The Languages of Pentecost Island  
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Sa basics
(Panngi dialect)

Good morning
Ranpangran entô

Good night
Ranlopwas entô

Are you alright?
O mbetô?

OK / It's just fine
I mbetô nga



What's your name?
Sêm be sê?

My name is...
Sêk be...

I am from...
Nê mbe na ôt...

Where are you going?
O metea bê?

Where have you come from?
O mamra bê?

Come here!
O tma!

Go away!
O tpi!

my brother

I would like...
Lok be...

one, two, three
(be)su, (be)ru, (be)têl

It's finished
I mnok

I don't know
Nê taa kêlê

I don't understand
Nê taa tong bwêrê

Sa (Saa) language

Sa is the language of South Pentecost, a relatively wild and sparsely-populated region that was home to an estimated 2,500 people in the year 2000. The language resembles that of neighbouring North Ambrym, with which South Pentecost's people have always had close contact. Although not totally dissimilar to Pentecost's other four languages, Sa differs from them in some significant ways. This linguistic difference is mirrored by cultural differences: Sa speakers traditionally wore penis wrappers and grass skirts, for example, while their neighbours to the north wore red mats.

Although a few anthropologists and linguists have visited South Pentecost over the past century and made notes on Sa language, much of their work has been closely guarded or simply lost, and no overall description of the language has emerged. Probably the first person to write down Sa was Catholic missionary Elie Tattevin, who made notes on Sa language (which he referred to as "Ponorwol") in the early 20th century. A description of Sa was also produced for an M.A. thesis by G. Elliott at Macquarie University in 1976 but never published. Anthropologist Margaret Jolly spent three years working with the people of Bunlap in the 1970s and learned Sa language, and her publications include a lot of Sa terminology. Jolly also wrote of working on a dictionary of Sa, but it is not known what came of this project. Linguist and anthropologist Murray Garde (known locally as "Muriu") has been visiting South Pentecost for many years and made ongoing efforts to learn and study Sa.

Until recently there had been little formal writing in Sa, although a few religious materials had been produced, including a partial 1970s translation of the Gospel of Mark (Dal Antu Na Jesus Christ) in the dialect of Ranwas, of which virtually no copies survive locally. A project to translate the full Gospels into Sa, organised by the Bible Society in conjunction with speakers from Poinkros, has been underway for several years, although at the time of writing only the Gospel of Mark had been completed. Bible translation work is also underway at Wali, facilitated by missionaries Gregory and Rondalyn Ohrenberg from Pioneer Bible Translators.

Sa is a remarkably diverse language, comprising a hotchpotch of dialects with no well-established names or boundaries. At a meeting in 2008, speakers recognised four main dialect areas, although there is some of variation within these areas:

A western dialect, which is spoken along the west coast from Panas to Ranputor, is the most widely-spoken of the dialects and is generally understood by speakers of other dialects. An eastern dialect, spoken in Ranwas and Poinkros, differs in relatively minor ways from the western one, and speakers of one have no difficulty understanding speakers of the other. The speech of Bunlap is largely a mixture of western and eastern dialects, although it has certain distinctive features and might be regarded as a separate dialect.

In addition, there are two small outlying dialects, which are extremely distinctive and difficult for speakers of the two mainstream dialects to understand. A northern dialect, spoken in St Henri and Ponra and by some in Ran'gusuksu (though the western dialect is encroaching on it here), is characteristed by an f sound not found in other dialects. A southern dialect, spoken in Bay Martelli and Londar (and historically over a wider area), is characterised by the widespread use of h in place of s and is sometimes referred to as Ha. It is particularly close to the language of neighbouring North Ambrym.

Local people talk of additional Sa dialects that are now extinct. Doltes, the extinct dialect of Hotwata in the modern Ske area, was probably also a dialect of Sa.

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© Andrew Gray, 2010