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.



Funding period


Principal investigator

Prof. Dr. Manfred Krifka