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The Samoan Language

Samoan is a member of the Austronesian language family, which ranges from southern Taiwan in the north east, down to the Easter Islands, across to New Zealand, up to Papua New Guinea, as far north as parts of Vietnam and across the Indian Ocean to Madagascar.

Distribution of Austronesian languages

It is very similar to the other Polynesian languages; early European travellers to the South Pacific picked up translators from one island group and were able to use them in all the polynesian island groups they visited. Changes to words occur regularly and it is possible to derive a number of rules for converting words from one language to another.

Samoan Maori Tahiti Hawaii Tonga Rarotonga Marquesas Mangareva Tuamotu
s or f h h h h h h h
' k k k k k k
g ng n g ng k g g
p p p p b p p p p
l r r l l r r r
t t t k t t t t t
v w v w v v v v v
f wh h or f h f f or h h f or h
Source: Myths and Legends of the Polynesians, 17, Johannes C. Andersen, 1928

The Samoan alphabet comprises of just 14 letters, the consonants F, G, L, M, N, P, S, T and V and the vowels A, E, I, O and U. Additionally the letters H, K and R have been borrowed. In addition there is the glottalstop designated by the apostrophe '. Because of the absence of so many consonants and a rule of the language that specifies that two consonants may never appear next to each other in a word, Samoan words usually appear to be vowel heavy when compared to European languages.

Samoan is similar to some of the Indonesian languages in that there may be two words for the same object depending upon the status of the person the object belongs to. Furthermore there is a seperate form of the language spoken only on ceremonial occaisions, by the matai's, which is generally incomprehensible to most Samoans.

Samoan vowels have long and short versions, in print the long vowel sound is denoted by the presence of a dash or macron over the vowel.

Vowel Long Short
A bath but
E eh bet
I feet bit
O raw gone
U pool pew

Samoan consonants are pronounced the same as in English, with the exception of G which sounds like the NG as in song. At the end of the last century a practice arose whereby K is used instead of T and G instead of N. This leads to a very harsh sounding form of the language and should not be adopted by those wishing to learn it.


Reformatted: 4th May 2004
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