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Linguistic areas of specialty



Oceanic Studies (until 2017)






Around 2000, often endangered, languages, many of which are underdescribed.

I. Formosan Languages toup

Formosan languages are the homeland of the Austronesian family. They constitute several primary branches and have great internal diversification. Their internal sub-grouping in the Proto-Austronesian tree is still debated.

They have great typological and syntactic interests : these morphologically complex languages are known in particular for their multiple voice systems (called "symmetrical" voice systems).


In 2009, I. Bril started investigating a variant of the Amis language, one of the 14 Austronesian languages still spoken in Taiwan. These Austronesian languages are called 'Formosan' languages to distinguish them from the Sinitic languages spoken on the island.

They are also endangered languages. The project aims at documenting the northern dialect (amis-natauran) which has important phonological, lexical and grammatical differences, and which is in contact with Sakizaya.


II.Oceanic language descriptions toup

The Oceanic languages, a subgroup of the Austronesian family, are a cohesive set, both geographically and genetically. The Oceanic subgroup is the easternmost branch of the large Austronesian language family.

These language descriptions appear in the form of monographs – grammars, dictionaries, linguistic atlases, collections of oral literature.

BRIL Isabelle, 2000, Dictionnaire nêlêmwa-français-anglais, Louvain-Paris, Peeters (SELAF LCP 14), 510 p.
(synopsis her)
FRANÇOIS Alexandre, 2002, Araki: A disappearing language of Vanuatu, Canberra, Australian National University (Pacific Linguistics 522), XX-355 p.
(synopsis here)
BRIL Isabelle, 2002, Le nêlêmwa (Nouvelle-Calédonie) : Analyse syntaxique et sémantique, Louvain-Paris, Peeters (SELAF LCP 16), 528 p.
(synopsis here)
FRANÇOIS Alexandre, 2003, La sémantique du prédicat en mwotlap (Vanuatu), Louvain, Peeters (coll. Linguistique de la Société de Linguistique de Paris lxxxiv), XX-388 p.
(synopsis here)
RIVIERRE Jean-Claude, S. Ehrhart (with the collaboration of R. Diéla),2006, Le bwatoo et les dialectes de la région de Koné (Nouvelle-Calédonie), Louvain-Paris, Peeters, (SELAF 435 - LCP 17), 502 p.
(synopsis here)


Our research focuses on three major linguistic areas within the Austronesian linguistic family, namely Formosan languages and languages of Melanesia and Polynesia.




One Melanesian region has for a great while been a Lacito specialty, the French overseas territory New Caledonia, where no fewer than 28 languages are spoken: the Kanak languages and one Creole.

New Caledonia



Forty years of research on the region have enabled specialists from the Lacito to cover most of the territory.



Today, the research team continues to describe the area's languages which have yet to be documented.

Work in progress



This work takes the form of "Comparative and thematic dictionaries of the languages of the northern Grande Terre", a research program established conjointly by the Lacito and the Northern Province of New Caledonia. This program will run for six years (2005-2010):

  • Yuanga or Zuanga (I. Bril)
  • Hamea (C. Moyse-Faurie)
  • Hmwaeke-hmwaveke (J.-C. Rivierre)


Slightly farther north is the Vanuatu archipelago, formerly the New Hebrides, home to the world's highest concentration of linguistic diversity, with a total of 110 languages.



A. François's work is currently devoted to the archipelago's northern region, where 17 distinct languages are spoken.
Again, emphasis is put on describing the languages from a typological perspective, to ensure that the precious data can be used to inform the research of all scholars.


Slightly farther north one finds the Salomon Islands archipelago, currently at the heart of particularly interesting archeological and historical debates.

Salomon Islands archipelago


The Santa Cruz Islands are home to approximately one dozen languages, at once particularly diverse and little known.

As part of an international research team, A. François has explored three languages in particular which are still spoken on Vanikoro Island (Teanu, Lovono, Tanema).


The second major linguistic group within the Oceanic family is that of the Polynesian languages.

Polynesian languages


A. Djoupa, a doctoral student at the Inalco, is currently preparing a thesis on Fagauvea, a Polynesian language spoken in the Melanesian area, on Uvea (Loyalty Islands); C. Moyse-Faurie is currently studying East Uvean, a language spoken in the territory of Wallis and Futuna.

A vast Linguistic Atlas project gives a panorama of the French Polynesian dialects, whose linguistic diversity is still largely unknown (J.-M. Charpentier and A. François; Lacito-Université de Polynésie française ; 20 dialects ; 2200 entries).

III. Comparative linguistics and historical reconstruction toup

Historically speaking, the Oceanic languages share a common ancestor, Proto-Oceanic. Archeologists and linguistics agree that Proto-Oceanic was the language spoken by the famous Lapita civilization, whose expansion throughout the Pacific Ocean began approximately 3500 years ago.
Comparative history has contributed to better understanding how the Pacific was peopled, although the region's history remains sketchy. This means that the work carried out by our linguists is also of interest to archeologists, historians and geneticists.
Moreover, historical linguistics is also useful for understanding language itself, as it contributes to a better understanding of linguistic change. The issue at stake being to extrapolate universal tendencies in language evolution, from what A.-G. Haudricourt called a "panchronic" perspective.

• Phonological change (New Caledonia, Vanuatu)

The evolution of syntactic constructions New Caledonia, Vanuatu)

IV. The Oceanic languages' contributions to linguistic typology toup

Being as yet very little known, the Oceanic languages can be of great service to research in the domain of linguistic typology and general linguistics.

• Complex predicates

complexeFollowing a European symposium, the Oceanics group published a collective volume on the theme of complex predicates and serial verb constructions in the Oceanic languages. The book was published by Mouton in 2004.

Bril I. & F. Ozanne-Rivierre (eds), 2004, Complex Predicates in Oceanic Languages: Studies in the Dynamics of Binding and Boundness. Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter. 409 p.
(synopsis here)

• Expressing the reflexive, the reciprocal and the middle voice

Five articles have been published on this theme:
Bril (2), Moyse-Faurie (2) et König & Moyse-Faurie (1)

• Spatial relations and deixis

• Ergativity

• Lexical polysemy

moyse• Morphosyntax

2011, Moyse-Faurie Claire & Sabel Joachim (eds), Topics in Oceanic Morphosyntax, Mouton de Gruyter (Trends in Linguistics. Studies and Monographs 239), 344 p.



bril• Subordination

Bril Isabelle (ed.), 2010, Clause Linking and Clause Hierarchy: Syntax and pragmatics, Amsterdam/ Philadelphia, Benjamins (Studies in Language Companion Series 121), VIII-632 p.


V. Language contact toup

Lexical borrowings in the Pacific, then and now

Moyse-Faurie, Claire, 2008, Borrowings from Romance languages in Oceanic Languages, in Thomas Stolz, Dik Bakker and Rosa Palomo (eds), Aspects of language contact. New theoretical, methodological and empirical findings with special focus on Romanisation processes, Berlin and New York: Mouton de Gruyter, p. 325-348.

The history of Bislama and the contact languages (Pidgins and Creoles) of Oceania

bislamaSeveral languages still spoken today in Oceania are the result of contact between the Oceanic languages and the European colonization languages in the 19th century, particularly Bislama.

The Lacito has produced a book devoted to the historical genesis of these Pacific Creoles and Pidgins

Tryon, D. & J.-M. Charpentier (2004). Pacific Pidgins and Creoles: Origins, Growth and Development. Mouton de Gruyter. 578 pp. (synopsis here)

• The "outlier" Polynesian languages spoken in the Melanesian area: areal phenomena and language contact

Language contact phenomena do not date solely from the colonial era but may also be due to encounters between several different Oceanic languages. Such is the case of the so-called "outlier" Polynesian languages which, although geographically, they are spoken in the Melanesian and Micronesian areas, nonetheless show linguistic traces of their cohabitation with non Polynesian languages.
(Participation in the Norwegian program "The Oceania Project" (University of Oslo) on the Polynesian "outliers" as well as in the "Language Contact" program chaired by the Fédération Typologie et Universaux Linguistiques)

Areal diffusion phenomena in north Vanuatu: between areal diffusion and genetic inheritance

Contact phenomena may be observed between closely related languages. This is the case in north Vanuatu. This type of situation raises the issue of how to tease apart areal diffusion phenomena and traits inherited from a common ancestor.

VI. Anthropology (I. Leblic)toup

Filiation and adoption
A comparative study on Kanak kinship in several linguistic areas.
Thematic studies:
a. Child captation and children in danger;
b. b. Naming, terming and kinship terms (more here).

Parenthood, social organization and political systems (New Caledonia)

– Parenthood, adoption and the social structure in Ponérihouen (Paicî area), New Caledonia

Bensa A. & Isabelle Leblic (eds), 2000, En pays kanak. Ethnologie, linguistique, histoire, archéologie en Nouvelle-Calédonie, Paris, Mission du Patrimoine ethnologique/Éd. de la Maison des sciences de l’homme (Ethnologie de la France), 368 p.
(synopsis here)


Leblic Isabelle (ed.), 2004, De l’adoption : des pratiques de filiation différentes, Clermont-Ferrand, Presses universitaires Blaise Pascal (Anthropologie), 336 p.

(synopsis here)

– The theme "Naming, terming and kinship terms" is the subject of personal research and has led to several field trips to New Caledonia since 2004. This research will continue over the next few years.

Historical anthropology: building identities and the past
After twenty years spent researching the Kanak societies of New Caledonia (Ile des Pins, Goro and Ponérihouen), I. Leblic is currently investigating how Kanak identity(s) are being created, especially within the novel framework of the Matignon and Noumea agreements, and how a New Caledonian national awareness is being fostered.

Within this field of investigation, several themes have been broached:

 Cultural identity and social change in New Caledonia
Leblic Isabelle, 1993. Les Kanak face au développement. La voie étroite, Presses universitaires de Grenoble, Grenoble, 420 p.
(synopsis here)


In 2003, she also coordinated the 117th issue of the Journal de la Société des Océanistes: Nouvelle-Caledonia 150 ans après la prise de possession (New Caledonia: 150 years after being taken over)

Leblic I. (éd.), 2003. "Nouvelle-Calédonie : 150 ans après la prise de possession", JSO 117/ 2, 213 p.
(synopsis here)

This was the first of a series on the French Pacific territories.

Leblic I. et H. Guiot (eds), 2006, "Spécial Wallis-et-Futuna', JSO 122-123, 224 p.
(synopsis here)


– Fishing clans' appropriation and use of the environment: knowledge, techniques and representations of marine ecology

Leblic Isabelle, 2008. Vivre de la mer, vivre avec la terre… en pays kanak. Savoirs et techniques des pêcheurs kanak du sud de la Nouvelle-Calédonie, Paris, Société des Océanistes (Travaux et documents océanistes 1), 288 p., bibliography, glossaries, index, 600 illustrations, both black & white and color.
(synopsis here)

– Representations of the environment

Trichet Jean et Isabelle Leblic (eds), 2008. "Spécial Environnement dans le Pacifique Sud", JSO 126-127, 381 p.
(synopsis here)


Micro-history, authochtony, the Kanak identity and citizenship: studies on New Caledonian political anthropology

VII. Oral literature and the oratory arts toup

Oral narrative literature
For researchers at the Lacito, it is traditional to constitute a reference linguistic corpus for each language studied. The bulk of this corpus is most often made up of oral literature, important not only for linguistics but also for literary and cultural studies.
Over one hundred recordings in forty different languages attest to the riches of the Oceanic zone.

Archiving and dissemination
These texts are destined to be archived and disseminated, made possible by recent advances in digital technology. Before they can be diffused in either printed or digital form however, there is a long and arduous process of transcription, translation, digitalization and archiving.
Thus far, over 100 Oceanic texts (presented ici).have been integrated in the Lacito "Oral Archives" project. Due to the generous support of the ADCK (the Kanak Culture Development Agency), a collection of oral literature texts on CD-Rom has been created, with narratives in 15 New Caledonian languages.
More information is available on the site "Corpus de la parole", the fruit of the joint efforts of the CNRS TUL Federation and the DGLF (Delegation to the French language and the languages of France).

rythmesRhythms Poetry in song
Between 2004 and 2007, an interdisciplinary "Young researchers" ACI project was set up for the documentation and description of the traditional songs and oral poetry of Vanuatu.

A. François, linguist (LACITO)
M. Stern, ethnomusicologist (post doc)
É. Wittersheim, anthropologist & film director (post doc)

"Melanesia: Rhythms to dance to, poems to sing". The esthetics, transmission and social impact of the musical arts in Vanuatu
50h of audio archives
40h of video archives
a documentary (here or here)
a book-CD-Rom (in progress)

VIII. Knowledge dissemination (conferences organized, teaching, PhD theses directed) toup

In order to make this research known and accessible, publications are one possibility, as we have shown, another possibility is through international conferences:
7th international conference on Oceanic linguistics (COOL7) Nouméa, 2 – 6 July 2007, coorganized by J. Vernaudon (University of New Caledonia) and C. Moyse-Faurie (more here)
11th international conference on Austronesian linguistics (11-ICAL), Aussois, 22 – 26 June 2009. coorganized by L. Sagart (EHESS), I. Bril and A. François (more here)

An additional means by which this knowledge is disseminated is through teaching, in both Parisian and Pacific universities.
– Paris 3-ILPGA : Syntax and diachrony
– Paris 4-Sorbonne: The typology and syntax of the Oceanic languages
– INALCO: Comparative Austronesian linguistics – Initiation to fieldwork methods in linguistics – Oceanic linguistics
– University of New Caledonia: Oceanic languages and cultures – Austronesian comparison and syntactic typology – Oceanic linguistics – Linguistic fieldwork methods
– IUFM (teaching college) of Wallis and Futuna : Oceanic linguistics – The syntax and phonology of Wallisian and Futunian
– University of French Polynesia

Lastly, it is indispensable to train future scholars, namely by directing PhDs (directed by I. Bril, I. leblic and C. Moyse-Faurie)
– Suzie Bearune: The linguistic expression of space in Nengone (Maré, Loyalty Islands, New Caledonia)  (defended on 27 January 2012)
– Manon Capo: Voices and ways of the past in Tibarama (New Caledonia). Discursive dynamics and the social construction of local history
– Aurélie Cauchard : L'expression de l'espace dans la langue caac (région de Hoot ma Waap, Nouvelle-Calédonie.
– Samuel Cornier : Représentations, usages et gestion du milieu marin chez les Kanak de Nouvelle-Calédonie : entre coutumes, traditions et aires marines protégées
– Alexandre Djoupa: Analysis of certain markers and operations in the Fagauvea language (Ouvéa, Loyalty Islands) (defended on 30 January 2013)
– Anne-Laure Dotte, Aménagement terminologique des langues minoritaires: application au iaai (Ouvéa, Nouvelle-Calédonie) (defended on 11 December 2013)
– Claude Teriierooiterai, L'héritage océanien contenu dans les mots de la langue tahitienne (defended on 9 December 2013)
– Fabrice Wacalie: Morpho-syntactic description of Nââ Numèè (the language of Yaté, Far South of New Caledonia) (defended on 8 November 2013)

IX. "Projet Frantisek Lichtenberk" toup

Projet: " A typology of clausal complementation in Oceania" (.doc) and CV of Frantisek Lichtenberk (.doc)


X. Kanak manuscripts (in French) toup

Le projet Archivage et valorisation d’un corpus de manuscrits kanak, une approche génétique (co-responsables M. Capo et J-.C. Rivierre) vise à explorer une dimension peu étudiée de la riche tradition littéraire des Kanak de Nouvelle-Calédonie, à savoir sa dimension écrite.
   En effet, à partir du début du XXe siècle, des Kanak se sont résolument emparés de cette technique nouvelle, introduite avec la christianisation, qu’est l’écriture. De cet engouement ont émergé des lettrés qui ont légué à la postérité des manuscrits composés dans les langues vernaculaires. Ces manuscrits constituent un patrimoine tout à fait digne d’intérêt de par son originalité dans un univers culturel où l’oralité était et reste dominante.
kanak   Cette tradition lettrée trouve ses fondements dans l’interaction entre les érudits kanak, engagés dans leurs univers sociaux et animés de leurs propres motivations à inscrire les savoirs locaux, et leurs interlocuteurs européens qui s’intéressaient à ces savoirs dans une optique missionnaire d’abord, puis scientifique. Ces pratiques d’écriture ont en effet été impulsées par le missionnaire ethnologue Maurice Leenhardt qui encourageait ses élèves-pasteurs kanak à coucher leurs traditions sur le papier en ajië, langue de la région d’implantation de la mission protestante. Cette démarche, ayant mené à la constitution du fameux corpus des "Cahiers de Leenhardt", a été réinvestie et poursuivie par l’ethnologue Jean Guiart, notamment pour le paicî. Et, parallèlement à l’activité des chercheurs, les lettrés kanak ont produit des manuscrits pour leur usage personnel, dans différentes régions et langues kanak.
   Ces acteurs sont autant de participants à l’élaboration conjointe d’une tradition d’écriture, mue par l’activité de production, de traitement, et de transmission de textes vernaculaires. Le Lacito occupe une place déterminante dans ce processus en tant que lieu central de l’activité d’exploitation scientifique des textes depuis André-Georges Haudricourt, puis Jean-Claude Rivierre et Alban Bensa, qui, dès les années 60-70, ont fait usage de ces manuscrits conjointement au recueil de récits et discours oraux en langues paicî et cèmuhî, comme supports à un travail ethnolinguistique approfondi, en collaboration avec des érudits comme Novis Pöömô et Antoine Goromido.
   Pendant longtemps, les textes écrits ont été traités sur un même plan que les récits et discours oraux dans le cadre de l’étude de l’expression culturelle kanak. Mais depuis quelques années, ces documents font l’objet d’une "redécouverte" où la dimension écrite des textes et la question de l’autorité lettrée sont interrogées de front, tant dans la recherche française que dans les milieux intellectuels de la Nouvelle-Calédonie, comme en témoignent les diverses publications et recherches en cours citées en bibliographie.
kanak2   La présente proposition consiste à fournir un travail documentaire et descriptif qui offre une vue sur le développement de cette tradition lettrée, à partir de l’étude de documents-témoins, des manuscrits, dans une perspective d’inspiration génétique, c'est-à-dire en examinant l’histoire de leur élaboration.
   Dans ce but sont interrogées les conditions d’existence d’un manuscrit donné, relevant :

  • des circonstances de sa production : par qui est-il produit ? Avec quelles motivations ? Au sein de quelle configuration de rapports sociaux ? Ces circonstances sont marquées de manière indicielle dans le document (une signature, un message d’adresse à un destinataire, l’expression textuelle d’une intention, etc.), et approfondies par une enquête sur le contexte socio-historique.
  • de son histoire génétique : quelles ressources et connaissances ont été investies dans l’acte d’écriture (des textes antérieurs, un système graphique, des procédés rhétoriques et textuels, etc.) ? Il s’agit de comprendre quelle place occupe le texte du manuscrit dans une chaîne de textes qui sont des transformations les uns des autres. Quand il y en a des traces, on offrira également une vue sur la postérité du document-témoin.
   Pratiquement, il s’agit de composer un "dossier génétique" pour chaque manuscrit retenu comme document-témoin, impliquant la création de documents d’établissement du texte, le renseignement de métadonnées et d’éléments d’interprétation, pour aboutir à une présentation rédigée des résultats du travail du traitement dans cette optique génétique.

Images : Photographies de manuscrits kanak (©Manon Capo). Source : Archives territoriales de Nouvelle-Calédonie.

Bibliographie :
Aramiou, Sylvain, Euritéin Jean (eds).

  • 2002 Pèci i Bwêêyöu Ërijiyi / Cahiers de Boesou Eurijisi. Première série 1915-1920. FELP, Houaïlou
  • 2003 Pèci i Bwêêyöu Ërijiyi / Cahiers de Boesou Eurijisi. Seconde série 1918-1921. FELP, Houaïlou

Bensa, Alban, Görömwèdö, Yvon & Muckel, Adrian. Les sanglots de l'aigle pêcheur. La guerre kanak de 1917 en Nouvelle-Calédonie. (à paraître)
Gorodé, Waia. Mon école du silence. (à paraître)
Guiart, Jean. 1998. Bwesou Eurijisi. Le premier écrivain canaque, Le Rocher-à-la-voile, Nouméa
Naepels, Michel & Salomon, Christine (eds). 2007. Terrains et destins de Maurice Leenhardt. Ed. de l’école des hautes études en sciences sociales, Paris.
Ogier-Guindo, Julia. 2005. Les chemins de l’imaginaire poétique dans le vivaa, discours traditionnels a’jië (Nouvelle-Calédonie), thèse de doctorat, Université de Savoie (dir. Jean Derive).
Rivierre, Jean-Claude & Ehrhart Sabine. 2006. Les textes de Raymond Diéla, Le Bwatoo et les dialectes de la région de Koné (Nouvelle-Calédonie), Peeters, Paris


(created October 11, 2010 ; last updated 10 April, 2013)

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