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Apma basics
(Suru Mwerani dialect)

Good day
Ren mwamak

Good night
Bung mwamak

Are you alright?
Kom gabis?

OK / It's just fine
Te gabis nge

Thank you
Kobiah

Yes
Ioh

No
Tebu

What's your name?
Ham ah itan?

My name is...
Hak ah...

I am from...
Nana atsi at...

Where are you going?
Ko ban ibeh?

Where have you come from?
Ko tepma ibeh?

Come here!
Kopma dokah!

Go away!
Ko iang!

I would like...
Nam dooni...

one, two, three
bwaleh, karu, katsil

It's finished
Tenok

He speaks our language!
Mwaililngi daleda!

Pardon?
Tegap?

I don't know
Natbaililngi nga

I don't understand
Natba rong dihi nga

Apma language

Apma is the language of Central Pentecost. With an estimated 7,800 speakers in the year 2000, it is the island's largest language, covering about half of Pentecost, and the fifth largest vernacular in Vanuatu as a whole. Apma's original area extended from around Nakapakapa in the north-west to Melsisii River in the south-west, and across the island to parallel areas of the east coast. In recent times its area has expanded southwards, overrunning Sowa language and making inroads into the Ske area. Apma is also heard in areas of Port Vila and Santo where people of Central Pentecost origin have settled.

Most early writings in Apma were the work of Catholic missionaries based at Melsisii, who produced some handwritten notes on the language's grammar and vocabulary, as well as translating religious texts. A translation of parts of the New Testament was also carried out at Wutsunmwel in the 1970s, but few copies survive today.

In the 1980s, two collections of traditional stories were published in Apma by the University of the South Pacific: Dut At Le Kidi ("Stories of Our Place") by Silas Buli and Clement Tabi, and Dut bi Mamap Lelan non Havakni ("Tales and Games For Children") by Alfreda Mabonlala.

French anthropologist Annie Walter and her colleagues have written extensively about Central Pentecost culture and botany, and their writings include a significant amount of Apma terminology.

In the late 2000s, linguist Cindy Schneider of the University of New England completed a PhD thesis on the grammar of Apma, which was subsequently published in book form. She also produced a short Apma-English dictionary and a book containing ten of the stories that she had collected (Top Nan Vini Nada). Building on Schneiderís work, I teamed up with local man Pascal Temwakon to produce Bongmehee, an illustrated dictionary containing over 6000 Apma words and usages. I also worked with Cultural Centre fieldworker Bruce Tabi to edit a collection of Stories in Apma language written and illustrated by older pupils at Torle Primary School in Wutsunmwel.

Download Stories in Apma language (3.1MB PDF) - note that this does not come with translations!

Modern Apma is divided into three clear dialects:

  • Suru Mwerani is the largest and best-studied dialect; major villages in which it is spoken include Melsisii, Ubiku, Mwaurep, Tansip and Vanrasini. Suru Mwerani is also spoken in the former Sowa area, and by an increasing number of people in the Ske area too.
  • Suru Rabwanga, also called Suru Bo, is spoken immediately to the north of Suru Mwerani. It is relatively similar to Suru Mwerani, and speakers of one dialect have little difficulty understanding the other. The boundary between the two dialects runs through the major villages of Bwatnapni, Enaa, Wutsunmwel and Naruwa, and the dialect spoken in these villages has features of both Suru Mwerani and Suru Rabwanga.
  • Suru Kavian is the smallest and most distinctive of the three dialects. Today it is spoken in only a few villages to the north and east of Namaram, though historically it is believed to have had a wider range. Speakers of the two mainstream dialects have difficulty understanding Suru Kavian, and Suru Kavian speakers understand mainstream Apma only because they have effectively learned it as a second language.

Two additional 'languages' that were probably Apma dialects, Wolwolan and Asuk, are now extinct.

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© Andrew Gray, 2010
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