While the phonemic inventory of Palauan is relatively small, comparatively, many phonemes contain at least two allophones that surface as the result of various phonological processes within the language. The full phonetic inventory of consonants is given below in IPA (the phonemic inventory of vowels, above, is complete).
Palauan contains several diphthongs (sequences of vowels within a single syllable). A list of diphthongs and corresponding Palauan words containing them are given below, adapted from (Zuraw 2003).
"paper" (German loan)
"Koror" (former capital of Palau)
"pipe" (English loan)
The extent to which it is accurate to characterize each of these vowel sequences as diphthongs has been a matter of debate, as in (Wilson 1972), (Flora 1974), (Josephs 1975), (Zuraw 2003). Nevertheless, a number of the sequences above, such as /ui/, clearly behave as diphthongs given their interaction with other aspects of Palauan phonology like stress shift and vowel reduction. Others do not behave as clearly like monosyllabic diphthongs.
In the early 1970s, the Palau Orthography Committee worked with linguists from the University of Hawaii to devise an alphabet based on the Latin script. The resulting orthography was largely based on the "one phoneme/one symbol" notion, producing an alphabet of twelve native consonants, six consonants for use in loan words, and ten vowels. The 20 vowel sequences listed above under the heading Diphthongs are also all officially recognized in the orthography.
On May 10, 2007, the Palauan Senate passed Bill No. 7-79, which mandates that educational institutions recognize the Palauan orthography laid out in (Josephs 1997) and (Josephs 1999). The bill also establishes an Orthography Commission to maintain the language as it develops as well as to oversee and regulate any additions or modifications to the current official orthography.
Example 1: Ak milenga er a ringngo pro. (means: "I ate the apple.")
In the preceding example, the null pronoun pro is the subject "I," while the clause-initial ak is the first person singular subject agreement morpheme.
On the other hand, those who have analyzed Palauan as SVO necessarily reject the pro-drop analysis, instead analyzing the subject agreement morphemes as subject pronouns. In the preceding example, SVO-advocates assume that there is no pro and that the morpheme ak is simply an overt subject pronoun meaning "I." One potential problem with this analysis is that it fails to explain why overt (3rd person) subjects occur clause-finally in the presence of a co-referring 3rd person "subject pronoun" --- treating the subject pronouns as agreement morphemes circumvents this weakness. Consider the following example.
Example 2: Ng milenga er a ringngo a Olilai. (means: "Olilai ate the apple.")
Proponents of the SVO analysis must assume a shifting of the subject a Alan "Alan" from clause-initial to clause-final position, a movement operation that has not received acceptance cross-linguistically, but see (Josephs 1975) for discussion.
^The figure used here, for all countries, is from Ethnologue. According to the 2005 Palau Census, there are 19,000 people aged 5 years or older residing in the Republic of Palau, of whom 4,700 do not speak Palauan. There are thus 14,000 Palauan speakers in Palau. This number does not include native Palauan speakers residing outside of Palau.
^Thomas E. McAuley, Language change in East Asia, 2001:90
^Nordhoff, Sebastian; Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin, eds. (2013). "Palauan". Glottolog 2.2. Leipzig: Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology.
^Only 5 vowel phonemes are listed in (Wilson 1972) because she avoids the issue of how to treat indeterminate underlying vowels. The vowel chart here tentatively reflects the analysis of (Flora 1974), who treats indeterminate vowels as instances of underlying ə. Furthermore, the analysis of Palauan [w] in (Flora 1974) treats it as a phoneme distinct from /u/, while [w] is merely an allophone of /u/ according (Wilson 1972). The consonant chart tentatively reflects Wilson's analysis.
^The final report of the Palau Orthography Committee was released in 1972.
Flora, Jo-Ann (1974), Palauan Phonology and Morphology, PhD Dissertation: University of California, San Diego.
Georgopoulos, Carol (1986), "Palauan as a VOS Language", in Paul Geraghty, Lois Carrington, and Stephen A. Wurm (eds.), FOCAL I: Papers from the Fourth International Conference on Austronesian Linguistics, Canberra: Pacific Linguistics, C-93, pp. 187–198.
Georgopoulos, Carol (1991), Syntactic Variables: Resumptive Pronouns and A' Binding in Palauan, Dordrecht: Kluwer.
Josephs, Lewis (1975), Palauan Reference Grammar, Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press.
Josephs, Lewis (1990), New Palauan-English Dictionary, Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press.
Josephs, Lewis (1997), Handbook of Palauan Grammar (Vol. 1), Koror: Palau Ministry of Education.
Josephs, Lewis (1999), Handbook of Palauan Grammar (Vol. 2), Koror: Palau Ministry of Education.
Wilson, Helen (1972), "The Phonology and Syntax of Palauan Verb Affixes", University of Hawaii Working Papers in Linguistics4 (5).
Zuraw, Kie (2003), "Vowel Reduction in Palauan Reduplicants", in Andrea Rackowski and Norvin Richards (eds.), Proceedings of the Eighth Annual Meeting of the Austronesian Formal Linguistics Association, Cambridge: MITWPL #44, pp. 385–398.