|Native to||Papua New Guinea|
|Region||Gazelle Peninsula, East New Britain Province|
|Native speakers||61,000 (1991)
20,000 L2 speakers
|Writing system||Latin script (Tolai alphabet)
The Tolai language, or Kuanua, is spoken by the Tolai people of Papua New Guinea, who live on the Gazelle Peninsula in East New Britain Province. (This language is often referred to in the literature as Tolai. However, Tolai is actually the name of the cultural group. The Tolais themselves refer to their language as a tinata tuna, which translates as "the real language". Kuanua is apparently a word in Ramoaaina meaning "the place over there".)
Unlike many languages in Papua New Guinea, Tolai is a healthy language and not in danger of dying out to Tok Pisin, although even Tolai suffers from a surfeit of loanwords from Tok Pisin, e.g. the original kubar has been completely usurped by the Tok Pisin braun for brown or the Tok Pisin vilivil for bicycle has replaced the former aingau. It is considered a prestigious language and is the primary language of communication in the two major centers of East New Britain: Kokopo and Rabaul.
Tolai lost the phoneme /s/. For instance, the word for 'sun' in closely related languages of South New Ireland is kesakese, and this has been reduced to keake in Tolai. However, /s/ has been reintroduced through numerous loanwords from English and Tok Pisin.
Tolai belongs to the Oceanic branch of the Austronesian language family. The most immediate subgroup is the Patpatar–Tolai group of languages which also includes Lungalunga (also spoken on the Gazelle Peninsula) and Patpatar (spoken on New Ireland).
Tolai is spoken on the Gazelle Peninsula in the East New Britain Province of Papua New Guinea.
Tolai is said to be one of the major substratum languages of Tok Pisin. Some common Tok Pisin vocabulary items that likely come from Tolai (or a closely related language) include:
aibika (from ibika) - Hibiscus manihot
buai - betelnut
diwai (from dawai) - tree, wood
guria - earthquake
kawawar (from kavavar) - ginger
kiau - egg
lapun - elderly person
liklik (from ikilik) - small
umben (from uben) - fishing net
Tolai pronouns have four number distinctions (singular, dual, trial and plural) and three person distinctions (first person, second person and third person) as well as an inclusive/exclusive distinction. There are no gender distinctions.
(he/she and I)
(both of them, and I)
(all of them, and I)
(thou and I)
(both of you, and I)
(all of you, and I)
The plural pronouns lose their final -t when used before a verb. 'Da vana!' - 'Let's go!', 'Pa ave gire.' - 'We didn't see.', 'Dia tar pot' - 'They have already arrived.'
The usual word order of Tolai is SVO.
There is an interesting phenomenon involving the prefix ni-, which changes a verb to a noun. This introduces an element of irregularity into the language. Ordinarily, the prefix is just added to the beginning of the verb, e. g. laun to live -> a nilaun the life; ian to eat -> a nian the food; aring to pray -> a niaring the prayer. However: varubu to fight -> a vinarubu the fight; tata to talk -> a tinata the language; mamai to chew betelnut -> a minamai (a small supply of) betelnuts for chewing. In those instances, the ni- changes to -in- and becomes an infix which is inserted after the initial phoneme of the verb. It could also be said that the ni- is added as a prefix, but then the initial phoneme of the verb changes places with the n of the prefix.
- Mosel, Ulrike. (1984). Tolai syntax and its historical development. Canberra: Pacific Linguistics.
- Lynch, John, Malcolm Ross & Terry Crowley. (2002). The Oceanic languages. Richmond, Surrey: Curzon Press.