Daniel Macdonald and the 'compromise literary dialect' in Efate, central Vanuatu

Nicholas Thieberger, Christopher Ballard

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


    Daniel Macdonald, a Presbyterian Church of Victoria missionary to the New Hebrides from 1872 to 1905, developed a particularly strong interest in language. A prodigious author, he published widely and at length on the languages of Efate, and especially those of the Havannah Harbour area where he was stationed. But if his work is recalled today, it is as something of a curio, both for his insistence-archaic even for the times-on a link between ancient Semitic and Efate, and for his vigorous promotion of the use by the mission and its converts of a single, hybrid Efate language. This paper addresses and seeks to analyze what Macdonald himself called this "compromise literary dialect." By identifying distinctive features of the three main varieties of Efate languages known today (Nguna or Nakanamanga, South Efate, and Lelepa), we aim to move beyond the lexical comparisons that have been the sole means of gauging relationships among these languages thus far. This enables us to begin the process of investigating the claim of Captain Rason, British Deputy Commissioner for the New Hebrides during Macdonald's last years on Efate, that the "compromise literary dialect" was in fact a spoken dialect particular to the area of Havannah Harbour. We hope to reconsider and perhaps recuperate some of Macdonald's writing as a rare if often distorted window on indigenous life and language at a pivotal moment in the transformation of Efate communities.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)365-382
    JournalOceanic Linguistics
    Issue number2
    Publication statusPublished - 2008


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