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tuvalu language

tuvalu language

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Published by Sándor Tóth

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Published by: Sándor Tóth on May 16, 2008
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Tuvalu Language

Please note: This Tuvalu/Ellice Islands grammar was first published in 1945. It was first
scanned and posted on the late Henry Lundsgaarde's web site in 1994. The website is no
longer on line. This page is currently being re-edited by Tuvalu Online to improve the
readability and correct numerous typographical errors from the scanning and OCR software.


Please note: This Tuvalu/Ellice Islands grammar was first published in 1945. It has been
scanned and now posted on this web site as part of a long-term experiment to learn more
about how best to present linguistic and ethnographic data on the internet. It may be possible
to add sound at a later date to allow users to hear how the language is pronounced.

This book has been written for the guidance of Government officers and others who wish to
acquire a practical knowledge of the language of the Ellice Islands. It does not pretend to be
exhaustive, but anyone who assimilates its contents should find himself in a position to pursue
his further studies with ease and fluency. Throughout the Ellice Group, the dialect varies to
considerable extent from island to island. That used herein is the dialect of Vaitupu. This
island has, for many years, been the headquarters of both Mission and Government secondary
education and its dialect is well understood throughout the group. I am indebted to my wife
for the preparation and arrangement of The typescript, to Tofinga of the Western Pacific High
Commission Office for much valuable criticism and assistance in the final revision of the
work, and to Mr. F. W. Smith, Government Printer, Fiji, for correcting the proofs. -D.G.K.

Suva, Fiji,
1st March, 1945.
The Alphabet
1) The alphabet consists of sixteen letters:
a) Five vowels a, e, i, o, u.
b) Eleven consonants (including the diagraph ng) f, h, k, l, m, n, ng, p, s, t, v.
2) Each vowel has a long and a short duration and each consonant may be held or dwelt on
in such a way as to give the succeeding vowel a slight explosive sound. Every word ends in a

a) short a sound: mata, eye, face. Both vowels sounded as \u201cu\u201d in \u201cbutter\u201d
b) long a sound: fanau, offspring. a sounded as \u201ca\u201d in \u201cfather.\u201d
c) Short e sound: pepe, butterfly, moth. Both vowels sounded as \u201ce\u201d in \u201cbet\u201d
d) Long e sound: pefea, how. e sounded as \u201cc\u201d in \u201csend\u201d
e) Short i sound: titi, woman\u2019s kilt. Both vowels sounded as \u201ci\u201d in \u201ctin.\u201d


Long i sound: sili, to ask. i sounded as \u201ci\u201d in \u201clitre\u201d
g) Short o sound: popo, copra. Both vowels sounded as \u201co\u201d in \u201cpot\u201d
h) Long o sound: po, night. o sounded as \u201co\u201d in \u201cnorth\u201d

Short u sound: tuku, put, give. Both vowels sounded as "u" in "pull"
Long u sound: pula, shine. u sounded as "u" in "rule"

3) When vowels occur together each must be sounded separately, and distinctly. There are no diphthongs. e.g. Taeao, tomorrow; sounded ta-eh-ah-o(r) almost as if the word consisted of four different syllables.

4) Consonants.
a) f, The fricative sound is obtained by holding the lower lip almost against the upper lip,

and not against the upper teeth as in English f.
b) h, sounded as in English. (Northern dialects only.)
c) k, sounded as in English, but with the tongue further back on the palate.
d) l, as in English.
e) m, as in English, but slightly heavier and more prolonged.

n, as in English, but heavier.

g) ng, as the "ng" in English "singing," never like the "ng" in "finger." The initial sound
"ng" should be practiced. e.g. ngongo, the black noddy, ngalu, a wave.ngatala, rock cod, ngali,

h) p, as in English, but heavier.
s, as in English, but much heavier and with a suspicion of the English "sh."
t, sounded as in English, but thicker, with the flat rather than the tip, of the tongue
against the hard palate.
k) v, the lower lip is held against the upper lip, as for Ellice f, and not against the upper

5) Sometimes a reduplicative syllable is elided; in such cases the preceding consonant is
held so as to create a time gap, giving the succeeding syllable a slightly explosive sound. e.g.
fakakai, a village.

On Niutao Island the three syllables of the word are pronounced distinctly. On other islands in the Ellice group the second syllable is elided and the word becomes fakai, with the k held for the time it takes to pronounce the other syllable. It should be noticed that the pause is in the middle of the consonant itself, not after the preceding vowel.

6) So: o pepelo, to lie, becomes o pelo (pron. o ppello).o sosolo, to wipe, becomes o solo (pron. o ssolo). o totolo, to creep, becomes o tolo (pron. o ttolo). te ngangana, the sound, the language, becomes te ngana (pron. te ngngana).

In normal spelling it is not necessary to employ doubled consonants as above, to denote these
lengthened consonants, but the student is advised to use them in his own vocabulary lists.
Throughout this handbook they are rarely used to denote the length of either vowels or
consonants. No student can hope to learn from the book alone. The help of a native is
necessary and the student should note carefully the exact value given by his native mentor to

both vowels and consonants, and so mark them in his vocabulary lists.
7) The articles are:
Singular: te, se, a
Plural: ni, ne, a

8) They cannot easily be classified into definite or indefinite.
a) te, generally takes the place of the English "the" e.g. te ika, the fish.
b) se is almost equivalent to the English "a," "an," but is not used in all cases where "a,"

"an," would be used. Its use can be learned only by experience.
e.g. Aumai se potu tifa. Bring me a piece of pearl shell.
c) a, is used before personal names and personal pronouns, especially after the prepositions
ki, i. e.g. Tuku ki a Penaia. Give it to Penaia.

d) ni, ne, are almost equivalent to the English "some "
e.g. E iai ni fale lelei i te fenua tela. There are (some) fine houses on that island. Se ai ne lakau
loa i konei. There are not any long sticks here.

e) a, is sometimes used as the equivalent of the English definite article plural. e.g. A
tamaliki i kona ko foki i te taulekaleka. The children there are beautiful indeed.
8) Nouns are never inflected. Number is indicated by

a) A word accompanying a noun:
e.g. Tona vae, his leg, ona vae, his legs.
Te lakau, a stick. lakau, sticks.

b) Lengthening of the vowel of the noun:
e.g. Tangata, man, tangata, men (pron. taangata). Fafine, woman, fafine, women (pron.

9) Words which accompany the noun and show number. Singular/Plural
te, the. a, the.
tenei, this near me. nei, these near me.
tena, na, that near you. kona, those near you.
tela, that away from us. kola, those away from us.

se, a, an. ni, ne, some.
tasi, one, a, an. lua, etc., two, etc.
tokotasi, one person. tokolua, etc., two persons.
taku, toku, my aku, oku, my.
te ma, our or a maua, our.
ta, our. or a taua, our.
te motou, our. or a matou, our.
tou, our. or a tatou, our.
tau, tou, your, thy. au, ou, your, thy.
tona, hna, his, her. ana, ona, his, her.
te otou, your. or a koutou, your.
te la, their. or a laua, their.
te lotou, their. or a latou, their.

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