Abma language

Abma language

Abma (also known as Apma) is the language of central Pentecost island in Vanuatu. Abma belongs to the East Vanuatu languages, a branch of the Austronesian languages family.

With approximately 8,000 native speakers (about half the island's population), Abma is the most widely-spoken of Pentecost's five native languages, and one of the most widely-spoken of all Vanuatu's many indigenous languages.

Abma language is spoken in both western and eastern areas of Pentecost, in an area extending roughly from Namaram in the north to Ranmawot in the south. Abma is bordered by Raga language in the north, and by Seke and Sa languages in the south.

There are also pockets of Abma speakers in other parts of Vanuatu, such as around Unmet on Malekula island, as a result of emigration from Pentecost.

There are two major dialects of Abma: Suru Mwerani, spoken to the south of Bwatnapne, and Suru Rabwanga (also called Suru Bo), spoken to the north of Bwatnapne. A third dialect, Suru Kavian, which is spoken in a few villages in the far north of Abma's range, differs markedly from the other two dialects and is regarded by some as a separate language.

In recent times Abma has spread at the expense of Pentecost's other indigenous languages. Sowa, the original language of the area south of Melsisi, has been entirely displaced by Abma, and Seke language is now confined to a single village. In some areas, local people believe that Sa is also under threat from Abma.

A few notes on Abma were made by missionaries during the 20th century, but no comprehensive study was carried out. The linguist Cindy Schneider of the University of New England is currently working on a thorough description of the language.


  • Crowley, Terry. 2000. The language situation in Vanuatu. Current Issues in Language Planning. Vol 1, No 1.

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