Emae language

Native toVanuatu
Native speakers
400 (2001)[1]
Language codes
ISO 639-3mmw

Emae is a Polynesian outlier language of Vanuatu.



The language of Emae is a language spoken in the villages of Makatea and Tongamea on Emae in the country of Vanuatu. Most of the Emae people speak Emae, North Efate (Nguna), English, French and Bislama. Less than 1% of the people who speak Emae as their native language are literate in the language, while 50% to 70% are literate in their second language, whether it be Nguna, English, French or Bislama. Today, only around 400 people speak Emae, mainly in Makatea and Tongamea, 250 more than in the 1960s - around 150 speakers[citation needed]. According to Lewis[citation needed], Emae is still underused by many of the people in the area, but 50% of children know and speak Emae (2014), and children speaking Emae will help the language thrive.


Emae belongs to the large group of Austronesian language, which contains more than 1200 languages. Emae is part of the Samoic-Outliers node also known as Polynesian Outliers. The Emae is part of the Futunic group and all nine languages part of this node are the immediate sister languages of Emae. The Futunic group comes from languages linked to the island of Futuna.



  Labial Alveolar Velar
Nasal n ŋ
Stop p  ᵐb t  ⁿd k
Fricative f  v s  
Trill   r  
Lateral approximant   l  

According to Capell (1962), “[h] appears, but is a variant of [f] and sometimes [s]. Not classified as phoneme.”


Front Central Back
Close i u
Mid e o
Open a

According to Capell (1962), adjacent vowels can form diphthongs, and two identical adjacent vowels can become phonetically long.[clarification needed]

Syllable structure and stress

To create a syllable in "Emae" the pattern is vowel or consonant-vowel only. The V and the CV pattern is shown in "Polynesian, generally neighboring Melanesian languages except, "Makura"." Consonant-consonant sounds don't happen, so the sounds [mb], [nd] and [mw] are said to be single, pre-nasalized phonemes. When placing stress in a word the stress is usually placed on the antepentultimate syllable. An example antepenultimate word is "nanafi", with the stress on "na".


Basic word order

Capell says the syntactic pattern of "Emae" is Melanesian, and can be shown by the comparison between the sentence pattern of Maori and Emae (1962). The pattern that Maori, a Polynesian language, follows is the VSO. Capell puts the structures in term of actor, predicate and goal. The actor is the subject, the predicate the verb phrase and the goal is the object of the sentence. Emae follows the SVO pattern, which is the structure that most Melanesian languages use.


Reduplication in "Emae" is not as common as it is in other Polynesian languages. Most of the reduplication in "Emae" is a loan from other languages located around "Emae". In Capell’s book he states that there is presence of both noun and verb reduplication in Emae (1962).

Noun Reduplication

  • tui - "needle"
  • tuitui - "sew"

Verb Reduplication (Loan from Nguna)

  • lae - "rejoice"
  • laelaea - "rejoicing"


Indigenous vocabulary

Most words in the ‘’Emae’’ language are general Polynesian words:

  • afi - "fire"
  • ariki - "chief
  • boŋiboŋi - "tomorrow"
  • fafine - "female"[clarification needed]
  • fare - "house"
  • po:ki - "to beg; beesech"
  • roto - "inside 'heart'"[clarification needed]


The homophones are regarded as interesting in Emae because, some of the time, one word is a general Polynesian word yet the other comes from another Pacific language.[clarification needed] GP=General Polynesian

  • ara
  1. GP "road, path"
  2. GP "wake up"
  • fia
  1. GP "how many?"
  2. GP "desire; want"
  • fua
  1. Maori "to give"
  2. GP "egg"
  • po
  1. Nguna "then; and then"
  2. GP "night"
  • rima
  1. GP "hand"
  2. GP "five"


When trying to classify a language as endangered, linguists have to take into account other aspects of the language’s uses in the area it is spoken. The use of the language in the daily life of the Emae people is an important piece of information in determining Emae's level of endangerment. According to Lewis, Emae is used in most domains (2014), yet this is a very vague statement because it does not specify the domains it refers to. This information can cause skeptics to have a different point of view. One domain in which a language might be used is at a religious gathering. While use in religious ceremony can be a way to preserve a language, there is no documentation of the Emae people using their language in this type of domain. For example in one of the villages, "Makata" or "Natanga", the title of the hymnals was in Tongoan (Capell, 1962). Tongoan is small language no longer spoken on Emae located on the island of Tongoa. The second source came from a YouTube video of a VHS recording of a small congregation of Emae people singing a gospel song.[citation needed] Instead of using Emae the people were singing in Bislama, one of the official languages of Vanuatu. This presents another issue with the lack of documentation of Emae, as there are no audio recordings of the language. There is a small elementary school located in Emae called "Nofo" School, but it is unlikely that the language is taught there, as it is more popular to learn one of three official languages, which are spoken in the college on Efate. The use of official languages over indigenous languages and the lack of documentation of Emae are contributing factors to the endangered state of the language. There isn’t any sign that Emae people have kept up with modern technology, or even radios, which would be a perfect domain to help the language spread and survive. Inter-generational transfer, or the transferring of a language to a younger generation, is also a predictor of a language's vitality. According to Lewis, the language is used by 50% of the children (2014),which is a positive sign for the language, as the children will help keep the language alive. In Capell’s book Reverend Herwell says that “The population figures for [Makata and Natanga] are together now 157 (1962).” With about 400-500 speakers recorded in 2001 the total number of Emae speakers more than doubled in over forty years, which supports that children of Emae have and still are learning the language, keeping Emae alive.


  • Capell, A. (1962). The Polynesian language of Mae (Emwae), New Hebrides. Auckland: Linguistic Society of New Zealand.
  • Lewis, M. Paul, Gary F. Simons, Charles D. Fennig (eds.). 2013. Ethonlogue: Languages of the World, Seventeenth edition. Dallas, Texas: SIL International. Online version: ethnologue.com.
  • Sato, H., & Terrell, J. (2012). Language in Hawai'i and the Pacific; Class Reader. Honolulu: University of Hawaii at Manoa.


  1. ^ Emae at Ethnologue (18th ed., 2015)
  2. ^ Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin, eds. (2017). "Emae". Glottolog 3.0. Jena, Germany: Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History.

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