk pgk Malakula
78 Unua Onua 520 onu onu Malakula
79 Vivti <5 Malakula
80 Nitita <5 Malakula
81 Avava Katbol, Navava, Bangsa’ 700 tmb tmb Malakula
82 Neverver Lingarak, Nevwervwer 1250 lgk lgk Malakula
83 Litzlitz Naman 15 lzl lzl Malakula
84 Uripiv Uripiv-Wala-Rano-Atchin, Northeast Malakula 9000 upv upv Malakula, Atchin, Uripiv
85 Rutan ? Malakula
86 Botovro Mpotovoro 430 mvt mvt Malakula
87 Vao 1900 vao vao Malakula, Vao
88 Alovas ? Malakula
89 Vovo 475 Malakula
90 Nese Matanvat 160 Malakula
91 Najit <5 Malakula
92 Malua Bay Middle Nambas 500 mll mll Malakula
93 Njav 10 Malakula
94 Tirax Mae, Dirak 1000 mme mme Malakula
95 V'ënen Taut Big Nambas 3350 nmb nmb Malakula
96 Tape Maragus 15 mrs mrs Malakula
97 Larëvat Laravat, Larevat 680 lrv lrv Malakula
98 Neve'ei Vinmavis 500 vnm vnm Malakula
99 Nivat <10 Malakula
100 Nasarian 5 nvh nvh Malakula
101 Aveteian Dixon Reef 50 dix dix Malakula
102 Ninde Labo 1100 mwi mwi Malakula
103 Nahavaq South West Bay, Siesip 700 sns sns Malakula
104 Nāti 25 Malakula
105 Naha'ai Malvaxal, Malfaxal 600 mlx mlx Malakula
106 Navwien 5 Malakula
107 North Ambrym 5250 mmg mmg Ambrym
108 Orkon Fanbak 30 Ambrym
109 Southeast Ambrym 3700 tvk tvk Ambrym
110 Daakie Port Vato 1300 ptv ptv Ambrym
111 Daakaka South Ambrym, Baiap 1200 bpa bpa Ambrym
112 Dalkalaen 1000 Ambrym
113 Raljago West Ambrym, Lonwolwol <10 crc crc Ambrym
114 Paama Paamese 6000 paa paa Paama
115 Lamen Lamenu, Varmali 850 lmu lmu Epi, Lamen
116 Lewo Varsu 2200 lww lww Epi
117 Bierebo Bonkovia-Yevali 900 bnk bnk Epi
118 Baki Burumba, Paki 350 bki bki Epi
119 Mkir Maii 180 mmm mmm Epi
120 Bieria Bieri, Vovo, Wowo 25 brj brj Epi
121 Namakura Makura, Namakir 3750 nmk nmk Efate, Shepherd Islands (Tongoa, Tongariki)
122 Emae Makatea 400 mmw mmw Shepherd Islands (Emae)
123 Nakanamanga 9500 llp llp Efate, Shepherd Islands (Nguna, Tongoa)
124 Lelepa Havannah Harbour 400 lpa lpa Efate, Lelepa
125 Eton 500 etn etn Efate
126 South Efate Erakor 6000 erk erk Efate
127 Mele-Fila Ifira-Mele 3500 mxe mxe Efate, Mele, Ifira
128 Sie Se, Sie, Erromanga 1900 erg erg Erromango
129 Ura 6 uur uur Erromango
130 Utaha 0 iff iff Erromango
131 North Tanna 5000 tnn tnn Tanna
132 Lenakel Netvaar 11500 tnl tnl Tanna
133 Southwest Tanna Nawal 5000 nwi nwi Tanna
134 Whitesands Narak 7500 tnp tnp Tanna
135 Kwamera Nafe, Nɨfe 3500 tnk tnk Tanna
137 Anejom̃ Aneityum 900 aty aty Aneityum
138 Futuna-Aniwa West Futuna 1500 fut fut Futuna, Aniwa


  1. ^ a b See François et al. (2015:8-9); and also Crowley (2000:50); François (2012:86).
  2. ^ The estimate is 298,333 for July 2020 (source: “Vanuatu”, CIA World Factbook).
  3. ^ Nettle, Daniel and Suzanne Romaine (2016). Vanishing Voices: The Extinction of the World's Languages. Oxford: Oxford University Press. p. 9. ISBN 978-0-19-515246-3.
  4. ^ a b François (2012:104).
  5. ^ a b “Vanuatu”CIA World Factbook.
  6. ^ a b “Languages of Vanuatu” – 2013 archive from Ethnologue.
    Note: the “current” Ethnologue figure for English first language speakers is sourced from the CIA World Factbook.
  7. ^ David Crystal, The Cambridge Encyclopedia of the English Language, 2003
    David Crystal, English as a Global Language, 2003.
    Note: Both books are by the same author and use the same source data. Either way, this is the reference Ethnologue uses. Note that Ethnologue arrives at a total figure by adding estimates for L1 and L2 speakers from different years, even though these figures are incomparable due to significant population growth in the intervening period.
  8. ^ Estimation des francophones dans le monde en 2015.
    Note: the figures don't quite seem to match, but this is Ethnologue's source.
  9. ^ See François et al. (2015).
  10. ^ 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).
  11. ^ This table lists 112 languages. See François et al. (2015:18-21) for a list of 138 items.
  12. ^ The bibliographical references that underlie this table can be found with each individual language entry.


Further reading