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In addition, there are over one hundred local languages spread over the archipelago. Vanuatu is considered to be the country with the highest density of languages per capita in the world, with an average of about 2,000 speakers for each indigenous language;1 only Papua New Guinea comes close. Some of these languages are very endangered, with only a handful of speakers, and indeed several have become extinct in recent times. Generally however, despite the low numbers for most of the indigenous languages, they are not considered especially vulnerable for extinction.2
In recent years, the use of Bislama as a first language has considerably encroached on indigenous languages, whose use in the population has receded from 73.1 to 63.2 percent between 1999 and 2009.3
Vanuatu is home to approximately a hundred indigenous languages (112 are listed in the table below). Among them, three went extinct in recent decades. Many are named after the island they are spoken on, though some of the larger islands have several different languages. Espiritu Santo and Malakula are the most linguistically diverse, with about two dozen languages each.
Some language names refer to networks of dialects rather than unified languages. Uripiv, for example, is a dialect continuum spoken across several islands in Malampa Province. In such cases, the decision as to how many languages should be counted is notoriously difficult, and sometimes the object of controversy. The number of 112 listed below may differ from other counts proposed in the literature, depending partly on these difficulties.4
Below is a list of all known indigenous languages of Vanuatu, which are still spoken or were until recently. It provides links to corresponding Ethnologue entries and to an OLAC list of media resources on the language.5
Tip: Click on the column title to change the sort order.