Neha Patil (Editor)

Wuvulu Aua language

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Native to  Papua New Guinea
ISO 639-3  wuv
Native speakers  1,500 (2004)
Glottolog  wuvu1239
Region  Wuvulu and Aua Islands, Manus Province
Language family  Austronesian Malayo-Polynesian Oceanic Admiralty Islands Western Admiralty Islands Wuvulu-Aua

The Wuvulu-Aua language is spoken on Wuvulu and Aua Islands by approximately 1500 people scattered around the Manus Province of Papua New Guinea. Although the Wuvulu-Aua language has a similar grammatical structure, word order, and tense to other Oceanic languages, it has an unusually complex morphology.


The Wuvulu Island is located in the Papua New Guinea Province and reaches about 10 feet above sea level. As a member of the Admiralty Islands, the Wuvulu and Aua islands are a part of the Bismarck Archipelago that includes other provinces such as the New Ireland province, the East New Britain province, the Morobe province and much more. Wuvulu is spoken by an estimated 1,500 people in the Manus Province. There are only approximately 1,300 speakers of the language on Wuvulu and Aua. The remaining speakers of Wuvulu inhabit either the other islands located in the Papua New Guinea territory.

Wuvulu is most similar to Austronesian, Malayo-Paolynesian, and other Oceanic languages scattered around the Admiralty Islands. Wuvulu-Aua is one of only three languages categorized in the Western subgroup of the Admiralty language. The other two languages are Seimat and Kaniet; however, Kaniet is now an extinct language.

There are three different dialects of Wuvulu that are unique to the different clans located on the island: the Onne dialect, the Auna dialect, and the Aua dialect which is native to the Aua island. Each dialect differs in phoneme, distinguishing them from each other. However, the individual islands Wuvulu and Aua have a lexical and phonological distinction.


The Wuvulu-Aua language is in the family of Austronesian language family. After that, it belongs to Malayo-Polynesian which is one of the major Nuclear Austronesian language family. Next, based on the location, The Wuvulu-Aua is in the Eastern Malayo-Polynesian family. If we classify it more explicitly, it is the member of Oceanic Western Admiralty island language family. In fact, Wuvulu-Aua is made up of two languages, Wuvulu and Aua. These two languages vary in the pronunciation of certain consonants like /r/.


Most Researchers believed that the Proto-Eastern Malayo Polynesian (PEMP) Language was produced in the area called "Bird's Head", which is in the north-west island of New Guinea. Later, PEMP developed different descended language and Proto Oceanic (PO) was one of them. PO not only reached to the northern coast of New Guinea and Indonesia, but also to Wuvulu, an island of the Bismarck archipelago. There are about 31 languages in the Admiralty Subgroup of Oceanic language that is derived from PO. 28 languages belong to Eastern Admirally Subground and the other 3 languages (Wuvulu-Aua, Seimat and Kaniet) are in Western Admirally Subgroup.


The ancestor of Wuvulu made ponds by digging the ground and pouring in fresh water to plant hula and the great taro around the pond. Wuvulu people also planted sweet potato, tapioca, and cabbage in their gardens. Fishing is important to the Wuvulu society and they have many different fishing methods. One method is to have a group of women form a big half circle with a fishing net while walking along the reef. The fish hide behind the rocks because the movement of the tide and the women can easily catch them by lifting the stone. They mainly depend on bush when they are building houses or constructing a canoe. During the German colonial period, locals faced difficulties as the trees were cut down by Germans. The people of Wuvulu are nice and always help each other build houses and gardens. On the aspect of food, they often cook with coconut milk. It is taboo for local people to eat coconut crab, shell-fish, and turtles even though some of them cannot refuse the charm of these foods. The population of Wuvulu was dramatically reduced at the end of the last century because of Malaria and other diseases that were spread by outsiders. At that time, at least 90% of the population died of foreign diseases. Christianity is very popular in this island, every Sabbath day (Saturday), the residents will gather to sing songs written in Hawaiian.

Sounds and Phonology

Wuvulu-Aua have three distinct dialects, two on Wuvulu island, and one on Aua island. Wuvulu-Aua contains 10 consonant phonemes and 10 vowel phonemes (5 vowels with short and long versions). The Auna dialect is spoken on the Aua Island, while Onne dialect is spoken on Wuvulu.

The syllable pattern of Wuvulu-Aua is similar to many other Oceanic languages, following the pattern of (C)V syllables. Stress is used to clarify ambiguous vowel sequences. There are several publications on Wuvulu-Aua phonology, but they disagree on the allophones of the phonemes /l/, /r/, and /t/. Two publications, Blust 1996 and 2008, vary the number of consonant phonemes, reducing from 14 to 12. The third publication, Hafford 2012, further reduces the consonant phonemes to 10.

There are four plosives in Wuvulu-Aua: /b/, /p/, /t/, and /ʔ/. The single fricative, /f/, is normally voiceless but is sometimes voiced between vowels. Two nasals are agreed upon, /m/ and /n/, with one report suggesting /ŋ̩/, but it was removed in subsequent publications. The two approximates, /l/ and /r/ have multiple allophones.

The classification of [x] and [g] is still debated as an allophone of /r/. In contemporary dialects of Wuvulu-Aua, [r] exists as a variant of [x] and [g]. Older generations of Wuvulu-Aua speakers still use the [r] phone. The alveolar trilled [r] is also regularly used by older generations and is understood by children. [r] is also borrowed as either [x] or [g] from English, choosing one depending on the height of adjacent vowels. Historically, Proto Oceanic languages say [g] for a [r] next to a high vowel and [x] next to everything else. Similar to /r/, /l/ also has two conditioned variants, [d] and [l]. [d] will be used next to a high vowel, and [l] for everything else.

Conditioned variants [x] and [g] have been proposed by Blust 2008. This proposal is a correction from Blust 1996 which proposed that [x], [g], [ɣ], and [k] are all free variation phones. All dialects of Wuvulu-Aua claim that [k] is not a phone as borrowed words from English replace [k] with ʔ.

The vowels of Wuvulu-Aua are a, i, u, e, o and their long phonemes ā, ī ū, ē, ō. The frequency of each vowels is spread fairly evenly between the front, central, and back areas, with [a] being the most frequent. Mid vowels are the least frequent, occurring 28% of the time in a studied sample. High vowels are the most frequent, occurring 39% of the time in the same sample. It has been proposed that the increased frequency of high vowels may be linked to the shift towards the allophone [g] next to high vowels.

The long vowels of Wuvulu-Aua are the same sound as their short counterparts, but are longer in duration and are always stressed in pronunciation. Mostly nouns contain long vowels, though they can also be found in grammatical words.

20 permutations of vowel pairs exist with the five vowels. Eight pairs have a rising tongue, eight pairs with a falling tongue, and four pairs with a level tongue. Generally, the movement of the tongue determines a change in sonority. An upward movement corresponds with a decrease in sonority, and a downward movement corresponds with an increase. The pairs eo, oe, and ae are not considered to be part of the language.


Proto-Oceanic language is the ancestor of the Wuvu language. Even though their grammar structure is similar it also differs. Proto-Oceanic language noun-phrase sentence structure : Art + (Number/Quanitfer)+ Noun + modifier + Demonstrative Where as in the Wuvulu language, the noun-phrase sentence structure is : (Art/Demonstrative) + (Number/Quanitfier) + Modifiers + Noun + Modifier

Noun Phrase

Similar to Proto Oceanic language, the nouns are categorized into personal, local and common. Personal nouns is the noun that related to you, such as kin term and name of person. Furthermore, local noun is the name of place and the rest of noun are common noun like tree and "under" (preposition).

Compounds, reduplication and Onomatopoeia are the three ways to construct noun in Wuvulu Aua language.

  1. Compounds is the two words combine together to form a new word. Here are some examples: Tawaparara (spotted triggerfish) is combined by tawa (table) and parara (sea bird)
  2. Waliwali (driftwood) and wiliwili (bicycle) are examples of reduplication.
  3. Onomatopoeia describe the sound in their language. baʔa [baʔa] or [baʔabaʔa] (knock) is mimic the sound of knocking the door .

Verb Phrase

Wuvulu language have a single worb that contains 20 morphemes (Morphemes is the smallest unit that have meaning in a language), which has the most complicated single verb among 500 Oceanic language. These verbs can be attached by subject and object clitics and can be added mood, aspect, completion and etc.


timi Timi=nia! Timi-na fei muro

to throw throw it ! Throw the stone

bound with object marker The verb root take the transitive morpheme (-ca)

  • When an intransitive word change to a transitive word, the causative maker “fa-” has to attach the word.
  • Example:

    na-poni to na-fa-poni=a

    run (transitive) make it run (intransitive)

  • When a noun change to a verb, suffix -i have to be put behind the original word. If the verb is intransitive, then take the marker -fa to change into transitive word.
  • Adverb

    There are six different morphemes of adverb to describe the verb including complete, frequent, infrequent, eventual, intensified, or sequential.(Note: These markers are prefix.)

  • Using marker "-mina" to describe the action is done completely.
  • Using marker "ʔu-" to describe the action is done frequently.
  • Using marker "ʔo-" to describe the action is done infrequently.
  • Using marker "we-" to describe the action is done eventually.
  • Using marker "poʔo" to describe the action is done with a strong emotion.
  • Using marker "loʔo" to describe the action is done prior to other action.
  • Also, Wuvulu language also has suffix adverb.

  • Using marker "-ʔua" to describe the action is done within a limit. ( Similar to "only" in English.
  • Using marker "-liai" (intransitive) and "-li-na" (transitive) to describe the action is done over and over again.
  • Verbal Clitics

    "Pronominal clitics in Wuvulu are modified forms of free pronouns that are bound to the edges of verb stem." Verb clitics are able to be used as subjects, objects of a clause, or co-located in a clause with noun phrases.

    Subject Proclitics

    Wuvulu is one of the few languages to have a structure similar for subject proclitics, that was thought to be exclusive to the Proto-Oceanic language. There are three possibilities where the Wuvulu subject proclitics are from. Example- person POc Wuvulu

    1 *au= ʔu= 2 *ko= ʔo= 3 *i= ʔi=

    Clause Structure

    Clause structure is divided into verbal clauses and verbless clauses. Verbless is constructed by two nouns that are close together. In this kind of sentence, pause 【,】 separated between the subject and predicate. Ex: ia,futa (He, (is a) chef) According to Foley & Van Valin (1984) and Van Valin & LaPolla (1997), verbal clauses can be described into one model.

    [ Clause [ Adjunct ] [ Core [Nucleus] ] Adjunct


    minoa, ʔei wawane, ro=na-paʔuru-paʔa-a ʔei aʔu, ʔi ʔari

    Yesterday the PL man 3SG=Real-cast-have-TR the.PL tuna at sea

    ' Yesterday the men caught the tuna at sea. '

    According to the model above

    [ Clause [ Adjunct ] [ Core [Nucleus] ] Adjunct

    [ [ yesterday] [the men][ they=caught] the tuna] at sea


    Wuvulu language just like its 30 linguistics sisters which they are SVO language. However, it has a tendency for VOS syntax because Wuvulu is very similar to proto-Oceanic language, which the verbal agreement marking and its propensity for the subject constituent are at the ending of sentence.

    Verbless Clauses

  • Predicate nominal is formed by two close noun phrase. Usually, the first noun phrase is the subject and the second is the predicate.
  • Example: ia, fatu

    PRON.3SG chief

    ' He is a chief.'

  • Predicate locative is formed when a noun followed by a location noun.
  • Example: ai, iei

    Pron.3SG PROPN

    'He is there.'

    Verbal Clauses

  • Existential clauses express the existence of something by using verb "paʔi". It is equal to " There be " sentence in English.
  • Declarative clauses to denote the situation. (Note: Realis and irrealis mood will be used)
  • Example:



    'He did it.'

  • Imperative clauses is a sentence without a subject, but second person subject is assumed.
  • Example:



    'Come get it!'

  • Deonitc clauses is like imperative clauses but it is in command manner.
  • Example:



    'You must leave!'


    Within the Oceanic languages, Wuvulu has one of the most complex morphology. Unlike their ancestor language, Proto-Oceanic language, Wuvulu doesn't use derivational morphology. It gets verb derivation from nouns and adjectives. Wuvulu also gets their transitive verbs from their intransitive verbs To get verb derivation from nouns/or adjectives (intransitive) and adjectives by adding a suffix (-i) to the noun or adjective. A verb from noun creates a sentence that means "to be noun or adjective" when adding a -i. When the suffix is combined with the fa- prefix it can change the meaning of the sentence to "to cause/let something become noun or adjective". ex: fei muro the stone ʔi=na-muro-i 3SG=REAL-stone-DER ‘It is stone.’ ʔi=na-fa-muro-i-na larua 3SG=REAL-CAUS-stone-DER-TR PRON.3DU ‘She turned the two to stone.’

    As for the Wuvulu intransitive verbs from transitive verbs, they add the causative marker -fa. ex: ʔi=na-poni 3SG=REAL-run ‘He ran.’

    ʔi=na-fa-poni=ia 3SG=REAL-run=3SG ‘She made him run.’

    Transitive Transitive verbs can come from adjectives when adding the causative marker -fa. ex: ʔi=na-fa-rawani=nia 3SG=REAL-CAUS-good=3SG ‘He treated her well.’ ʔi=na-fa-afelo=ia 3SG=REAL-CAUS-bad=3SG ‘He destroyed it (lit. caused it to be bad).’

    Preverbal morphology "Preverbal morphemes within the Wuvulu verb phrase, consists of positions for subject clitics, and inflectional prefixes denoting mood/aspect and direction" ex: (SUBJECT=) (MOOD/ASPECT-) (DIRECTION-) VERB (-ADVERBIAL) (=OBJECT) (-DIRECTIONAL)

    Generally, the Wuvulu family language, Oceanic, tends to have pre-verbal morphemes that are free or prefixed. But in the wuvulu language, the pre-verbal and post-verbal morphemes are bounded by the verb stem. Except for subjects and objects; which can be free nominals, verbal clitics, or both.

    Mood Like Proto-Oceanic language, Wuvulu also lacks a tense category. Even though Wuvulu lacks a tense category, they tend to use mood, aspect markers, and time phrases to express tenses.

    The realis mood/marker inflection conveys past tense. (na-) ro=na-biri=ʔia 3PL=REAL-work=3SG ‘They did it.’

    whereas an irrealis mood/marker doesn't convey a past tense. ro=ʔa-biri=ʔia 3PL=IRR-work=3SG ‘They are about to do it.’


    The Wuvulu language consists of 10 phonemes, or consonants, 10 vowels, and 10 diphthongs. Wuvulu diphthongs separate vowels phonetically, despite the fact that when spoken, the vowels create one phonetic sound Within the Wuvulu language, the vowel "a" dominates as most common, having a one-third frequency in the language. Wuvulu has two numerical systems, one for animate objects and one for inanimate objects. Both numerical systems are a senary, or base 6 numerical systems, where the numbers following six are multipliers of six. For example, the word for 2 inanimate objects is "ruapalo", whereas the number for two animate objects is "elarui".

    There are several basic words that is stable and do not change hugely which include the words for blood (rara), stone (muro) and the sun (alo).

    Each number less than or equivalent to four is representative of the Proto-Oceanic language. Any number following four demonstrative of a multiplicative construct, similarly found in the Marshall Islands. For example, the number five in Wuvulu is aipani. "Ai" in Wuvulu is one, while "pani" means hand. On one hand, there are five fingers, hence, "one hand" translating to aipani. Similarly, for larger numbers the system becomes more complex, like when discussing the number eight. fainaroa translate to 8. When the word is broken into sections, "fai" means four, "na" is multiply, and "roa" is two. Loosely translated, it means "four multiply two". Therefore, fainaroa translates to eight in Wuvulu.

    Within the Wuvulu language, addressing people and locations must use proper nouns with the morpheme o- to prefix any name. The person being addressed must have the o- prefix added to the beginning of their name by the person who is addressing them. The use of this prefix is not limited to proper nouns but can also be used for pronouns, such as when addressing a relative like "aunty", "sister", or "mother".

    Wuvulu family names can either be based on the patriarch's name, or it can be based on clan names which are also locations. Some family names are named after locations due to settlers associating location with caln names.


    Wuvulu-Aua language Wikipedia

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