Leibniz-Zentrum Allgemeine Sprachwissenschaft Leibniz-Gemeinschaft

Languages of Southwest Ambrym

The goal of the project is to describe the languages of Southwest Ambrym, an island of the state of Vanuatu in the South Pacific, and document their uses in various cultural contexts. There are at least three languages with several dialects belonging to the Austronesian family, which are endangered due to language contact and environmental dangers. 

Research topics

The project is funded within the framework of the DoBeS program for endangered languages. It investigates the languages of South and West Ambrym, the fifth-largest island of the state of Vanuatu in the South Pacific. The island, which has an area of about 680 km2, is a large vulcano with two active craters in a large caldera that lacks nearly any vegetation due to the acid rain generated by the vulcanic activity. There are population centers, not connected to each other, in the South East, North and in the Southwest. The Southwest is linguistically most diverse, with at least three languages and several dialects that are spoken by about 3000 persons. It is also particularly endangered due to the vulcanoes; the eruption of 1913 caused the extinction of one language, and the region generally suffers from acidic rain that destroys the crops. The local languages are also pushed back by the lingua franca of Vanuatu and its official language, Bislama, especially since mobile phones reached the island.

The project investigates the grammar of the languages and will produce dictionaries. It will also document the use of the languages for many purposes, like in narratives, in instructions, in games and in court cases. Ambrym is the center of a unique art form, sandroing or sand drawing, which we will investigate as well, for the first time together with the linguistic performances that accompany it. The documentations will be transcribed and analyzed in detail. In addition, dictionaries and small school books will be produced for local use.

"Who else is speaking Daakaka?" (German)

The Ambrym project is one of eight selected research projects whose work is presented in the Volkswagen Foundation's new video blog. Since 1 March 2011, a total of ten episodes of the ZAS research project "Languages of Southwest Ambrym" have gradually been published on www.sciencemovies.de .

1. Bedrohter Sprachschatz
2. Zweitvater in der Südsee
3. Forschung unterm Bambusdach
4. Weibliche Sprachgenies
5. Brautpreis
6. Tor zur Welt der Buchstaben
7. Was wird aus Daakie?
8. Ornamente im Sand
9. Giftige Wolken
10. Kinderspiele für die Zukunft


Sprachpuzzle Daakaka (This puzzle task was created for the preselection for the Linguistics Olympiad 2010.)