Tuvaluan language

Tuvaluan language

nativename=te ggana Tuvalu
states=Tuvalu, Fiji, Kiribati, Nauru, New Zealand
speakers= 10,670 in Tuvalu. 13,051 total.
fam3=Central Eastern
fam4=Eastern Malayo-Polynesian
fam6=Central-Eastern Oceanic
fam7=Remote Oceanic
fam8=Central Pacific
fam9=East Fijian-Polynesian

Tuvaluan is a Nuclear Polynesian language of the Ellicean group spoken in Tuvalu. It is more or less distantly related to all other Polynesian languages, such as Hawaiian, Māori, Tahitian, Samoan, and Tongan, and most closely related to the languages spoken on the Polynesian Outliers in Micronesia and Northern and Central Melanesia. Tuvaluan has borrowed considerably from Samoan, the language of Christian missionaries in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. There are about 13,000 Tuvaluan speakers worldwide.


Like all other Polynesian languages, Tuvaluan descends from an ancestral language, which historical linguists refer to as "Proto-Polynesian," which was spoken around 3000 years ago.

Sound System

The sound system of Tuvaluan consists of five vowels (i, e, a, o, u) and 10 or 11 consonants (p, t, k, m, n, g, f, v, s, h, l), depending on the dialect. All sounds, including consonants, come in short and long forms, which are contrastive.


There are four possible articles in Tuvaluan: definite singular "te", indefinite singular "se" or "he" (depending on the dialect), definite plural zero form, and indefinite plural "ne" or "ni" (depending on the dialect). The verb can be either clause-initial or clause-medial, and the order of subject, direct object, and indirect object is relatively free. The adjective generally follows the noun, the possessor follows the possessed.


Tuvaluan is divided into two groups of dialects, Northern Tuvaluan, comprising dialects spoken on the islands of Nanumea, Nanumaga, and Niutao (as well as Niulakita), and Southern Tuvaluan, comprising dialects spoken on the islands of Funafuti, Vaitupu, Nukufetau and Nukulaelae. All dialects are mutually intelligible, and differ in terms of phonology, morphology, and lexicon. The Funafuti-Vaitupu dialects (which are very close to one another) is the "de-facto" national language, although speakers of the Northern dialects often use their own dialect in public contexts outside of their own communities. The inhabitants of one island of Tuvalu, Nui, speak a dialect of Gilbertese, a Micronesian language only very distantly related to Tuvaluan.

Tuvaluan is mutually intelligible with Tokelauan, spoken by the approximately 1,700 inhabitants of the three atolls of Tokelau and on Swains Island, as well as the several thousand Tokelauan migrants living in New Zealand.


The Bible was translated into Tuvaluan in 1987. The Jehovah's Witness organisation Watchtower, publish their Watchtower Magazine on a monthly basis in Tuvaluan. Apart from this, there are very few Tuvaluan language books available. There is, however, a newspaper published in Tuvaluan, called Sikuleo o Tuvalu.

The writer Afaese Manoa (1942-) wrote the song Tuvalu mo te Atua, adopted in 1978 as the country's national anthem.

Oral traditions

Although Tuvaluan does not have a longstanding written tradition, there is a considerable corpus of oral traditions. The legend of the Caves of Nanumanga has attracted international attention.

External links

*Niko Besnier, 2000, "Tuvaluan: A Polynesian Language of the Central Pacific", Routledge
*Niko Besnier, 1995, "Literacy, Emotion, and Authority: Reading and Writing on a Polynesian Atoll", Cambridge University Press
* [http://www.ethnologue.com/show_language.asp?code=ELL Ethnologue]
*Donald Gilbert Kennedy, 1945 [http://www.tuvaluislands.com/lang-tv.htm Tuvaluan Grammar]
* http://www.ling.su.se/pollinet/facts/tok.html
* Caves of Nanumanga

* [http://www.watchtower.org/vl/index.html Tuvaluan Watchtower website]

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