Mokilese language

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Mokilese
Native to Micronesia, USA
Region Mokil atoll
Native speakers
unknown (1,500 cited 1979–2010)[1]
Latin script
Language codes
ISO 639-3 mkj
Glottolog moki1238[2]

Mokilese or Mwoakilloan is a Micronesian language originally spoken on Mokil Atoll, Federated States of Micronesia. Of the 1200 Mokilese speakers, only about 500 live on Mokil.[3]


Introduction[edit]

History[edit]

Mokilese originated from the Mokil (or Mwoakilloa) Atoll, but speakers have also migrated approximately 100 miles west, to the Pohnpei Islands, and parts of the United States. It has also been referred to as Mokil, Mwoakilese, or Mwoakiloa. Mokil Atoll and Pohnpei are both geographically part of the Caroline Islands just above Papua New Guinea. Mokil Atoll as a district of the outlying islands of Pohnpei of the Federated States of Micronesia. Before Western contact, Mokilese only had contact with its neighboring islands: Pohnpei, Pingelap, Kosrae, and the Marshall Islands. After Spanish explorers rediscovered Mokil Atoll, they colonized it in 1886 (Hezel, 1992). Shortly after they lost they lost the Spanish-American War in 1898, they sold it to Germany (Encyclopædia Britannica, 2014). Later, in 1914, it was seized by Japan and heavily fortified during World War II, until Japan surrendered and passed it on to the United States in August of 1945 (Hezel, 1992). Thereafter, it became a part of the UN trust territory under U.S. jurisdiction in 1947 until the trust territory dissolved in 1986 (Encyclopædia Britannica, 2014).

Population[edit]

Mokilese is both the name of the Mokil population and the language which they speak. It is currently spoken on Mokil Atoll, the Pohnpei Islands, and in some parts of the United States. There are only approximately 1,500 speakers of this language left. 1,050 of whom reside in Micronesia; a little over 900 in Pohnpei and less than 150 in Mokil Atoll. The other 450 speakers are scattered across the United States (Lewis, Simons, & Fennig, 2013). Although this language originated in Mokil Atoll, there are now only around 150 speakers who live in Mokil Atoll, while the rest live in diaspora communities ―approximately 100 miles west― to Pohnpei, where they remain until this day (Rehg & Bender, 1990).

Classification[edit]

Mokilese is a Micronesian language, and therefore, a part of the Austronesian language family. Mokilese belongs to the Ponapeic subgrouping, and is the sister language of Pingelapese and Pohnpeian. Mokilese shares approximately 79% lexical similarity with Pingelapese, and 75% with Pohnapeian (Lewis, Simons, & Fennig, 2013).


Sounds[edit]

Consonants[edit]

The Mokilese language consists of the following consonant phonemes: /p, b, f, v, m, θ, ð, t, d, s, z, n, l, r, c, j, ŋ̃, y, k, g, ŋ, pʷ, mʷ, and w/ (Harrison & Albert, 1976). Note, that these are not the number of consonants that they use in writing, but rather the number of different consonant sounds they produce. There are also quite a few consonant allophones in the Mokilese language: /p, pʷ, m, mʷ, t, θ, d, ð, n, ŋ̃, ŋ/.

Vowels[edit]

The vowel phonemes present in Mokilese are: /i, e, ɛ, ɨ, ʉ, ə, ʌ, a, u, o, and ɔ/ (Harrison & Albert, 1976). Mokilese use both long and short vowels for all existing vowels. Mokilese also allows triphthongs in their language, which is rare among the Pacific languages.

  • jaua – sweet taro
  • doau – climb

Syllable Structure[edit]

Mokilese uses words which begin and end with a consonant, begin and end with a vowel, begin with a vowel and end with a consonant, and even ones that begin with a consonant and end with a vowel. However, this does not mean that there are no rule at all. Mokilese syllable still maintain a set of rules as explained by Harrison and Albert (1976):

  1. In Mokilese, a sequence of consonants within a word does not normally belong to the same syllable, because it is difficult to produce a sequence like CCV. If two consonants come together within a word, place a syllable boundary between them. (Remember that ng is a single consonant even though it is written with two letters.)
    angkoa ‘anchor’ ang-koa
    dipkelkel ‘to stumble’ ‘‘dip-kel-kel’’
    janjal ‘clear’ ‘‘jan-jal’’
  1. If a single consonant occurs between two vowels within a word, place a syllable boundary before the consonant.
    ‘‘dangahnga’’ ‘lazy’ ‘‘da-ngah-nga’’
    ‘‘widek’’ ‘to pour’ ‘‘wi-dek’’
    ‘‘pere’’ ‘room’ ‘‘pe-re’’
  1. If two vowels come together within a word, place a syllable boundary between them.
    ‘‘duhrion’’ ‘kind of tree’ ‘‘duh-ri-on’’
    ‘‘injinjued’’ ‘sad’ ‘‘in-jin-ju-ed’’
    ‘‘kia’’ ‘to not want’ ‘‘ki-a’’

Grammar[edit]

Basic Word Order[edit]

The basic word order for Mokilese is Subject-Verb-Object (Harrison & Albert, 1976).

‘‘ex. Woal lapp-o loakjid phon woss-o. ’’ Man old-that to fish on reef-that That old man is fishing on the reef.

This example shows the subject (man) comes first, then the verb (to fish), and lastly, the object (reef).

Reduplication[edit]

There are many forms of reduplication in Mokilese. The most common reduplication form is a reduplication of the first CVC of a word.

  • ‘‘poadok’’ –to plant something
    • ‘‘poadpoadok’’ – to be planting something
  • ‘‘loang’’ – fly
    • ‘‘loangloang’’ – full of flies

Next, there’s the CVh reduplication form. This is the reduplication of the first CV of a word and lengthening of the vowel with /h/.

  • ‘‘wia’’ – to do
    • ‘‘wihwi’a’’ – to be doing
  • ‘‘no’’ – a wave
    • ‘‘nohno’’ – lots of waves

Another reduplication form Mokilese has is VCC. When reduplicating VC, the consonant is also geminated.

  • ‘‘oapi’’ – to pull something
    • ‘‘oappoap’’ – to pull
  • ‘‘ir’’ – to string
    • ‘‘irrir’’ – to be stringing

There is also the CV reduplication, which reduplicates the first CV of a word. However, sometimes the CV reduplication can become CVV.

  • mwahl’’ – bad
    • mwamwahl’’ – to treat badly


  • ‘‘doa’’ – to sew something
    • ‘‘doadoa’’ – to sew

Lastly, there is also the CVC reduplication form. CVC reduplicates the last CVC of a word rather than the first, and it is also a suffix unlike the other forms, which are affixes.

  • ‘‘pwirej’’ – dirt
    • ‘‘pwirejrej’’ – dirty
  • ‘‘sakai’’ – rock
    • ‘‘sakaikai’’ – rocky

Numerals[edit]

Mokilese has a base 10 counting system. Rather than having just one set of numbers, Mokilese has four sets, each used to count different things. Each number consist of a numeral prefix and a numeral classifier. Most of the numeral prefixes are similar across the four different sets, it is the general classifier that distinguishes one set from another. The four general classifiers are ‘‘–w, ‘‘–men, ‘‘–pas, and ‘‘–kij, as shown in the chart below.

-w -men -pas -kij
One' e-w e-men e-pas e-kif
Two ria-w roah-men rah-pas riah-kij
Three jilu-w jil-men jil-pas jil-kij
Four pah-w pah-men pah-pas pah-kij
Five limoa-w lim-men lim-pas lim-kij
Six wono-w won-men won-pas won-kij
Seven iju-w ij-men ij-pas ij-kij
Eight walu-w wal-men wal-pas wal-lij
Nine duoa-w doh-man doh-pas doh-kij

‘‘–w’’ is a general classifier; it is used to count numbers and describe other objects that are not covered by the other number classifiers.

  • ‘‘puk riaw’’ – two books

‘‘-men’’ describes animate nouns such as people, bird, animal, fish, and etc.

  • ‘‘woal roahmen’’ – two men

‘‘-pas’’ is used to describe long objects like pencil, canoe, songs, stories, road, and etc.

  • ‘‘suhkoa rahpas’’ – two trees

‘‘-kij’’ is for describing things that have parts and pieces such as slices of bread, sheets of paper, fragment of a mirror, and etc.

  • ‘‘wija ijkij’’ – seven pieces of land

Mokilese’s numerals can also reach up to the billions. However, most of the higher numerals are rarely used because there are only so many things that they would need to count in millions or billions.

Vocabulary[edit]

Indigenous Vocabulary[edit]

  • ‘‘soa’’ - leaf
  • ‘‘rot’’ - dark
  • ‘‘tihti’’ - thin
  • ‘‘pik’’ - sand
  • ‘‘li’’ - canoe
  • ‘‘doahk’’ - dog
  • ‘‘ad - name

Loanwords[edit]

Mokilese has borrowed a numerous amount of words from languages of foreigners who traveled into Micronesia, as well as from other Micronesian languages. Some Micronesian languages that influenced Mokilese were Pohnpeian, Marshallese, Pingelapese, and Kusaiean (Rehg & Bender, 1990). The reason why Mokilese borrowed words from these languages was because they had lived in close contact with the people of these islands for many years. Because of how this borrowing occurred, it is hard to tell exactly when the words were borrowed, especially since there were hardly any documentations from back then. On top of that, not all loanwords are easy to identify because these languages are all, more or less, closely related to Mokilese. Sheldon P. Harrison (1976) believed there to be more loanwords from other Micronesian languages, but “it is difficult to tell exactly how many because of the problems in distinguishing such borrowings from native Mokilese words.” With that said, a few loanwords from these places have been identified.

Words derived from Pohnpeian:

  • ‘‘indan’’ – popular
  • ‘‘pohnkahke’’ – lazy
  • ‘‘rahnmwahu’’ – greetings
  • ‘‘wahnpoaroan’’ – minister

Words derived from Marshallese:

  • ‘‘moado’’ – skilled navigator
  • ‘‘mej’’ – exhausted

Word derived from Marshallese:

  • ‘‘doa’’ – sugar cane

Mokilese also borrowed words from foreign languages such as German, Spanish, Japanese, and English. These borrowings occurred due to colonization. The first of these languages to come in contact with Mokilese was Spanish, which occurred in the 16th century, when Spanish explorers discovered Micronesia (Hezel, 1992). Then they colonized the Mokil Atoll in 1886. Shortly after, Spain sold the island to Germany after they lost the Spanish-American War in 1898 (Encyclopedia Britannica, 2014). Later, in 1914, the island was seized by Japan in 1919, and heavily fortified during World War II, until they surrendered and passed it on to United States in August of 1945 (Hezel, 1992). Thereafter, it became part of a UN trust territory under U.S. jurisdiction in 1947 until the trust territory dissolved in 1986 (Encyclopedia Britannica, 2014). All this outside contact introduced many loanwords to Mokilese, although there are only a few for Spanish and German because their contact durations were shorter.

Word derived from Spanish:

  • ‘‘pwohla’’ – ball
  • ‘‘mihsa’’ – mass

Word derived from German:

  • ‘‘dois’’ – Germany
  • ‘‘mahk’’ – mark/German money

Word derived from Japanese:

  • ‘‘sasimi’’ – raw fish, from ‘‘sashimi
  • ‘‘middo’’ – catcher’s mitt, from ‘‘mitto
  • ‘‘aramaki’’ – belly band, from ‘‘haramaki
  • ‘‘ansu’’ – apricot tree, from ‘‘anzu no ki
  • ‘‘ohdai’’ – bandage, from ‘‘hotai
  • ‘‘jidohsa’’ – car, from ‘‘jidosha
  • ‘‘jikeng’’ – test, from ‘‘shiken
  • ‘‘pehnggohsi’’ – defender, from ‘‘bengosha

Word derived from English (before WWII):

  • ‘‘sehpil’’ – table
  • ‘‘jip’’ – ship
  • ‘‘kepden’’ – captain
  • ‘‘ama’’ – hammer
  • ‘‘pilawa’’ – flour, bread
  • ‘‘roam’’ – rum
  • ‘‘ju’’ – shoe
  • ‘‘ehl’’ – Hell
  • ‘‘krihn’’ – green
  • ‘‘inj’’ – inch
  • ‘‘dainj’’ – dance

Word derived from English (after WWII):

  • ‘‘delpwohn’’ – telephone
  • ‘‘kias’’ – gasoline
  • ‘‘klohrahks’’ – bleach
  • ‘‘kirajiweid’’ – graduate
  • ‘‘koangkiris’’ – congress

Endangerment[edit]

Materials[edit]

Not only is the Mokilese language endangered, it also lacks extensive documentation. The complete published resources are a Mokilese-English Dictionary (Harrison & Albert, 1977) and a Mokilese Reference Grammar (Harrison & Albert, 1976). However these resources are fairly outdated since they were written in the 1960s and the language is changing rapidly. Other physical materials in Mokilese are books of chants, songs, accounts and tales of Mokil Atoll, which are few. There is also one short interview video, and a couple of war dance videos on YouTube. However, there are no websites, TV shows, or radio stations in their language.

Vitality[edit]

Mokilese is an endangered language. It is only spoken at home, and the intergenerational transmission is getting worse with each generation. This is because the younger generations are not fluent speakers, they prefer learning Pohnpeian and English instead, so only the elders and adults are actually fluent (Poll, 2013). This is just for the Mokilese speakers in Pohnpei and Mokil Atoll; the speakers in the U. S. are all old and have no domains of use, so when they die, there will be no more speakers in the United States (Lewis, Simons, & Fennig, 2013). On top of that, Mokilese not only does not have government recognition, there is not even a single school that teaches Mokilese (Poll, 2013).

Further Reading[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Mokilese at Ethnologue (17th ed., 2013)
  2. ^ Nordhoff, Sebastian; Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin, eds. (2013). "Mokilese". Glottolog 2.2. Leipzig: Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology. 
  3. ^ Lewis, M. Paul (ed.), 2009. Ethnologue: Languages of the World, Sixteenth edition. Dallas, Tex.: SIL International. Online version: http://www.ethnologue.com/.

External links[edit]