Tuvaluan is a Polynesian language of the Ellicean group spoken in Tuvalu. It is more or less distantly related to all other Polynesian languages, such as Hawaiian, Maori, 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.
Tuvaluan has had significant contact with Gilbertese, a Micronesian language; Samoan; and, increasingly, English. Gilbertese is spoken natively on Nui, and was important to Tuvaluans when its colonial administration was located in the Gilbert Islands. Samoan was introduced by missionaries, and has had the most impact on the language. English’s influence has been limited, but is growing.
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. /h/ is only used in limited circumstances in the Nanumea, Nanumaga and Nukulaelae dialect. The grapheme g usually represents a velar nasal. Like most Polynesian languages, Tuvaluan syllables can either be V or CV. There is no restriction on the placement of consonants, although they cannot be used at the end of words (as per the syllabic restrictions). Consonant clusters are not available in Tuvaluan. There are no diphthongs so every vowel is sounded separately. Example: taeao ‘tomorrow’ is pronounced as almost four separate syllables (ta-e-a-o).
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