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
four, Naman: a vanishing language of Malakula ( Vanuatu ) , had been
submitted to Pacific Linguistics a couple of weeks earlier, and the
remaining three, including the current volume, were in various stages of
completion. 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.
The Tape language was traditionally bordered to the west by the V'ënen Taut
(or Big Nambas) language, which was spoken along the coast from just west
of Anuatakh. This language occupies a large geographical area of
northwestern Malakula, and in terms of the number of speakers, it is
currently the second largest language of Malakula (Lynch & Crowley
2001:68). The neighbouring group to the northeast of Tape territory spoke
the Tirakh language. During the colonial era, they moved down to the coast
and their traditional homeland is now unoccupied.
Tape is a relocated language that is now spoken by only a handful of older
people some distance away from their traditional homeland, which has been
abandoned as a place of residence. The traditional territory of Tape
speakers was an area of northwestern Malakula extending inland between the
Lowisinwei River valley and across to the eastern bank of the Brenwei River
to the south of a mountain called Pwitarvere.
Although Tape traditional territory include a stretch of coast from
Anuatakh to Lowisinwei-which gave people living in this area access to salt
which they could trade with the Tirakh people-Tape speakers oriented their
lives primarily towards the bush. This is reflected in this study in the
fact that speakers today were unable to offer more than an absolute minimum
of terminology relating to sea life, even though they have lived in the
coastal village of Tautu for about eighty years.
Tape was originally the name for the area shown on the map where the
language which is the subject of this description was originally spoken.
There was reportedly no distinct name for the language as such, which was
referred to simply as vengesien Tape 'the language of Tape'. However,
speakers of the language today-and other people of Tape descent who do not
speak the language-have come to use Tape as the name for the language as well.