Syntax, Typology, and Information Structure -



Jeremy Hammond


Aniwa is an Oceanic language language spoken in Vanuatu. It is a dialect of the Polynesian outlier West-Futuna and is spoken by between 300-400 speakers on the island of Aniwa (also known as "iniwa"). The other dialect is spoken on Futuna, which is located nearby to the south of Aniwa. Some of the population of Aniwa speakers reside in the capital Port Vila, primarily in the Seaside district. Although there are no records on language vitality, current indications of child language acquisition suggest that despite the small population size, the language is rather healthy.

There are two sketch grammars of the language, giving a tantalizing insight to some interesting grammatical features. The language has a loose SVO word order. This differs from its family which is generally verb initial. There is also evidence that Aniwa has dual nominal referents giving a word order which is something like SVSO. This secondary reference is usually has an ergative alignment (in contrast to the primary nominative/accusative alignment).

This project is going to focus on some of the unresolved puzzles such as the evolution of the Polynesian ergative case, the supposed variable word order and the complex transitivity system. The pre-history of the Aniwa community is also unresolved. While it is clear that Aniwa language does not belong to the Southern Vanuatu language family (due to lexical and structural form), its linguistic history has not yet been traced to a particular location in Polynesia (or elsewhere). It is estimated that it has been in the region for around 400-700 years.

Aniwa has had minimal direct European contact due to its remote location, harsh living conditions and small population size.

Geography and History

Aniwa is the a small atoll island found in the south of Vanuatu to the north-east of Tanna. It is around 4 km across with a large lagoon in the north half of the island. The people live in four distinct hamlets in the south half of the island. The highest point above sea level is 55m. Being a low lying island in a region that has high seismic activity, this means that it is prone to flooding from tsunami events.

In 2009/2010 Aniwa suffered an environmental disaster in the form of a drought where no rain fell for over 10 months. For a small island with no significant underground water supply this meant a shortage in drinking water. It also significantly impacted on the gardens, with the staple yam, manioc and banana crops all failing. Emergency food drops from Tanna and Port Vila helped dramatically.

The island is also renowned for its oranges and seafood, both of which are exported to markets in the capital. There is a long (pre-European-contact) history of trade between Aniwa and both Erromango and Tanna, the largest islands in the TAFEA province in Vanuatu. This includes population movement through marriage and work relocation. The languages on Tanna and Aniwa have both changed from this contact.

These are some photos of the lifestyle of the people of Aniwa. Following for a historical perspective there are images below from a 1894 collection of letters from a missionary, Margaret Paton, that was based on Aniwa during the late 1800s.

Last checked 2015-11-02 by Jeremy Hammond

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