South Efate

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Within the scope of a research seminar, a group of four students worked on the following research questions:

  • How to temporal adverbs interact with TAM-makers?
  • How do coordinations interact with TAM-markers?

A group of two students focused on the following research question:

  • How do mood and transitivity correlate?

Adverbs and TAM-markers

We considered the following temporal adverbs to be taken into account:

Anteriority: nanom 'yesterday'; nrak 'long ago', 'in those days'; malpei 'before', 'a long time ago'

Present: mees' 'today'; malfane 'now', 'at the time of'

Posteriority: matol 'evening', 'tomorrow', 'the future'; inrok 'after', 'behind'

The studied adverbs do not occur evenly. For instance, out of 199 occurences in total malfane shows the highest count (81), followed by mees (67). nanom (2) and nrak pei (3) display the fewest occurences. All in all, there is more references to present events (74%) than to past (17%) or future (9%) happenings.


As it comes to anteriority reference the results are clearly as expected. There is more realis (93) than irrealis subject proclitics when in combination with adverbs refering to anteriority.

Considering posteriority the adverb matol 'evening', 'tomorrow', 'the future' shows a clear bias to irrealis aspect (no realis but 9 irrealis subject proclitics). inrok 'after', 'behind', 'later', however, the distribution is almost balanced (14 realis, 17 irrealis). This could be due to differences in the usage of both adverbs. matol' refers to prospective events only, while inrok can refer to both past and prospective events. This can be illustrated by following examples:

me kineu ka= inrok
but 1S. 1S.IRS= behind
"I will come behind." (South Efate corpus id 046.005)
me inrok knen go u= po pam̃or -i
but behind of_it and 1P.exRS= PSP find -TS
"But later we found that it was wrong." (South Efate corpus id 068.024)

Regarding the third category present, there is far more realis (607) than irrealis (101) subject proclitics. There is also a number of perfect subject proclitics (36) as well as occurences of the perfect marker pe (23) though, which seems odd:

go mees ui= pe fri
and today 1P.exPS= PS free:BI=
"And today we are free." (South Efate corpus id 068.025)

As the example shows, the time reference is present tense, yet the perfect subject proclitic and the perfect marker are used. Thieberger (2006:168) notes that "[t]he particle pe can also encode an ongoing state that has been achieved." This seems to be the case in the shown example.

Coordinations and TAM-markers

We focused on 3 coordinations: ale 'then', go 'and' and me 'but, and'.


It seems that go occures most of the time with either the prospective irrealis fo or the realis counterpart po.

Considering the coordination me, again the prospetive irrealis co-occures the most, followed by the perfective marker pe.

As is comes to the third examined coordinatiin ale, there are way too less co-occurences to sign for a trend.


me primary serves mostly as a conjunction meaning 'and' or 'but', but it seems to quite often occur in somehow temporal surroundings.

me tafra ru= po inrok mai
and whale 3P.RS= PSP behind come
"But the whales will come later." (South Efate corpus id 023:008)
me p?a= fo to mai maileperkat emat nigneu
and 2S.IRS= PSP:IR stay come watch_over grave nigneu
"And you will come to look after my grave." (South Efate corpus id 023:008)


In the corpus ale does only occur with two of the four markers, fo and po. Ale and po can either occur in the same clause or in different clauses of the same utterance. Two examples showing the first case:

ale afsak i= po tu of pak elag
okay turtle 3S.RS= PSP give heron to above
"Then the turtle gave it to the heron above." (South Efate corpus id 105.060)
ale i= i= po nom
okay 3S.RS= PSP finish
"And that's the end." (South Efate corpus id 100:011)

A example showing the latter case:

ale Litapurog i= pes i= pes emrom i= po pesta rait -e -n pak elagf
okay Litapurong 3S.RS= talk 3S.RS= talk inside 3S.RS= PSP talk_to mother -V -3S.DP to high
"So Litapurong spoke, she spoke inside, she talked to the mother up above." (South Efate corpus id 096:021)

Ale and fo can also appear either in the same clause or in different clauses of the same utterance.

First case:

ale malfane pa= fo ler naoia yu mas kam bak
okay now 2S.IRS= PSP:IR return now:BI you:BI must:BI come:BI back:BI
(South Efate corpus id 096.021)

Impacting factors for mood correlations

Stem mutation and transitivity in South Efate

South Efate is one of a group of Vanuatu languages that displays stem-initial mutation. A small group of verbs changes the initial consonant to reflect mood. The fortis stem mutation (/p/) is associated with realis, the lenis stem mutation (/f/) is associated with irrealis. Thieberger (2012) found that the stem mutation also correlates with transitivity. He argues that the realis form occurs whenever there is an overt object expression. The irrealis form, on the other hand, occurs whenever there is no object in the clause.[1]

Research question

Rijkhoff and Seibt (2005) note that mood and definiteness (with specificity) share conceptual similarities. Both realis and definite marking entail that an entity is already “grounded in the world of discourse”, while irrealis and nonspecific-indefinite elements mark the opposite, namely that the entity is not grounded.[2] In our corpus study, we examined whether the occurence/absence of an overt object is the sole predictor of the stem change. As possible influencing factors we examined the presence of an overt object, the definiteness/specificity of that object, the complement clause type as well as the presence of the transitive/transitivizing suffix.


In total, we found 18 different verbs with stem mutations that occurred in 56 instances of mismatches. Of those, 13 had an object (lexical NP or pronominal suffix).

Here are three of the examples we would not expect if the absence of an object was the sole predictor of the irrealis stem form:

Me ser nrak nen kin rufreg kapu rupus altuk
'But every time they made laplap the put island cabbage' (South Efate corpus id ??)

We have the form mismatch despite there being an overt object. Due to the habitual reading of the sentence, the object cannot be interpreted as a specific-definite object. Thus, the correlation of the habitual reading and non-specific indefinite object might bring about the irrealis verb form here and this is evidence that the absence of an object alone cannot account for the mismatch.

go i= na Webe naik seserik ru= mai kai= fam lu nafnag wi pan
and 3S.RS= say fish small 3P.RS= come ES= eat completely food good go
'and he said, Webe, small fish they come and eat all the good food.' (South Efate corpus ??)

From the translation of, one might conclude that there is a perfect case of an object. And in fact, in his short discussion of lu, Thieberger writes: “The verb lu encodes increased affectedness of the object, typically its relocation, consumption or destruction, and so it is glossed as 'completely'.”[3] The object then would be definite non-specific (with faith in the translation) which might play a role in the stem change.

ru= wi ru= semsem lek patlas nata˜mol me ru= traef mai ko ru= fatlas -i -k ru msag -i -k
3P.RS= good 3P.RS= happy look meet person and 3P.RS) drive:BI come or 3P.RS= meet:IR -TS -2S.O 3P.RS= fetch -TS -2S.O
'they were good, they were happy to meet any man. They come driving or they meet you or they take you' (South Efate corpus ??)

Here we have three possible actions that 'they' might take: come driving, meeting you or taking you. All three of them come with the realis proclitic. Two of them specify an object of the action by means of an object suffix. And one of them is a stem change verb that occurs with the irrealis form. Under the assumption that the speaker says something generic about 'them', the second person object should be interpreted as non-specific 'you' which would be in line with our other observations.


The analysis of the examples has shown that Thiebergers assumptions can explain most of the examples. Still, there are a few examples that do not appear to be in line with his transitivity hypothesis. After looking into specificity and definiteness correlations with respect to mood, we conclude that the type of object might well have an influence on the occurrence of proclitic and verb form mismatches. But because of the small number of examples in the corpus, we cannot derive conclusive results.

  1. Thieberger, N. (2012). Mood and transitivity in South Efate.Oceanic Linguistics 51(2), 387–401.
  2. Rijkhoff, J. and J. Seibt (2005). Mood, definiteness and specificity: a linguistic and a philosophical account of their similarities and differences. Tidsskrift for Sprogforskning 3(2), 85–132.
  3. Thieberger, N. (2005). A grammar of South Efate: an Oceanic language of Vanuatu. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, p. 232