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Scientific ELDP Project Highlight: The languages of northern Ambrym, Vanuatu

Today on the ELAR blog, we are featuring a scientific highlight from ELDP grantee and ELAR depositor Mike Franjieh. Mike is documenting two Oceanic languages of Vanuatu – North Ambrym and Fanbyak, which are spoken in the northern part of Ambrym Island in Central Vanuatu. To learn more about North Ambrym and Fanbyak, visit Mike’s deposit on the ELAR catalog. Today on the blog, Mike talks specifically about an interesting linguistic aspect of Fanbyak:

Elsie is making a traditional string figure

Fanbyak language has three possessive classifiers used in alienable possessive constructions. Across Oceanic languages possessive classifiers are very common and are interchangeable and can occur with different possessed nouns dependent on how a speaker wishes to use an item. However in Fanbyak, the classifiers are much more rigid and each noun may only occur with one possessive classifier, regardless as to how the speaker uses the item. Fanbyak’s three classifiers are called the ‘edible’ classifier used for nouns that refer to food (and some other associated words such as knife), the ‘drinkable’ classifier (used for liquids and other associated items), and the ‘general’ classifier (used for all other items). In Fanbyak you would say ‘my drinkable [classifier] water’ for any water that was possessed, regardless as to whether the speaker will drink it, wash with it, or throw it away etc. Other Oceanic languages would be able to use the ‘drinkable’ classifier only if the water was drunk and use the ‘general’ classifier if the water was used for washing. This makes Fanbyak’s possessive classifier system resemble a gender or noun class system, where typically a noun can only occur with one gender or noun class marker.

Lina is starting to make laplap made out of grated root vegetables and coconut milk baked in leaves under hot stones.
Lina (c) Kristina (l) and Imkon (r) are preparing laplap
Anna catching prawns using a piece of cloth tied around her neck
Willie is grating taro the traditional way – with the spiky branches of a tree

Photos and highlight by Mike Franjieh.

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