Research

Research Interests

Language documentation (fieldwork methods, language description, data management), language endangerment (language conservation, language death, language maintenance, language revitalization, language planning), syntax, morphology, typology and language universals, Oceanic linguistics, lexicography, orthography design, and grammaticalization.

Dissertation Research
Dissertation Title: Discovering Mavea: Grammar, texts, and lexicon

The goal of my dissertation was to produce a descriptive and synchronic grammar of Mavea, a language spoken on the eponymous island Mavea (also spelled Mafea or Mavia), a satellite island of Espiritu Santo, in Northern Vanuatu.

                                                                Vanuatu

                  Espiritu Santo
















(Maps of Vanuatu from: http://www.linguistics.unimelb.edu.au/thieberger/vanlangs/index.html)

(Map of Oceania from: http://www.nationsonline.org/oneworld/vanuatu.htm)

Language Profile
Mavea has a land surface of about 4.7 km2. The population is split into twelve settlements of extended families. The most recent census undertaken in 1999 reports (2000:56-8) a total population of 172 on Mavea, 72 women and 100 men. Their distribution in age group is detailed in the table below.


 Age

0-4

5-9

10-14

15-19

20-14

25-29

30-34

35-39

40-44

45-49

Female

6

12

13

3

8

7

3

5

4

3

Male

12

12

13

13

9

7

9

4

-

5

Total

18

24

26

16

17

14

12

9

4

8

 Mavea population by age. (Data from the Vanuatu 1999 national census)

 Age

50-54

55-59

60-64

65-69

70+

Not stated

Female

1

2

-

-

1

4

Male

-

3

1

1

4

7

Total

1

5

1

1

5

11



Language Status
There are about 30 fluent speakers of Mavea today. The language is not actively spoken anymore. It is used in some of the households, and for some private conversations outside the home, but it is never used in the public domains (such as recreational activities, church gathering, government and business transactions, school, etc.)

The language is not learned by children. The youngest fluent speakers are in their 30s.

These facts indicate that the Mavea language is seriously endangered.


Fieldwork

Until my fieldwork, the only existing data on Mavea was a 247 word list that Jacques Guy collected in the 1970s, which was published in Tryon 1976. I spent a total of 11 months on Mavea Island: 3 months in 2005, 4 months in 2006, and 4 months in 2007. To collect language data, I elicited information from several native speakers, and I recorded texts of different genres (such as traditional stories, personal histories, and some conversations). The language community and I then created an orthography to transcribe the recorded stories. These texts can be used as recreational reading materials, and hopefully, will serve as basal readers for learners of Mavea as a second language. Based on the recordings, I compiled a trilingual (Mavea-English-Bislama) dictionary of about 1800 words, an ABC book, and I described (most of) the grammar. I hope that these books will be of help to future generations of Mavea learners.



Dissertation Committee
(from left to right)

Albert Schutz
Marie-Christine Garneau
Kenneth Rehg
Yuko Otsuka (Chairperson)
Ego
Nicholas Thieberger
William O'Grady




 


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