This article relies largely or entirely on a single source. Relevant discussion may be found on the talk page. Please help improve this article by introducing citations to additional sources.Find sources: "Wuvulu-Aua language" – news · newspapers · books · scholar · JSTOR (July 2017)
This article or section should specify the language of its non-English content, using ((lang)), ((transliteration)) for transliterated languages, and ((IPA)) for phonetic transcriptions, with an appropriate ISO 639 code. Wikipedia's multilingual support templates may also be used - notably wuv for Wuvulu-Aua. See why. (February 2021)
Native toPapua New Guinea
RegionWuvulu and Aua Islands, Manus Province
Native speakers
1,600 (2015)[1]
Language codes
ISO 639-3wuv

The Wuvulu-Aua language is spoken on Wuvulu and Aua Islands by speakers scattered around the Manus Province of Papua New Guinea.[2] Although the Wuvulu-Aua language has a similar grammatical structure, word order, and tense to other Oceanic languages, it has an unusually complex morphology.[3]

Wuvulu Island is located in the Papua New Guinea Manus Province and reaches about 10 feet above sea level.[4] As a member of the Admiralty Islands, the Wuvulu and Aua islands are a part of the Bismarck Archipelago that includes other provinces such as the New Ireland province, the East New Britain province, the Morobe province and much more. Wuvulu is spoken by an estimated 1,600 people in the Manus Province. There are approximately 1,000 speakers of the language on Wuvulu and 400 on Aua. The remaining speakers of Wuvulu inhabit either the other islands located in the Papua New Guinea territory.[1]

Wuvulu is most similar to Austronesian, Malayo-Paolynesian, and other Oceanic languages scattered around the Admiralty Islands. Wuvulu-Aua is one of only three languages categorized in the Western subgroup of the Admiralty language. The other two languages are Seimat and Kaniet; however, Kaniet is now an extinct language.[5]

There are three different dialects of Wuvulu that are unique to the different clans located on the island: the Onne dialect, the Auna dialect, and the Aua dialect which is native to the Aua island. Each dialect differs in phoneme, distinguishing them from each other. However, the individual islands Wuvulu and Aua have a lexical and phonological distinction.[6]


The Wuvulu-Aua language is in the family of Austronesian language family. After that, it belongs to Malayo-Polynesian which is one of the major Nuclear Austronesian language family. Next, based on the location, The Wuvulu-Aua is in the Eastern Malayo-Polynesian family. If we classify it more explicitly, it is the member of Oceanic Western Admiralty island language family.[7] In fact, Wuvulu-Aua is made up of two languages, Wuvulu and Aua. These two languages vary in the pronunciation of certain consonants like /r/.[6]


Most researchers believed that the Proto-Eastern Malayo Polynesian (PEMP) Language was produced in the area called "Bird's Head", which is in the north-west island of New Guinea. Later, PEMP developed different descended language and Proto Oceanic (PO) was one of them. PO not only reached to the northern coast of New Guinea and Indonesia, but also to Wuvulu, an island of the Bismarck archipelago.[8] There are about 31 languages in the Admiralty Subgroup of Oceanic language that is derived from PO. 28 languages belong to Eastern Admirally Subground and the other 3 languages (Wuvulu-Aua, Seimat and Kaniet) are in Western Admirally Subgroup.[8]


The ancestor of Wuvulu made ponds by digging the ground and pouring in fresh water to plant hula and the great taro around the pond.[9] Wuvulu people also planted sweet potato, tapioca, and cabbage in their gardens.[9] Fishing is important to the Wuvulu society and they have many different fishing methods. One method is to have a group of women form a big half circle with a fishing net while walking along the reef. The fish hide behind the rocks because the movement of the tide and the women can easily catch them by lifting the stone.[10] They mainly depend on bush when they are building houses or constructing a canoe. During the German colonial period, locals faced difficulties as the trees were cut down by Germans.[10] The people of Wuvulu often help each other build houses and gardens.[11] On the aspect of food, they often cook with coconut milk. It is taboo for local people to eat coconut crab, shell-fish, and turtles even though some of them cannot refuse the charm of these foods.[10] The population of Wuvulu was dramatically reduced at the end of the last century because of Malaria and other diseases that were spread by outsiders. At that time, at least 90% of the population died of foreign diseases.[9] Christianity is very popular in this island, every Sabbath day (Saturday), the residents will gather to sing songs written in Hawaiian.[12]

Sounds and Phonology


Wuvulu-Aua have three distinct dialects, two on Wuvulu island, and one on Aua island.[13] The Auna dialect is spoken on the Aua Island, while Onne dialect is spoken on Wuvulu. The Wuvulu-Aua language has a very small phoneme inventory consisting of 20 phonemes. There are ten vowels; 5 vowels and 5 of their long counterparts, and 10 consonants. There are two front vowels /i/ and /e/, two back vowels /o/ and /u/, and /a/ is the only central vowel. High, mid and low vowels are all spread fairly even in terms of frequency. High vowels are the most frequent and mid vowels are the least frequent.[14]

There are five long vowels within the Wuvulu language. These five long vowel phonemes share the same phonetic quality as their standard vowel counterparts, however are longer in duration. In Wuvulu, there are 20 possible diphthongs of the five basic vowels discussed above. There are eight falling pairs /ia/, /ie/, /io/, /ea/, /ua/, /uo/, /ue/, and /oa/, eight rising pairs /ai/, /au/, /ei/, /eu/, /oi/, /ou/, /ae/, and /ao/, and four level pairs /iu/, /eo/, /ui/, and /oe/. The terms rising, falling and level refer to the rise or fall of sonority of the diphthongs. Within Wuvulu, there are three vowel pairs that do not exist that are common in other languages. Eo, oe, and ae are three pairs that do not occur in Wuvulu. Previous research suggests that diphthongs are not phonemic in Wuvulu.[15]

Front Central Back
Close i iː u uː
Mid e eː o oː
Open a aː


There are several publications on Wuvulu-Aua phonology, but they disagree on the allophones of the phonemes /l/, /r/, and /t/. Two publications, Blust 1996 and 2008, vary the number of consonant phonemes, reducing from 14 to 12. The third publication, Hafford 2012, further reduces the consonant phonemes to 10.[10][16] Wuvulu-Aua contains four plosives, /p/, /b/, /t/, and /ʔ/. There are three approximates /l/, /r/, and /w/. There is one fricative /f/ which is usually voiceless however when placed between vowels it can become voiced. And finally, there are two nasals /m/ and /n/. There are no consonant clusters within the language.[17]

There are only three consonants that contain possible allophones. /t/ has three allophones - [t], [s], and [tʃ]; /r/ has three allophones - [r], [x], and [g]; and /l/ has three allophones - [l], [d], and [lð]. All allophones are environmentally conditioned. The fricatives [f] and [x] are sometimes voiced intervocalically. The voiceless fricative /f/ is sometimes voiced fafi -> [favi]. In rapid speech the voiceless fricative /x/ is sometimes voiced ere [exe] -> [eƔe]. The use of [r] is not conditioned by a phonological rule. Older generations of Wuvulu-Aua speakers still use the [r] phone. The alveolar trilled [r] is also regularly used by older generations and is understood by children. [r] will generally be used, otherwise [x] and [g] are uttered in complementary distribution (Hafford, 2015, pg. 38). If /l/ is adjacent to a [+high] vowel, /l/ will become a voiced alveolar stop balu -> [badu] ‘child’. Wuvulu has four plural pronouns. For each of the plural pronouns, /l/ can be deleted ɁoɁolu -> ɁoɁou (Hafford, 2015, pg. 39). Conditioned variants [x] and [g] have been proposed by Blust 2008. This proposal is a correction from Blust 1996 which proposed that [x], [g], [ɣ], and [k] are all free variation phones. All dialects of Wuvulu-Aua claim that [k] is not a phone as borrowed words from English replace [k] with ʔ.[18]

Labial Alveolar Velar Glottal
Plosive p b t (k) ʔ
Nasal m n
Fricative f
Trill r
Approximant w l (w)

Syllable structure

The syllable structure in Wuvulu is (C)V. This means that the vowel is the nucleus of the syllable and can be either a standard vowel, long vowel or a diphthong. The consonant, on the other hand, is optional. All vowels hold one mora of weight; however, long vowels and diphthongs hold two moras of weight.[19]


If a syllable in Wuvulu contains a long vowel or diphthong, it is considered “heavy”. Therefore, long vowels and diphthongs always carry stress. Similarly, stressed is considered to be linked to vowel length. If a syllable ends with a vowel that is short in length, then they have penultimate stress. So, lolo ‘sink’ has penultimate stress because its final vowel is short in length. If a syllable ends with a vowel that is long in length or a diphthong, then they have ultimate stress. Rufu: ‘my village’ has ultimate stress because its final vowel is long in length.[19]


Proto-Oceanic language is the ancestor of the Wuvu language. Even though their grammar structure is similar it also differs. Proto-Oceanic language noun-phrase sentence structure : Art + (Number/Quanitfer)+ Noun + modifier + Demonstrative Where as in the Wuvulu language, the noun-phrase sentence structure is : (Art/Demonstrative) + (Number/Quanitfier) + Modifiers + Noun + Modifier [20]

Noun Phrase

Similar to Proto Oceanic language, the nouns are categorized into personal, local and common. Personal nouns are nouns related to you, such as kin terms or the personal names of people. Local nouns are names of places. All other nouns are common nouns like tree. This category also includes words like "under" (preposition).[21]

Compounds, reduplication and Onomatopoeia are the three ways to construct nouns.[21]

  1. Compounds are when two words combine together to form a new word. For example tawaparara (spotted triggerfish) is formed from tawa (table) and parara (sea bird)
  2. Waliwali (driftwood) and wiliwili (bicycle) are examples of reduplication.
  3. Onomatopoeia. For example baʔa [baʔa] or [baʔabaʔa] (knock) mimics the sound of knocking on a door.

Verb Phrase

Wuvulu languages have a single word that contains 20 morphemes (Morphemes are the smallest unit that have meaning in a language), which has the most complicated single verb among the 500 Oceanic language.[22] These verbs can be attached by subject and object clitics and can be added mood, aspect, completion, etc.[22]


timi Timi=nia! Timi-na fei muro

to throw throw it ! Throw the stone

bound with object marker The verb root take the transitive morpheme (-ca)


na-poni to na-fa-poni=a

run (transitive) make it run (intransitive)


There are six different morphemes of adverb to describe the verb including complete, frequent, infrequent, eventual, intensified, or sequential.[24](Note: These markers are prefix.)

Also, Wuvulu language also has suffix adverb.[25]

Verbal Clitics

"Pronominal clitics in Wuvulu are modified forms of free pronouns that are bound to the edges of verb stem." Verb clitics are able to be used as subjects, objects of a clause, or co-located in a clause with noun phrases.[26]

Subject Proclitics

Wuvulu is one of the few languages to have a structure similar for subject proclitics, that was thought to be exclusive to the Proto-Oceanic language. There are three possibilities where the Wuvulu subject proclitics are from.[26] Example- person POc Wuvulu

   1         *au=      ʔu=
   2        *ko=      ʔo=
   3        *i=         ʔi=

Clause Structure

Clause structure is divided into verbal clauses and verbless clauses. Verbless is constructed by two nouns that are close together. In this kind of sentence, pause 【,】 separated between the subject and predicate. Ex: ia,futa (He, (is a) chef) According to Foley & Van Valin (1984) and Van Valin & LaPolla (1997), verbal clauses can be described into one model.

[ Clause [ Adjunct ] [ Core [Nucleus] ] Adjunct


minoa, ʔei wawane, ro=na-paʔuru-paʔa-a ʔei aʔu, ʔi ʔari

Yesterday the PL man 3SG=Real-cast-have-TR the.PL tuna at sea

' Yesterday the men caught the tuna at sea. '

According to the model above

[ Clause [ Adjunct ] [ Core [Nucleus] ] Adjunct

[ [ yesterday] [the men][ they=caught] the tuna] at sea[27]


Wuvulu language just like its 30 linguistics sisters which they are SVO language. However, it has a tendency for VOS syntax because Wuvulu is very similar to proto-Oceanic language, which the verbal agreement marking and its propensity for the subject constituent are at the ending of sentence.[28]

Verbless Clauses [29]

Example: ia, fatu

PRON.3SG chief

' He is a chief.'

Example: ai, iei


'He is there.'

Verbal Clauses[30]




'He did it.'




'Come get it!'




'You must leave!'

Verbal morphology

Within the Oceanic languages, Wuvulu has one of the most complex morphology. Unlike their ancestor language, Proto-Oceanic language, Wuvulu doesn't use derivational morphology. It gets verb derivation from nouns and adjectives. Wuvulu also gets their transitive verbs from their intransitive verbs To get verb derivation from nouns/or adjectives (intransitive) and adjectives by adding a suffix (-i) to the noun or adjective. A verb from noun creates a sentence that means "to be noun or adjective" when adding a -i. When the suffix is combined with the fa- prefix it can change the meaning of the sentence to "to cause/let something become noun or adjective". ex: fei muro the stone ʔi=na-muro-i 3SG=REAL-stone-DER ‘It is stone.’ ʔi=na-fa-muro-i-na larua 3SG=REAL-CAUS-stone-DER-TR PRON.3DU ‘She turned the two to stone.’

As for the Wuvulu intransitive verbs from transitive verbs, they add the causative marker -fa. ex: ʔi=na-poni 3SG=REAL-run ‘He ran.’

ʔi=na-fa-poni=a 3SG=REAL-CAUS-run=3SG ‘She made it run.’ [23]

Transitive Transitive verbs can come from adjectives when adding the causative marker -fa. ex: ʔi=na-fa-rawani=nia 3SG=REAL-CAUS-good=3SG ‘He treated her well.’ [31] ʔi=na-fa-afelo=ia 3SG=REAL-CAUS-bad=3SG ‘He destroyed it (lit. caused it to be bad).’ [31]

Preverbal morphology "Preverbal morphemes within the Wuvulu verb phrase, consists of positions for subject clitics, and inflectional prefixes denoting mood/aspect and direction" [32] ex: (SUBJECT=) (MOOD/ASPECT-) (DIRECTION-) VERB (-ADVERBIAL) (=OBJECT) (-DIRECTIONAL)

Generally, the Wuvulu family language, Oceanic, tends to have pre-verbal morphemes that are free or prefixed. But in the wuvulu language, the pre-verbal and post-verbal morphemes are bounded by the verb stem. Except for subjects and objects; which can be free nominals, verbal clitics, or both. [32]

Mood Like Proto-Oceanic language, Wuvulu also lacks a tense category. Even though Wuvulu lacks a tense category, they tend to use mood, aspect markers, and time phrases to express tenses.[33]

The realis mood/marker inflection conveys past tense. (na-) ro=na-biri=ʔia 3PL=REAL-work=3SG ‘They did it.’

whereas an irrealis mood/marker doesn't convey a past tense. ro=ʔa-biri=ʔia 3PL=IRR-work=3SG ‘They are about to do it.’[34]


Demonstratives (i.e. spatial deictics) are used to position tangible objects/persons concerning speech-act participants.[35] Articles and third-person pronouns are heavily related to demonstratives in numerous languages.[36] There are a numerous variations including time or temporal deictics, among others, but spatial deictic are a particularly essential element of comprehensive communication. To interpret a deictic, one must consider the specific context in terms of who said it, where they said it, and who it was directed at, as these are uniquely context-dependent.[37]

Wuvulu consists of demonstrative identifiers that allow for determining the proximity or spatial position in relation to the speaker.[38] This is expressed by three forms, essential to determining the position in space of the subject, which is a concept inherited from the Proto-Oceanic language Wuvulu descends from.[39] As can be seen in table 1,[40] the sequences ʔeni ‘close’, ʔena ‘far’, and ʔei ‘unspecified’ are used to understand each specific context, using the distance in relation to the speaker.[41]

(1) type demonstratives articles
distance close far unspecified n/a
singular: animate meni mena mei emea
inanimate feni fena fei epalo
plural: ʔeni ʔena ʔei efiʔa
definiteness definite indefinite

Broadly speaking, Oceanic languages utilise a three-way distinction proximal, intermediate, and distal form, but members are used in such varied ways between languages.[42]

(Interestingly, ʔeni refers to ‘near’ in spatial deictics, but is glossed as ‘now’ in a temporal context, and close anaphor’ in discourse reference. This alludes to the morphological complexity seen in Wuvulu.)

This tends to be the observed close geographical trend of languages using a three-way contrast, but interesting Loniu, a language spoken on Manus island (a neighboring island in the Bismarck Archipelago) is a two-way contrast, and one of the closest geographical neighbors to Wuvulu and Aua. This may be due to a variety of reasons, but demonstrates the significant variation in influences that impact specific languages to result in the diversity seen today.

The demonstrative family of morphemes used in Wuvulu allows for many possible uses. Below is a table[41] of the glossed translations of each plural form, including the distance of each spatial deictic.

(2) distance: close far unspecified
demonstrative ʔeni ʔena ʔei
gloss these those the

As can be seen below, the plural demonstrative ʔei is used to mark the plurality (people vs singular person) through an unspecified distance, that there is no particular distance in this context the speaker is trying to emphasize.

ʔei       ramaʔa           na-uri             pafo     wa

the       people             REAL-jump    on        boat

‘the      people            boarded           the       ship’[43]

Further, in the clearest sense, spatial deictics can be seen through speech acts from speaker to hearer, referring to proximity in space.

This can be seen in

ʔeni     piʔu     na        paʔa    weʔai

these    stars     REAL  very     light

‘these   stars     are       very     bright'[43]

where ʔeni is used to signify a particular constellation of stars that is close when compared to another constellation not explicitly stated here, but is being referenced.


ʔena     piʔu     na        weʔai

those    star      REAL  bright

those stars     are       bright’[43]

where ʔena, the plural demonstrative is used to indicate a far distance, as 'those' stars are far, relative to another undefined group of stars.

These two examples allow for a clear demonstration of the requirement for spatial deictics, that they can be used to express the difference between relative spatial positioning.

While not a related language (and thus, not to be directly compared), this distinction occurs in English discourse through words like 'that' or 'those', allowing for a depth of communication not otherwise available. These elements can be seen at work in the languages of the Oceanic region, and often follow similar patterns in terms of semantic organization to allow for these distinctions to be made.[44]

Singular demonstrative identifiers and articles are modified in instances of animation, as well as spatial context.[38] The below close demonstratives allow for determination of what is being referred to, whether inanimate or animate. It is interesting to note that plural identifiers of demonstratives in Wuvulu-Aua do not account for animation, and where animation is expressed, it is limited to humans or spiritual beings or deities with personality.[45]

meni    ʔama

‘this     father’

feni      wa

‘this     canoe’[40]

When discussing the living 'father', the meni animate demonstrative is used, but for the inanimate canoe, feni is used, showing a distinction for the living being. This distinction is not limited to close demonstratives, but is seen in far and unspecified distances also:

mena   ʔama

‘that     father’

fena     wa

‘that     canoe’

fena      ʔama

‘the      father’

fei        wa ‘the      canoe’[40]

(3) Distance: close far unspecified
singular animate meni mena fena
singular inanimate feni fena fei

These distinctions are summarized in the table above, and allow the hearer to determine within the context what is being referred to, as given by the deictic that marks for animation and position in space. This allows for further depth of discourse within the language, and is an important process within language formation to allow for nuanced discourse.

Functions of Demonstratives

Particular Referents

Demonstratives in Wuvulu can be referents and surround a noun phrase (NP) to emphasize it as the focus of the sentence. This is key as it allows for clarification in discourse and serves in identificiation purposes.[46]

For example:

meni    ramaʔa            meni,   na-lalai           minoa

this      person this      REAL-marry   yesterday

this particular person married yesterday’[43]

Pronominal Demonstratives

Demonstratives can also function in the position of a pronoun as NP arguments. They are in a phrase-initial position, with an adjectival modifier position before the head noun, when they used to be phrase-final.[47] For example, mena is the object of the verb in:

Ro=nei-no-lura-mi     mena


‘They must fetch that (person).’[38]

They can also be used post-verbally, working with the third person subject clitic ʔi= ‘3SG’ or ro= ‘3PL’, seen in these examples:

ʔi=na-no-mai fena

3SG=REAL-move-DIR that

‘That (thing) came.’

ro=na-no-mai ʔena

3PL=REAL-move-DIR those

‘Those (people/things) came.’[38]

In discourse, pronominal demonstratives are not used very often as they are highly complex, and have limited situations for application.[48]

Adverbial demonstratives

Demonstratives can also act as adverbs to highlight the location of verbs. While adverbs function to provide additional information to a situation (i,e. location), combining these with spatial deictics allows for future clarification and accuracy within discourse. ʔi ‘at’ (prepositional) and iei ‘there’ are demonstrative morphemes that express location, as seen in the following examples:

ʔi=na-ʔau=ria ieni

3SG=REAL-put=3SG here

‘He put it here.’

Ro=nei-ʔule    iei

3PL=DEON-stay there

‘They must stay there.’

Ro=nei-ʔule    iena

3PL=DEON-stay there

‘They must stay there (distant)’[49]

The prepositional ʔi is utilised before a locational form, to indicate things nearby or in the vicinity of the specific thing in question.


Wuvulu negation can be broadly divided into verbal negation and clausal negation.[50]

Verbal negation in Wuvulu takes the form of an inflectional morpheme. It occurs in the pre-stem position of the verb (the position occupied by inflections between the subject marker and the verb stem itself).[50] Within the pre-stem position, the negation marker specifically occurs between the mood marker and the aspect marker. The location of the negation marker in the pre-stem position is show below.

The pre-stem position of the Wuvulu verb
mood negation aspect adverbial information direction

The Wuvulu negation marker can take one of two forms: ’a- or ta-. [50]

The form ‘a- always occurs after the deontic morpheme, nei-, resulting in the form nei'a “must not’. Below is an example of nei’a negating a verb.

(1) oma'oma'a fei tala ba ro-nei-'a-we-no-'ua-mai
rd-oma'a the road cmpz p-must-neg-ev-move-adv-come
'Watch the road so that they do not just come [and surprise us].'[51]

The marker ta- is always used with the irrealis mood, therefore falling after the irrealis marker ‘a-, as in (2), to mark situations which were expected to occur, but have not.

(2) i-mina-1apa'a manumanu i-'a-ta-we-no-mai hinene
3s-adv-know thing 3s-irr-neg-ev-move-come later
'He completely knows things that have not yet occurred (has the ability to

predict or divine).'[51]

The form ta- also commonly occurs with the eventuality marker we-, as seen in (2), resulting in tawe. This is used to refer to events that have not happened yet, and ta- alone simply refers to those that have not happened.

Wuvulu verbal negation markers
'a- Follows deontic marker nei-
ta- Occurs with irrealis mood

Clausal negation in Wuvulu can be further divided into clausal (the negation of an entire clause), and constituent (the negation of a particular constituent within a clause).[50] For clausal negation the word lomi occurs before the clause being negated. An example of this is found below.

(3) Lomi lagu-na-bigi-bigi suta
neg 3dl-real-rd-work taro garden
'The two were not working the taro garden.'[52]

For constituent negation, lomi can also function as a negator, as can the word aba. In both cases, the word occurs directly before the constituent being negated. Examples of each marker are below.

(4) Lomi na-'aida hara-na, yoi ma'ua meni Beatau
neg real-know name-3s 2s but this propn
'You do not know his name, but this is Beatau.'[53]
(5) agu-a-di-poni aba tafi-u meni ua hani'u
ldl-irr-adv-run neg sister-ls this but demon
'Let's leave. This isn't my sister, but (a) devil.'[54]

A negated clause using aba is often coordinated by the conjunction ua to a contrastive positive clause. Examples of aba with and without this contrastive clause are (5) and (6) respectively.

(6) ma agia aba ale- 'ei
and no neg like- Pl
'But no—it's not like that.'[55]

Clausal and constituent negation are frequently used to express negative conditions, as seen twice in (7).

(7) ma naba lomi lagu-na-fi-siba-i lagu ei fi-tafi lomi i-ma-mara fei Haua
and if neg 3dl-real-rcpr-anger-hrm two the rcpr-sister-hrm neg 3s-rd-dry the propn
'And if the two hadn't been cross— the two sisters, Haua wouldn't have been created.'[56]

Note that the word lo’e appears to occur in free variation with lomi. It can be seen below in (8) in which it functions as a clausal negator. However, according to Hafford (1999), this free variation may require further research before it can be confirmed.[50]

(8) lo'e fau-fau-na
neg rd-power-3s
'He did not have power.'[57]


Possession in Wuvulu can be indicated in two ways: either by a bound possessor suffix attached to the head noun of a noun phrase, or by juxtaposing noun phrases.[58][59] The head noun always precedes the possessive marker/possessor, whether the possessor is indicated by the bound suffix, or by a juxtaposed noun phrase, as demonstrated in the examples in this section.[60] Possessed nouns, as for other Oceanic languages,[61] are classified in terms of either indirect or direct possession (similar to alienable or inalienable possession, respectively), with indirectly possessed nouns being divided further into three categories, as detailed below.[62][63]

Possessor suffixes

In the case of possessor suffixes, the suffix differs based on whether the possessor is first-, second- or third-person. These suffixes are only used when there is a single possessor – that is, they cannot be used in the case of more than one possessor (e.g. “their farm”, where “their” indicates two or more people).[64]

For a possessor suffix to be applied to an indirectly possessed noun, there are three possessum nouns (“classifiers”) which must be used in the place of an explicit reference to the indirectly possessed object. The classifiers correspond to three categories of objects; ana for edible things, numa for drinkable things, and ape for general indirect possession.[65] Hafford (1999) states, “These classifiers act as nouns… taking quantifiers, articles and bound agreement suffixes.”[61] Accordingly, the possessor suffixes attach either to a directly possessed noun, or a classifier noun corresponding to an indirectly possessed object (e.g.: your taro = your edible thing = ana-mu). That is, indirectly possessed nouns can only take a possessor suffix when they are represented by a possessum noun.[66] Hafford (2015) states, "The suffixed possessum noun is optionally followed by a more specific alienable noun as in, ana-u, fulu 'my food, taro'".[65]

The category of directly possessed nouns includes body parts (except for genitalia[67]) and names, as well as direct objects such as “familiar places (e.g., one’s umu ‘house’), and indispensable objects (such as wa ‘canoe’ and walu ‘bush knife’).”[68] Possessor suffixes are also applied to kin terms, for instance, mother ʔama, father ʔina, and child ʔupu.[69] As mentioned above, genitalia fall into the category of the general indirect possessum noun ape, contrary to other body parts, which are treated as directly possessed.[67] This may be due to a desire to maintain modesty, allowing the speaker to refer to genitalia without explicitly referring to the particular body part.[70]

The following table outlines the possession suffixes which can be utilised in Wuvulu:

Wuvulu possession suffixes[58]
Possessor person Suffix
First -u
Second -mu
Third -na

See the examples below for a demonstration of the usage of the bound suffixes to indicate direct and indirect possession. The first two examples are for direct possession, for first- and second-person respectively. The third example is for indirect possession, for third-person.

The example of hara, "name" is given (Hafford, 1999) – a directly possessed noun utilising the first-person suffix:

(9) Hara-u Wawa
name-1s propn
'My name is Wawa.'[58]

For second person affixation, another example is provided (Hafford, 1999), using the directly possessed noun bigia, ‘work’:

(10) Tamanu bigi-a-mu
what work-nzr-2s
'What is your work?'[64]

In the following example (Hafford, 1999), we see the third-person possessor suffix applied to the possessum noun for edible things.

(11) Heia arewa Barafi inabigi'a ei hana-na
one day Barafi 3s-real-work-trn art class-3s
'One day Barafi prepared his food.'[64]

Juxtaposed noun-phrases

Possession can be indicated by the juxtaposition of noun-phrases. This method can be used to indicate possession by multiple possessors, as well as a single possessor. The condition that indirectly possessed nouns are represented by a possessum noun also holds for this method of indicating possession, and in such cases, "the classifier precedes the possessor noun phrase as in hape lagua 'possession of theirs'",[64] demonstrated in example (12) below. Example (12) also demonstrates the application of this method for multiple (dual, in this case) possessors (Hafford, 1999):

(12) lagu-na-pa'i hepalo hape lagua
3dl-real-have one class 3dl
'The two had a possession of theirs.'[71]

The method can also be applied for both direct and indirect possession.[64] The possessed noun phrase precedes the possessor noun phrase, and multiple layers of possession can be embedded into one phrase.[71] An example of this layering of possession in English is an expression such as “the house of the son of the doctor” (“the doctor” in “the son of the doctor”, and “the son” in “the house of the son” are both possessors). An example from Wuvulu of layered possession is given below (Hafford, 1999):

(13) Inatosiminia pafo pe'i fei agi'agi ei suta
3s-realis-get-throw-3s on bank the ditch the swamp
'He threw it onto the bank of ditch of the swamps.'[71]


The Wuvulu phonemic inventory consists of 10 consonants, 10 vowels, and 10 diphthongs. Wuvulu diphthongs separate vowels phonetically, despite the fact that when spoken, the vowels create one phonetic sound [72] Within the Wuvulu language, the vowel "a" dominates as most common, having a one-third frequency in the language.[73] Wuvulu has two numerical systems, one for animate objects and one for inanimate objects. Both numerical systems are a senary, or base 6 numerical systems, where the numbers following six are multipliers of six. For example, the word for 2 inanimate objects is "ruapalo", whereas the number for two animate objects is "elarui".[74]

There are several basic words that is stable and do not change hugely which include the words for blood (rara), stone (muro) and the sun (alo).[75]

Number Wuvulu Number
1 ai/e
2 rua,roa
3 olu
4 fa
5 aipani
6 oluroa
7 olorompalo/oloromea
8 fainaroa
9 faimapalo/faimea
10 efua

Each number less than or equivalent to four is representative of the Proto-Oceanic language.[76] Any number following four demonstrative of a multiplicative construct, similarly found in the Marshall Islands.[77] For example, the number five in Wuvulu is aipani. "Ai" in Wuvulu is one, while "pani" means hand. On one hand, there are five fingers, hence, "one hand" translating to aipani. Similarly, for larger numbers the system becomes more complex, like when discussing the number eight. fainaroa translate to 8. When the word is broken into sections, "fai" means four, "na" is multiply, and "roa" is two. Loosely translated, it means "four multiply two". Therefore, fainaroa translates to eight in Wuvulu.[78]

Within the Wuvulu language, addressing people and locations must use proper nouns with the morpheme o- to prefix any name. The person being addressed must have the o- prefix added to the beginning of their name by the person who is addressing them. The use of this prefix is not limited to proper nouns but can also be used for pronouns, such as when addressing a relative like "aunty", "sister", or "mother".[79]

Wuvulu family names can either be based on the patriarch's name, or it can be based on clan names.[79] Some family names are named after locations due to settlers associating location with clan names.[80]


  1. ^ a b Hafford (2015), p. 3
  2. ^ Blust, Robert (1996). The Linguistic Position of the Western Islands, Papua New Guinea. Oceanic Studies: Proceedings of the First International Conference on Oceanic Linguistics. Series C-133. Canberra: Pacific Linguistics. pp. 1–46. doi:10.15144/PL-C133.1. hdl:1885/145945.
  3. ^ Hafford (2015), p. 70
  4. ^ "Geography". Retrieved 15 July 2007.
  5. ^ Hafford (2015), p. 5
  6. ^ a b Hafford (2015), p. 6
  7. ^ Hafford (2015), p. 4
  8. ^ a b Hafford (2015), pp. 4, 6
  9. ^ a b c Crawford (1979), pp. 3
  10. ^ a b c d Crawford (1979), pp. 4
  11. ^ Crawford (1979), pp. 6
  12. ^ Crawford (1979), pp. 8
  13. ^ Hafford (1999), p. 8
  14. ^ Hafford (2015), p. 26-27
  15. ^ Hafford (2015), p. 30-32
  16. ^ Hafford, James (2012). "The Wuvulu Velar Obstruent Puzzle Solved". Working Papers in Linguistics: University of Hawai'i at Mānoa (PDF). Vol. 43. Honolulu: University of Hawai`i at Manoa.
  17. ^ Hafford (2015), pp. 19
  18. ^ Hafford (2015), pp. 22
  19. ^ a b Hafford (2015), pp. 33
  20. ^ Hafford (2015), pp. 65
  21. ^ a b Hafford (2015), pp. 44–46
  22. ^ a b Hafford (2015), pp. 80–81
  23. ^ a b Hafford (2015), pp. 83
  24. ^ Hafford (2015), pp. 93–96
  25. ^ Hafford (2015), pp. 100–101
  26. ^ a b Hafford (2015), pp. 55
  27. ^ Hafford (2015), pp. 111–112
  28. ^ Hafford (2015), pp. 112–113
  29. ^ Hafford (2015), pp. 113–115
  30. ^ Hafford (2015), pp. 115–117
  31. ^ a b Hafford (2015), pp. 85
  32. ^ a b Hafford (2015), pp. 86–87
  33. ^ Hafford (2015), pp. 87–88
  34. ^ Hafford (2015), pp. 88
  35. ^ Ross (2004), p. 199
  36. ^ Himmelmann (1996), p. 210
  37. ^ Dissel (2013)
  38. ^ a b c d Hafford (2015), p. 70
  39. ^ Hafford (2015), p. 79
  40. ^ a b c Hafford (2015), p. 68
  41. ^ a b Hafford (2015), p. 67
  42. ^ Ross (2004), p. 177
  43. ^ a b c d Hafford (2015), p. 69
  44. ^ Ross (2004), p. 200
  45. ^ Hafford (2015), p. 66
  46. ^ Ross (2004), p. 179
  47. ^ Hafford (2015), p. 80
  48. ^ Himmelmann (1996), p. 206
  49. ^ Hafford (2015), p. 71
  50. ^ a b c d e Hafford (1999)
  51. ^ a b Hafford (1999), p. 47
  52. ^ Hafford (1999), p. 83
  53. ^ Hafford (1999), p. 33
  54. ^ Hafford (1999), p. 84
  55. ^ Hafford (1999), p. 160
  56. ^ Hafford (1999), p. 28
  57. ^ Hafford (1999), p. 129
  58. ^ a b c Hafford (1999), pp. 25
  59. ^ Hafford (1999), pp. 143, 144
  60. ^ Hafford (1999), pp. 95
  61. ^ a b Hafford (1999), pp. 24
  62. ^ Hafford (1999), pp. 144
  63. ^ Hafford (1999), pp. 24, 25
  64. ^ a b c d e Hafford (1999), pp. 26
  65. ^ a b Hafford (2015), pp. 63
  66. ^ Hafford (2015), pp. 61
  67. ^ a b Hafford (2015), pp. 62, 64
  68. ^ Hafford (2015), pp. 60
  69. ^ Hafford (2015), pp. 62
  70. ^ Hafford (2015), pp. 64, 65
  71. ^ a b c Hafford (1999), pp. 27
  72. ^ Hafford, James (March 2004). Organised Phonology Data Supplement Wuvulu Language (PDF). Summer Institute of Linguistics. p. 99. Archived from the original (PDF) on 14 February 2017. Retrieved 8 February 2017.
  73. ^ Hafford (2015), p. 27-28
  74. ^ Hafford (2015), pp. 73
  75. ^ Hafford (2015), pp. 45
  76. ^ Hafford (2015), p. 72-73
  77. ^ Lean, Glendon A. (1991). Counting Systems of Papua New Guinea (2 ed.). Department of Mathematics and Statistics, Papua New Guinea University of Technology. p. 60.
  78. ^ Hafford (2015), p. 73
  79. ^ a b Hafford (2015), p. 47
  80. ^ Hafford (2015), p. 48


Further reading