Vera'a language

Last updated
Native to Vanuatu
Region Vanua Lava
Native speakers
500 (2012) [1]
Language codes
ISO 639-3 vra
Glottolog vera1241
ELP Vera'a

Vera’a [feraʔa] , formerly known by its Mota name Vatrata, is an Oceanic language spoken on the western coast of Vanua Lava Island, in the Banks Islands of northern Vanuatu.


Vera’a was described in 2011 by linguist Stefan Schnell. [2]

Recent history

According to recently recorded oral local history, Vanua Lava was struck by a major earthquake and landslide in 1945 that devastated gardens and hamlets on its north-west coast, as a result of which the Vera'a community abandoned its previous settlements and resettled to its current main center of residence, the village of Vera'a (Vatrata). Vera'a is located about 4 km from the village of Vetuboso, the largest settlement on Vanua Lava that is inhabited mainly by speakers of the closely related language Vurës.

Together with speakers of Vera'a, speakers of the now moribund language Lemerig moved to the village of Vera'a. Lemerig is remembered by many residents of Vera'a, but is no longer used in everyday communication. It is likely that the now de facto loss of the Lemerig language is the result of natural disaster and subsequent resettlement movements.


Vera’a has 7 phonemic vowels, which are all short monophthongs: [3]

Front Back
Close iu
Near-close ɪʊ
Open-mid ɛɔ
Open a


In Vera'a there are two types of possessive constructions recorded, that of direct possessive constructions and indirect possessive constructions. [2] :119 Similar to other Oceanic languages, the distinctions between directly and indirectly possessed nouns in Vera’a appear to generally correspond to the semantic distinctions seen between inalienable and alienable possession.

In both direct and indirect possessive constructions there are a further three construction sub-types based on the expression of the possessor. The three types of possessor constructions are as follows:

  1. possessor as a pronoun expressed by a possessive suffix
  2. possessor as a personal NP
  3. possessor as a common noun

In order to express the possessor as a pronoun, possessive suffixes are used. Stefan Schnell reports that they “are considered pronominal in nature because they have specific, definite referents and inflect for the same categories as personal pronouns.” [2] :121

Possessive suffixes in Vera'a
1st personinclusive--du(ō)-de
2nd person-m-mru(ō)-m'ōl-mi
3rd person-gi-ru(ō)-r'ōl-re

Direct Possession

In Vera’a, direct possession primarily expresses inalienable or inherently given relationships. [2] :121

These types of relationships can be seen through expression of: [2] :57–58

Direct Possessive Construction

Direct possessive constructions consist of the possessum, that of which is being possessed, and the possessor. This structure tends to follow a possessum-possessor order. The possessum is expressed as a bound noun while the possessor can be expressed as either: [2] :121

  1. a pronoun (expressed by a possessive suffix)
  2. a personal NP linked to the possessum by the linking suffix -n
  3. as a common noun adjacently following the possessum noun

The bound noun possessum will take one of these three possessor constructions as shown below: [2] :119

(1) Direct possessive construction with a pronominal possessor





n gunu-m

ART spouse-2SG

'your wife / husband'






n kolo-k

ART back-1SG

'my back'

(2) Direct possessive construction with a personal NP possessor








n vono-neQo’


'Qo's home'









e gunu-neNoleen

ART spouse-LK ART

'Noleen's husband'

(3) Direct possessive construction with a common NP possessor







ēn neln̄o- ’an̄sara

ART voice- person

'voice of a person, i.e. a human voice'








ēn deln̄o- ’ama’

ART ear- devil

'ears of a devil / devil ears'

In summary the constructions can be described as follows:

Direct Possessive Constructions
Possessor typeStructure
(1) Pronoun[possessum NP-possessive suffix]
(2) Personal NP[possessum NP-n] + [personal NP]
(3) Common NP[possessum NP] + [common NP]

Indirect possession

Indirect possessive constructions primarily express alienable possession, that is a possession that is more easily terminated. The possessor is not directly expressed on the possessum noun, rather the possessor is expressed on a possessive classifier. This construction results in the possessum and the possessor being less morphologically dependent on one another. Consequently, this construction allows for the possessor to appear in different positions syntactically and for the possessor to be able to form a standalone NP with the possessum NP being omitted from speech. [2] :133

Indirect possessive constructions are divided further into two types, labelled Indirect Possessive Construction Type 1 and Type 2 respectively. In addition to both types, indirect possessive constructions also have several different functions, those being the anaphoric/generic use of a classifier (elided NP), the adnominal recipient construction and recipient / beneficiary construction. [2] :133 The different functions of indirect possessive constructions are further explained in Stefan Schnell's A Grammar of Vera'a: an Oceanic language of North Vanuatu, chapter 6. [2] :136–138

Indirect Possessive Construction

In an indirect possessive construction, the possessum is a free noun and the possessor is hosted by a possessive classifier which mediates the syntactic relation between the possessed and possessor. [2] :134 There are eight possessive classifiers that each express their own respective function and the types of relations that indirect possessive constructions express.

Possessive Classifiers [2] :120
Possessive ClassifierFunction
go-' to eat'
mo-' to drink'
ko-' to use as vessel'
m̄o-' use as house'
bolo-' of customary value'
nō-' personally owned'
qo-' used to sleep, rest'
mu-' owned' / other
Indirect Possessive Construction Type 1

In the Indirect Possessive Construction Type 1, the possessive classifier is expressed as a bound morpheme with the possessor being expressed as either: [2] :134

  1. a possessive suffix attached to the classifier
  2. a personal NP linked to the possessive classifier with the -n suffix
  3. as a common noun adjacently following the possessive classifier.

The possessive classifier will take one of these three possessor constructions as shown below: [2] :120–121

(1) Indirect possessive construction Type 1 with a pronominal possessor







n qe'an go-ruō

ART ground POSS.CLF-3D

'their (two) ground to eat from'








n nak ko-k


'my knife'

(2) Indirect possessive construction Type 1 with a personal NP possessor










n nak mu-n eQo’


'Qoʻ’s canoe'












ēn gie mo-n e’uvusm̄ēl

ART kava POSS.CLF-LK ART high.chief

'the kava of the high chief (to drink)'

(3) Indirect possessive construction Type 1 with a common NP possessor









n gie mo ’uvusm̄ēl

ART kava POSS.CLF high.chief

'the kava of a high chief (to drink)'










n laklak mu ’ama’

ART dance POSS.CLF devil

'a dance of ghosts / a ghost dance'

In summary the constructions are as follows:

Indirect Possessive Construction (Type 1)
Possessor typeStructure
(1) Pronoun[possessum NP] + [possessive classifier-possessive suffix]
(2) Personal NP[possessum NP] + [possessive classifier-n] + [personal NP]
(3) Common NP[possessum NP] + [possessive classifier] + [common NP]
Indirect Possessive Construction Type 2

In an Indirect Possessive Construction of Type 2, the possessive classifier precedes the possessed noun. The result of this, is that the possessive classifier and the possessum form a complex NP. The possessor is exclusively expressed by a pronominal possessive suffix. [2] :135–136

Indirect Possessive Construction Type 2












maranaga go-dē=nkēl-bigbig rōwē

chief POSS.CLF-1PL.INCL =ART bog- 'meat'

'Chief, a big 'meat' for us (to eat) is down at the sea.'

In summary the construction is as follows:

Indirect Possessive Construction (Type 2)
Possessor typeStructure
(1) Pronoun[possessive classifier-possessive suffix] + [possessum NP]

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