Pronouns, fishing and mat-weaving: linguistic fieldwork in Vanuatu

Lana Takau did her MA in Linguistics at UC, and is now studying for a PhD in Newcastle, New South Wales. Here she blogs about the linguistic fieldwork she carried out for her MA project.


I did my MA thesis in linguistics at UC, which was a comparative study of two languages spoken in Vanuatu: Bislama, which is the lingua franca widely used in Vanuatu, and Raga (Hano), spoken by around 6,500 people who live in northern Pentecost as well as in Port Vila and Luganville.

Carrying out this sort of study involves living in the speech community and recording people speaking their language. For my project I spent two weeks in Vila and another two weeks in a village in North Pentecost. I recorded participants telling stories in their language and in Bislama and also asked them if they used certain constructions in their daily life. Living in the speech community in North Pentecost meant having mostly local food – which is island taro for breakfast, lunch and dinner! – taking showers in spring water collected in a drum; sleeping in a thatched roof house; and of course enduring mosquito bites! But even that part was worth it because during my free time I’d go for a swim in the sea, or really get involved in the community by going fishing with some of the locals or helping women weave mats.

My study looked at pronouns and agreement marking. I focussed on the syntactic status of the second pronoun in pronoun doubling constructions in Bislama and investigated a similar phenomenon in the Raga (Hano) language. This sort of work is really important because there is very little work done on these languages, compared, say, to the amount of work on English or French. The study really broadened my own understanding of the pronominal and agreement marking systems of these two languages, and the results may also help language teachers in the area. By gaining a good understanding of the grammatical systems of these languages, for example, teachers who are involved in vernacular language teaching in Vanuatu may better understand why students use certain constructions the way they do when speaking English or Bislama.

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About uclinguistics

Welcome to the blog of the Linguistics programme at the University of Canterbury, Christchurch, New Zealand.
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