11 Nov 2011

NZ linguist using grant to dissect Vanuatu indigenous languages

5:08 pm on 11 November 2011

A New Zealand university lecturer is using an almost 200-thousand US dollar, three-year Marsden Fund grant to study indigenous languages in Vanuatu.

Waikato University's Dr Julie Barbour says her research investigates one aspect of the grammatical system of several languages - what's known as mood-marking.

She says she'll be recording people speaking in indigenous languages and transcribing them in Vanuatu pidgin, or Bislama, to analyse their use of tense.

"A language like English has a tense system that people are quite familiar with, - past, present and future - and a lot of these Vanuatu languages don't have that sort of distinction, a lot of them just have a binary distinction. And the contrast seems to be made on the basis of whether the speaker perceives the event to be a real event or not."

Dr Julie Barbour says the most interesting part of the project will be looking at how what counts as real is not the same in every community or language.