31 May 2010

Dying language now being taught in Vanuatu

7:13 am on 31 May 2010

A New Zealand academic who developed a new spelling system for a dying Pacific language from Vanuatu says it's now being taught in kindergartens.

Dr Laura Dimock spent nine months studying the previously undocumented Nahavaq language on the island of Malakula.

Dr Dimock says she had to learn one of Vanuatu's national languages, Bislama to converse with Nahavaq speakers to create the spelling system.

She says one of the most exciting discoveries was figuring out how to denote two distinct sounds for the consonants: b, m, v and p.

"About three months in I finally found a minimal pair -that's two words that are only different with one sound but they have different meanings. In this case it was turtle and banyan tree. Turtle was numbuck and banyan tree was numbahk and they sound perfectly different to speakers of Nahavaq."

Dr Laura Dimock says only 700 people speak Nahavaq and says its survival is in doubt because of the effects of globalisation, economy and tourism in Vanuatu.