Online dictionaries

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A dictionary of Teanu  (Vanikoro, Solomon islands)

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Welcome to the 2020 online version of my Teanu – English dictionary!


Teanu (a.k.a. Puma or Buma) is an Oceanic language spoken on the island of Vanikoro, in the province of Temotu, on the eastern tip of the Solomon Islands. With about 800 speakers, it is the largest language spoken on the island: it has now replaced the two other languages Lovono and Tanema, which are only remembered by a handful of elders.

I am proposing here the first dictionary ever published of Teanu – including lexical data from the highly endangered languages Lovono and Tanema.

A note on the lexicon of Teanu

About 5% of the Teanu lexicon consists of identifiable borrowings: 46 words borrowed from Polynesian, 12 from Solomons Pijin or English, 2 words from Mota in Vanuatu. As for the native lexicon, it proves quite original among other Oceanic languages: only 12.3% of entries can be traced back to Proto-Oceanic roots, while 87.7% of the lexicon has unclear origins. These innovative words probably result from three millennia of language-internal renewal of the lexicon – perhaps encouraged by a trend towards lexical differentiation. (see my 2009 paper on the Vanikoro situation, and my 2011 discussion on Vanuatu languages). In particular, the vocabulary of Vanikoro languages shows extreme dissimilarities with other languages of the Temotu area (whether Utupua, Santa Cruz or Reef islands), even though they supposedly belong to the same “Temotu” subgroup of Oceanic.

A note on Lovono and Tanema

Lainol Nalo,
the last speaker of Tanema

During my fieldwork trips in Vanikoro, I collected some linguistic data not only on Teanu, but also on the two dying languages of the island – Lovono (4 speakers) and Tanema (1 speaker – photo).

For each entry in my Teanu dictionary, I also indicate – whenever I have them – the lexical equivalents in these two endangered languages. (Lovono has 525 headwords and Tanema 555, covering respectively 40% and 42% of Teanu entries)
As I explained in my
comparative study of Vanikoro languages, these two languages prove very similar to Teanu with respect to semantics and grammars; but they can be quite different in their word forms. These forms are cited as [lvn] and [tnm], in the top right corner of each entry. They can be quite instructive for the historical linguist wishing to compare the three languages of Vanikoro, and reconstruct their history from their Proto Oceanic ancestor. Words from Lovono and Tanema are indispensable in reconstructing “Proto Vanikoro”, the shared ancestor of these three languages.

The meaning of Lovono and Tanema words can safely be assumed to be identical to those of Teanu: this isomorphism is indeed very strong on the island. (The only exception is the precise organisation of pronominal prefix paradigms – for these, see p.116 of my 2009 paper).

In view of their highly endangered status, it is likely that the present resource will constitute the last testimony for the two languages Lovono and Tanema.


Alex François — Paris, May 2020