Niuean language
The Niuean language or Niue language (Niuean: ko e vagahau Niuē) is a Polynesian
Polynesian languages
The Polynesian languages are a language family spoken in the region known as Polynesia. They are classified as part of the Austronesian family, belonging to the Oceanic branch of that family. They fall into two branches: Tongic and Nuclear Polynesian. Polynesians share many cultural traits...

 language, belonging to the Malayo-Polynesian subgroup
Malayo-Polynesian languages
The Malayo-Polynesian languages are a subgroup of the Austronesian languages, with approximately 385.5 million speakers. These are widely dispersed throughout the island nations of Southeast Asia and the Pacific Ocean, with a smaller number in continental Asia...

 of the Austronesian languages
Austronesian languages
The Austronesian languages are a language family widely dispersed throughout the islands of Southeast Asia and the Pacific, with a few members spoken on continental Asia that are spoken by about 386 million people. It is on par with Indo-European, Niger-Congo, Afroasiatic and Uralic as one of the...

. It is most closely related to Tongan
Tongan language
Tongan is an Austronesian language spoken in Tonga. It has around 200,000 speakers and is a national language of Tonga. It is a VSO language.-Related languages:...

 and slightly more distantly to other Polynesian languages such as Māori
Maori language
Māori or te reo Māori , commonly te reo , is the language of the indigenous population of New Zealand, the Māori. It has the status of an official language in New Zealand...

, Sāmoan
Samoan language
Samoan Samoan Samoan (Gagana Sāmoa, is the language of the Samoan Islands, comprising the independent country of Samoa and the United States territory of American Samoa. It is an official language—alongside English—in both jurisdictions. Samoan, a Polynesian language, is the first language for most...

, and Hawaiian
Hawaiian language
The Hawaiian language is a Polynesian language that takes its name from Hawaii, the largest island in the tropical North Pacific archipelago where it developed. Hawaiian, along with English, is an official language of the state of Hawaii...

. Together, Tongan and Niuean form the Tongic subgroup of the Polynesian languages. Niuean also has a number of influences from Samoan and Eastern Polynesian languages.


Niuean is spoken by 2,240 people on Niue
Niue , is an island country in the South Pacific Ocean. It is commonly known as the "Rock of Polynesia", and inhabitants of the island call it "the Rock" for short. Niue is northeast of New Zealand in a triangle between Tonga to the southwest, the Samoas to the northwest, and the Cook Islands to...

 Island (97.4% of the inhabitants) as of 1991, as well as by speakers in the Cook Islands
Cook Islands
The Cook Islands is a self-governing parliamentary democracy in the South Pacific Ocean in free association with New Zealand...

, New Zealand
New Zealand
New Zealand is an island country in the south-western Pacific Ocean comprising two main landmasses and numerous smaller islands. The country is situated some east of Australia across the Tasman Sea, and roughly south of the Pacific island nations of New Caledonia, Fiji, and Tonga...

, and Tonga
Tonga, officially the Kingdom of Tonga , is a state and an archipelago in the South Pacific Ocean, comprising 176 islands scattered over of ocean in the South Pacific...

, for a total of around 8,000 speakers. There are thus more speakers of Niuean outside the island itself than on the island. Most inhabitants of Niue are bilingual in English
English language
English is a West Germanic language that arose in the Anglo-Saxon kingdoms of England and spread into what was to become south-east Scotland under the influence of the Anglian medieval kingdom of Northumbria...


In the early 1990s 70% of the speakers of Niuean lived in New Zealand.


Niuean consists of two main dialects, the older motu dialect from the north of the island and the tafiti dialect of the south. The words mean, respectively, the people of the island and the strangers (or people from a distance).

The differences between the dialects are mainly in vocabulary or in the form of some words.

Examples of differences in vocabulary are volu (Tafiti) vs matā (Motu) for scrape, scraper and lala (Tafiti) vs kautoga (Motu) for guava (plant); examples of differences in form include hafule (T) / afule (M), aloka/haloka, nai/nei, ikiiki/likiliki, and malona/maona.


Labial consonant
Labial consonants are consonants in which one or both lips are the active articulator. This precludes linguolabials, in which the tip of the tongue reaches for the posterior side of the upper lip and which are considered coronals...

Alveolar consonant
Alveolar consonants are articulated with the tongue against or close to the superior alveolar ridge, which is called that because it contains the alveoli of the superior teeth...

Velar consonant
Velars are consonants articulated with the back part of the tongue against the soft palate, the back part of the roof of the mouth, known also as the velum)....

Glottal consonant
Glottal consonants, also called laryngeal consonants, are consonants articulated with the glottis. Many phoneticians consider them, or at least the so-called fricative, to be transitional states of the glottis without a point of articulation as other consonants have; in fact, some do not consider...

Plosive p t k
Fricative f v (s) h
Nasal consonant
A nasal consonant is a type of consonant produced with a lowered velum in the mouth, allowing air to escape freely through the nose. Examples of nasal consonants in English are and , in words such as nose and mouth.- Definition :...

m n ŋ
Liquid consonant
In phonetics, liquids or liquid consonants are a class of consonants consisting of lateral consonants together with rhotics.-Description:...

l (r)

[s] is an allophone of /t/ before front vowels (both long and short /i/ and /e/; this most likely arose from the affrication of /t/ to [ts] before these vowels and subsequent change of [ts] to [s]. While older foreign borrowings (such as from English tea) underwent this change along with (or perhaps by analogy with) native words, words borrowed into Niuean after this development retain the original [t] (for example, telefoni and tikulī from telephone and degree).

/r/ and /s/ are marginal phonemes, only appearing in foreign borrowings. Some speakers substitute [l] and [t], respectively.


  front central back
  long short long short long short
high i u
mid e o
low a

Vowel length
Vowel length
In linguistics, vowel length is the perceived duration of a vowel sound. Often the chroneme, or the "longness", acts like a consonant, and may etymologically be one, such as in Australian English. While not distinctive in most dialects of English, vowel length is an important phonemic factor in...

 is distinctive in Niuean; vowels are either long or short. Furthermore, two adjacent identical vowels (whether short-short, short-long, long-short, or long-long) form a rearticulated vowel; the sound is distinct from one long vowel.

Both short and long vowels can occur in any position.

All short vowels may combine with one another to form diphthongs. The possible diphthongs are:


Rearticulation is the separate pronunciation of two adjacent vowels, as opposed to diphthong
A diphthong , also known as a gliding vowel, refers to two adjacent vowel sounds occurring within the same syllable. Technically, a diphthong is a vowel with two different targets: That is, the tongue moves during the pronunciation of the vowel...

s which are written as two letters but pronounced as one sound. These two vowels may be the same or be different ones.

Rearticulation typically occurs across morpheme
In linguistics, a morpheme is the smallest semantically meaningful unit in a language. The field of study dedicated to morphemes is called morphology. A morpheme is not identical to a word, and the principal difference between the two is that a morpheme may or may not stand alone, whereas a word,...

 boundaries, for example, when a suffix ending with a vowel comes before a root beginning with that same vowel. It may also occur, rarely, within monomorphemic words (words that consist of only one morpheme) as a result of the elision of a historical intervocalic consonant.

Two adjacent identical short vowels are always rearticulated, as are combinations of any two long vowels or a short and a long vowel; two adjacent different short vowels may be rearticulated or form a diphthong, and this has to be determined from the morphology or history of the word.

Syllable structure

The basic structure of a Niuean syllable is (C)V(V); all syllables end in a vowel or diphthong, and may start with at most one consonant. Consonant clusters in borrowed words are broken up with epenthetic vowels, e.g. English tractor becomes tuleketā.They have a certain syllable in their that makes them so different.


The stress on a Niuean word is nearly always on the penult (second-to-last syllable), though multi-syllable words ending in a long vowel put primary stress on the final long vowel and secondary stress on the penult. Long vowels in other positions also attract a secondary stress.

Glottal stop

The Niuean language does not contain the glottal stop
Glottal stop
The glottal stop, or more fully, the voiceless glottal plosive, is a type of consonantal sound used in many spoken languages. In English, the feature is represented, for example, by the hyphen in uh-oh! and by the apostrophe or [[ʻokina]] in Hawaii among those using a preservative pronunciation of...

 which is present in its closest relative, Tongan
Tongan language
Tongan is an Austronesian language spoken in Tonga. It has around 200,000 speakers and is a national language of Tonga. It is a VSO language.-Related languages:...

; this has caused some distinct words to merge. For example, Tongan ta'u year and tau fight have merged in Niuean as tau.


Niuean orthography
The orthography of a language specifies a standardized way of using a specific writing system to write the language. Where more than one writing system is used for a language, for example Kurdish, Uyghur, Serbian or Inuktitut, there can be more than one orthography...

 is largely phonemic; that is, one syllable stands for one sound and vice versa.


The traditional alphabet order, given with the traditional names of the letters, is ā, ē, ī, ō, ū, fā, gā, hā, kā, lā, mō, nū, pī, tī, vī, rō, sā. Note that and as introduced letters are ordered at the end.

Sperlich (1997) uses an alphabetical order based on English for his dictionary: a, ā, e, ē, f, g, h, i, ī, k, l, m, n, o, ō, p, s, t, u, ū, v (r is left out since no words start with this letter). He recommends that consonants be named consistently with a following ā: fā, gā, hā, kā, lā, mā, nā, pā, tā, vā, rā, sā.

Vowel length can be marked with a macron
A macron, from the Greek , meaning "long", is a diacritic placed above a vowel . It was originally used to mark a long or heavy syllable in Greco-Roman metrics, but now marks a long vowel...

; however, this is not always done.


As with many languages, writing was brought to Niue in connection with religion, in this case with Christianity
Christianity is a monotheistic religion based on the life and teachings of Jesus as presented in canonical gospels and other New Testament writings...

 by missionaries educated in Samoa
Samoa , officially the Independent State of Samoa, formerly known as Western Samoa is a country encompassing the western part of the Samoan Islands in the South Pacific Ocean. It became independent from New Zealand in 1962. The two main islands of Samoa are Upolu and one of the biggest islands in...

. This has led to some Samoan influences in morphology and grammar and also to a noticeable one in spelling: the sound /ŋ/ (Help:IPA) is written g, rather than ng as in Tongan and other Polynesian languages with this sound. (McEwen (1970) uses ng in his dictionary; however, this feature of his spelling was not popular, particularly since it conflicted with the spelling used in the Niuean Bible.)


Niuean can be considered a VSO language; however, one analysis of Niuean uses ergative
Ergative case
The ergative case is the grammatical case that identifies the subject of a transitive verb in ergative-absolutive languages.-Characteristics:...

 terminology, in which case it may be better to speak of verb–agent–patient word order.

Because the unmarked case is the absolutive, Niuean transitive verb constructions often appear passive in a literal translation.

Kua kitia e ia e kalahimu
"The crab was seen by him"

Kua kitia e kalahimu
"The crab was seen"

The first example sentence could also be translated into English as the nominative–accusative construction "He saw the crab".


Niuean pronoun
In linguistics and grammar, a pronoun is a pro-form that substitutes for a noun , such as, in English, the words it and he...

s are differentiated by person
Grammatical person
Grammatical person, in linguistics, is deictic reference to a participant in an event; such as the speaker, the addressee, or others. Grammatical person typically defines a language's set of personal pronouns...

 and number
Grammatical number
In linguistics, grammatical number is a grammatical category of nouns, pronouns, and adjective and verb agreement that expresses count distinctions ....

. Furthermore, first person non-singular
Grammatical number
In linguistics, grammatical number is a grammatical category of nouns, pronouns, and adjective and verb agreement that expresses count distinctions ....

 (dual and plural
In linguistics, plurality or [a] plural is a concept of quantity representing a value of more-than-one. Typically applied to nouns, a plural word or marker is used to distinguish a value other than the default quantity of a noun, which is typically one...

) pronouns distinguish inclusive and exclusive forms, including and excluding the listener, respectively. However, they are not differentiated by gender
Grammatical gender
Grammatical gender is defined linguistically as a system of classes of nouns which trigger specific types of inflections in associated words, such as adjectives, verbs and others. For a system of noun classes to be a gender system, every noun must belong to one of the classes and there should be...

 or case
In linguistics, declension is the inflection of nouns, pronouns, adjectives, and articles to indicate number , case , and gender...

; for example, ia means both he and she, him and her (inanimates ['it'] are not usually pronominalised).

The Niuean pronouns are:
first person (inclusive) au taua tautolu
first person (exclusive) maua mautolu
second person koe mua mutolu
third person ia laua lautolu

Note that the endings of the dual and plural forms resemble the numbers 2 and 3, ua and tolu.


Some numbers in Niuean are:
1 taha 10 hogofulu 100 taha e teau 1000 taha e afe
2 ua 20 uafulu 200 ua (e) teau 2000 ua (e) afe
3 tolu 30 tolugofulu 300 tolu (e) teau 3000 tolu (e) afe
4 fa* 40 fagofulu etc. etc. etc. etc.
5 lima 50 limagofulu
6 ono etc. etc.
7 fitu
8 valu
9 hiva

(*Note: Both McEwen (1970) and Sperlich (1997) give for four; however, Kaulima & Beaumont (1994) give fa with a short vowel.)

Tens and ones combine with ma, e.g. hogofulu ma taha, 11; tolugofulu ma ono, 36.

The numbers from one to nine (and occasionally higher numbers) can take the prefix toko- when used to count persons; for example, tokolima five (for people).

Numbers are used as verbs, for example:
Ne taha e fufua moa i loto he kato
PAST one ART egg chicken LOC inside GEN basket
"There was one egg in the basket"; literally, "Was one an egg inside the basket"

Tolu e tama fuata ne oatu ke takafaga
three ART child youth REL go GOAL hunt
"Three young men went out hunting"; literally, "Three (were) the young men who went out to hunt"

Ko e tau maaga ne fa
PRED ART PLUR village REL four
"There were (are) four villages"; literally, "The villages, which were four"


Morphology (linguistics)
In linguistics, morphology is the identification, analysis and description, in a language, of the structure of morphemes and other linguistic units, such as words, affixes, parts of speech, intonation/stress, or implied context...

 comprises the ways in which words are built up from smaller, meaningful sub-units, or how words change their form in certain circumstances.


Suppletion concerns closely related words (often singular and plural forms of nouns or verbs) which are based on very different forms, for example fano to go (used with a singular subject) and ō to go (used with a plural subject). This can be compared to English go and went, which are forms of the same verb yet differ in form.


Reduplication in linguistics is a morphological process in which the root or stem of a word is repeated exactly or with a slight change....

 is frequently used in Niuean morphology to derive different nouns. Reduplication is the process of taking the entire morpheme, or sometimes only the first or last syllable or two, and repeating it.

This is used for several purposes, including:
  • forming a "plural" verb from a "singular" one (that is, a verb form used when the subject is plural, as opposed to the form used when the subject is singular)
  • forming a "frequentative
    In grammar, a frequentative form of a word is one which indicates repeated action. The frequentative form can be considered a separate, but not completely independent word, called a frequentative...

    " form of a verb (an action that is carried out several times)

An example of a whole-morpheme reduplication indicating a plural verb is molemole to have passed by, to be gone from mole to have passed by, to be gone; an example of a whole-morpheme reduplication indicating a frequentative verb is molomolo to keep squeezing from molo to squeeze, to compress.

Examples of part-morpheme reduplication are gagau to bite from gau to chew (first part of the syllable reduplicated), gegele to make a crying sound from gele to start to cry (of babies) (first syllable reduplicated), and molūlū to be very soft, to be very weak from molū to be soft, to be weak (last syllable reduplicated).

Reduplication is also frequently employed together with affixes.


An affix is a morpheme that is attached to a word stem to form a new word. Affixes may be derivational, like English -ness and pre-, or inflectional, like English plural -s and past tense -ed. They are bound morphemes by definition; prefixes and suffixes may be separable affixes...

es (prefixes and suffix
In linguistics, a suffix is an affix which is placed after the stem of a word. Common examples are case endings, which indicate the grammatical case of nouns or adjectives, and verb endings, which form the conjugation of verbs...

es) are frequently used for a variety of purposes; there is also one circumfix
A circumfix is an affix, a morpheme that is placed around another morpheme. Circumfixes contrast with prefixes, attached to the beginnings of words; suffixes, that are attached at the end; and infixes, inserted in the middle. See also epenthesis...

, fe- -aki (sometimes fe- -naki or fe- -taki), which is used to form reciprocal verbs ("to ... one another").

A common suffix is -aga, which is a nominaliser: it forms nouns from verbs.

A common prefix with faka-, with a variety of meanings, the most common being a causative one (e.g. ako to learn, fakaako to teach).

Words may also have more than one prefix or suffix, as fakamalipilipi to break (used with a plural object), from faka-, ma-, and a reduplicated lipi to break.

Compound words

Many words are simply formed by joining together other words, for example vakalele aeroplane from vaka canoe and lele fly (i.e. literally, flying canoe). Diane Massam
Diane Massam
Diane Massam is a professor of linguistics in the Department of Linguistics at the University of Toronto. She specializes in the syntax of Niuean, an Austronesian language spoken in Niue. Massam developed an analysis of a type of compounding called noun incorporation which has opened a window to...

 has extensively studied a special type of compounding which she has termed pseudo noun incorporation, a type of noun incorporation.

External links

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