The Languages of Pentecost Island  
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Ske basics

Good day
Ren ambis

Good night
Bwông ambis /
Bwiong ambis

OK / It's just fine
Ambis ngge

Thank you
Kmwê mbariêv



What's your name?
Siam ne siên?

My name is...
Siangg ne...

I am from...
Nô azô ze...

Where are you going?
Kmwê mba êmbeh?

Where have you come from?
Ki me êmbeh?

Come here!
Ti me ene!

Go away!
Ti suk!

I would like...
Mwa ndornge

one, two, three
alvwal, aru, aziôl

It's finished

I don't know
Kare mwa glia

I don't understand
Kare mwa rong pohe

Ske (Seke) language

Ske is a small and endangered language spoken in south-western Pentecost. Local elders recall that in the early 20th century the language disappeared completely from the island, when the population was ravaged by disease and the ten surviving speakers of Ske left in search of opportunities elsewhere. After the Second World War, these men returned to Pentecost and re-established their community, initially at Bwaravet village, later spreading out to smaller hamlets in the surrounding area. Today Ske language has around 300 native speakers: the children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren of those original ten men.

Because the Ske area is very small, many local men marry women from other areas, who then bring up children whose first language is Apma, Sa or Bislama. Ske is a victim of its speakers' lingustic talents: most adult Ske speakers know Apma (and in some cases Sa), but most Apma and Sa speakers do not know Ske, so in mixed-language situations it is the outsiders’ language that is used.

The Ske community is proud of its distinctive language, and speakers lament its decline. Until recently, most were pessimistic about the chance of their language surviving into the future, under pressure from the encroachment of neighbouring languages. However, the work now being done by linguist Kay Johnson to produce materials in Ske has given them some cause for hope.

When I began investigating Ske in 2007, the only sources available in the language were an incomplete word list in Darrell Tryon's 1976 survey of New Hebrides Languages (based on earlier notes by David Walsh), and some picture books produced by Catriona Hyslop for the Vanuatu Cultural Centre in 2001. For reasons that were not entirely the fault of their authors, both these sources contain considerable errors. In 2008, linguist Kay Johnson from the School of Oriental and African Studies in London (with funding from the Hans Rausing Endangered Languages Project) arrived in Bwaravet to begin the much-needed task of documenting this unusual and endangered language. Her aim is to produce a sketch grammar of Ske, a thesis investigating spatial terminology in the language, and literacy materials for local use.

The official Ske area encompasses fourteen small villages in south-western Pentecost, extending from Levizendam in the north to Hotwata in the south, although in fact Apma and Bislama are the main languages heard in some of these villages today. The hub of the Ske community is the large coastal village of Bwaravet, and the Ske area also includes Lonoror Airport. Historically the language’s area extended to the east coast, but this part of the island has now been depopulated.

Ske language has only a single dialect, with no identifiable regional variation, although there are noticeable differences between the Ske of older and younger people. Doltes, the extinct 'language' of Hotwata in the modern Ske area, was probably a dialect of Sa language.

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© Andrew Gray, 2010