Nese (also meaning 'what') is the name of the language variety that was
traditionally spoken along the northwestern coast of Malakula, Vanuatu (see
Map 1) in the area commonly referred to as Matanvat, from the modern
village of Lerrongrrong in the north to Tontarrasak in the south, and
inland for four or five kilometres. Its traditional southerly neighbour is
Najit, spoken in the area of Tanmial, while to the northeast along the
coast is the traditional area of the Naha ('what') speech community, a
variety of which is now spoken in the village of Vovo . A further
variety-for which no name has yet been recorded-is associated with the
Alovas area further to the east along the northern coast of Malakula.
Finally, a variety known as Njav originates from the area inland from
Tanmial to the east and south of Alovas, though its speakers have relocated
to the small village of Tanmaliliv in the Espiegles Bay area.
These five communalects exhibit substantially differing degrees of
linguistic viability. The Naha communalect of Vovo village is actively
spoken, and based on the 1989 census figures, it possibly has around 170
speakers today. The communalect of Alovas reportedly has only about 15
speakers left, with the population of this village having shifted
substantially to Naha , bringing the total population of Naha speakers
today to about 225. Njav is reportedly still the daily language of the
small village of Tanmaliliv . It had an estimated 10 speakers in 1989.
Najit is moribund, though in this case the replacement language is the
Espiegles Bay variety of what is referred to in the literature as the Malua
Finally, Nese-the subject of the present study-is also moribund, being
actively spoken only in the small hamlet known locally as Matanvat SDA
(Seventh Day Adventist) by a single extended family consisting of two
brothers and their wives, along with their children and their parents.
There are speakers of Nese also to be found in the small villages of
Lerrongrrong, Tontarr, Senbukhas and Tontarrasak, though the dominant
language of these communities is now Bislama. Bislama has come to be the
dominant language as a result of extensive settlement of the Matanvat area
by people from other parts of Malakula. Of the entire Matanvat area
population of about 400 today, only five families represent the original
population of the area, and the total number of speakers of Nese is
probably no more than 20. Children are no longer learning this speech
variety, and most adults in the Matanvat area now seldom use it even when
speaking with their own relatives with whom they share a knowledge of Nese.
This is one of four monographs on Malakula languages that Terry Crowley had
been working on at the time of his sudden death in January 2005. One of the
monographs, Naman: a vanishing language of Malakula (Vanuatu) , had been
submitted to Pacific Linguistics a couple of weeks earlier. The remaining
three, including the current volume, were in various stages of completion,
and John Lynch was asked by the Board of Pacific Linguistics to prepare all
four for publication, both as a memorial to Terry and because of the
valuable data they contain.