|Native speakers||29,000 (2001)|
|Writing system||Latin script|
Pohnpeian or Ponapean is a Micronesian language spoken as the indigenous language of the island of Pohnpei in the Caroline Islands. Pohnpeian has about 29,000 speakers, the vast majority of whom live in Pohnpei and its outlying atolls and islands. It is a major language of the Federated States of Micronesia.
Pohnpeian is most closely related to the Trukic languages of Chuuk (formerly Truk). Pohnpeian includes the dialects spoken in Kitti and Sapwuahfik (Ngatik). Often, Ngatikese Creole, Pingelapese and Mokilese of the Ponapeic group are counted as dialects of Pohnpeian or as closely related languages. Pohnpeian shares 81% lexical similarity with Pingelapese, 75% with Mokilese, and 36% with Trukic Chuukese.
The language of Ngatik is a creole of Pohnpeian. It developed as a result of the 1837 Ngatik massacre, during which the island's male population was wiped out by the crew of Australian captain C.H. Hart and Pohnpeian warriors. Some of the Europeans and Pohnpeians settled and repopulated the island. Taking the local women as wives, the island formed a new culture and language, a mixture of English and the Sapwuahfik dialect of Ponapean.
Modern Pohnpeian uses twenty letters — sixteen single letters and four digraphs — collated in a unique order:
|Nasal||m /m/||n /n/||ng /ŋ/||mw /mʷ/[note 1]|
|Plosive||p /p/||d /t/||t /ʈʂ/||k /k/||pw /pʷ/[note 1]|
|Approximant||l /l/||i[note 2] /j/||u, w[note 2] /w/|
|High||i /i/ ih /iː/||u /u/ uh /uː/|
|High-mid||e[note 1] /e/ eh /eː/||o /o/ oh /oː/|
|Low-mid||e[note 1] /ɛ/ eh /ɛː/||oa /ɔ/ oah /ɔː/|
|Low||a /ɐ/ ah /ɐː/|
Pohnpeian phonotactics generally allow syllables of consisting of consonants (C) and vowels (V) accordingly: V, VC, CV, CVC. This basic system is complicated by Pohnpeian orthographical conventions and phonological processes. Orthographically, i is used to represent /j/, though it is often unwritten; -u is realized as /w/; and h indicates a long vowel (inherited from German). Thus, sahu is pronounced [sʲa:w], never [sʲahu]. Consecutive vowels are glided with [j] or [w], depending on the relative height and order of the vowels: diar is said [tijar] ("to find"); toai is [ʈʂɔji] ("to have a runny nose"); sued is [sʲuwɛt] ("bad"); and lou is [lowu] ("cooled"). While the glide [j] is never written other than as i the glide [w] may be written between u and a non-high vowel: suwed ("bad").:54–5
Words beginning in nasal consonant clusters may be pronounced as written, or with a leading prothetic vowel. The roundedness of the prothetic vowel depends on that of the adjacent consonant cluster and the first written syllable. For example, nta can be said [iɳʈʂa] ("blood"), and ngkapwan may be [iŋkapʷan] ("a while ago"); but mpwer is optionally [umʷpʷɛr] ("twin"), and ngkopw may be [uŋkopʷ] (a species crab). Pohnpeian orthography renders the consonant clusters [mʷpʷ] and [mʷmʷ] as mpw and mmw, respectively.:55–9
Substitution and assimilation 
Further phonological constraints frequently impact the pronunciation and spelling of consonant clusters, triggered variously by reduplication and assimilation into neighboring sounds. Sound changes, especially in reduplication, are often reflected by a change in spelling. However, processes triggered by affixes as well as adjacent words are not indicated in spelling. In order to inflect, derive, and pronounce Pohnpeian words properly, the order of operations must generally begin with liquid assimilation, followed by nasal assimilation, and end with nasal substitution.:58–64
First, liquid assimilation is seen most often in reduplication alongside spelling changes. By this process, liquids /l/ and /r/ are assimilated into the following alveolar (coronal) consonant: nur > nunnur ("contract").:60
The second process, nasal assimilation, presents two varieties: partial and complete. In partial nasal assimilation, /n/ assimilates with a following stop consonant to produce [mp], [mʷpʷ], [mm], [mʷmʷ], or [ŋk]. For example, the prefix nan- ("in") produces: nanpar, pronounced [nampar] ("trade wind season"); nanpwungara, said [namʷpʷuŋara] ("between them"); and nankep, said [naŋkep] ("inlet"). Partial assimilation also occurs across word boundaries: kilin pwihk is pronounced [kilimʷ pʷiːk]. The allophone of /n/ is written "n" in these cases.:56–7
In complete nasal assimilation, /n/ assimilates into adjacent liquid consonants to produce /ll/ or /rr/: lin + linenek > lillinenek ("oversexed," spelling change from reduplication); nanrek is said [narrɛk] ("season of plenty"). Complete nasal assimilation also occurs across word boundaries: pahn lingan is said [paːlliŋan] ("will be beautiful").:57, 60
The third process, nasal substitution, also presents two varieties. Both varieties of nasal substitution affect adjacent consonants of the same type: alveolar (coronal), bilabial, or velar. The first variety is often triggered by reduplication, resulting in spelling changes: sel is reduplicated to sensel ("tired").:58–64
The second variety of nasal substitution, limited to bilabial and velar consonants, occurs across word and morpheme boundaries: kalap pahn is pronounced [kalam pahn] ("always will be"); Soulik kin soupisek is pronounced [souling kin soupisek] ("Soulik is [habitually] busy"). This second variety of the nasal substitution process is phonemically more productive than the first: it includes all results possible in the first variety, as well as additional cluster combinations, indicated in green below. Some alveolar pairs produce an intervening vowel, represented as V below. Not all clusters are possible, and not all are assimilative, however.:58–64
By following the order of operations, reduplication of the word sel ("tired") progresses thus: *selsel > *sessel (liquid assimilation) > sensel (nasal substitution).:60 In this case, the same result is achieved by nasal substitution alone.
Pohnpeian word order is nominally SVO. Depending on the grammatical function, the head may come before or after its dependents. Like many Austronesian languages, Pohnpeian focus marking interacts with transitivity and relative clauses (see Austronesian alignment). Its range of grammatically acceptable sentence structures is more generally (1) noun phrase, (2) verb phrase (3) other noun phrases, where the contents of the leading noun phrase may vary according to the speaker's focus. If the leading noun phrase is not the subject, it is followed by the focus particle me. Normally, the object phrase is last among predicates::225, 248–50, 280, 307
|Neutral||Lahpo pahn inauriki kisin pwehlet wahro
That-guy will lash sennit-this canoe-that
|That guy will lash the canoe with this sennit.|
|Subject||Lahpo me pahn inauriki kisin pwehlet wahro.
That-guy FOCUS will lash sennit-this canoe-that
|That guy will lash the canoe with this sennit.|
|Object||Wahro me lahpo pahn inauriki kisin pwehlet.
Canoe-that FOCUS that-guy will lash sennit-this
|The canoe is what that guy will lash with this sennit.|
|Noun phrase||Kisin pwehlet me lahpo pahn inauriki wahro.
Sennit-this FOCUS that-guy will lash canoe-that
|This sennit is what that guy will lash that canoe with.|
Honorific speech 
Honorific speech is used in reference to Pohnpeians of higher social rank. Depending on the second or third person, a given sentence may vary widely because honorific speech comprises a separate vocabulary, including all parts of speech and topics both lofty and mundane. Examples include: pohnkoiohlap (to eat with the nahnmwarki), likena (high chief's wife), pahnkupwur (chest; normally mwarmware), pahnpwoal (armpit; normally pahnpeh), dauso (anus, normally pwoar), kelipa (to joke, normally kamwan), kaluhlu (to vomit), and keipweni (an interjection).
Nouns may be singular, dual, or plural in number, and generally inflect by suffixing. Numerals usually follow the nouns they count, and agree in noun class. Groups of nouns and adjectives comprise noun phrases. Pohnpeian transitive sentences contain up to three noun phrases.:141–2, 157, 280
Inalienable, or direct, possession is marked by personal suffixes. Other forms of possession are indicated through possessive classifiers. The construct suffix -n appears in oblique positions, such as possessive phrases. Words ending in n, however, are followed by the clitic en. Possessive phrases generally add this construct state to a classifier noun, followed by the possessor, and lastly the possessum. For example: weren ohlo war (POSSESSIVECLASS:CANOE-n that-man canoe) means "that man's canoe.":188, 192
Some possessive classifiers, namely ah and nah, may precede the possessum: nein ohlo (nah) rasaras (CLASS:-n that-man [CLASS] saw) means "that man's saw." Possessive classifiers can also occur with more than one following noun. The classifier itself may give a particular meaning to the possessum: pwihk means "pig;" nah pwihk means "his (live) pig;" ah pwihk means "his (butchered) pig;" and kene pwihk means "his pig (to eat).":182–4
|First person||Independent||ngehi||kita||kiht (excl.)|
|Second person||Independent||kowe, koh||kumwa||kumwail|
|Third person||Independent||Ih||ira||irail, ihri|
|Subject||E, ei||ira||irail, re|
Demonstratives are generally bound morphemes, suffixed to or following the last word of a noun phrase.:144–50 They are clitics, and always take a final position in a given noun phrase. They differentiate between number, distance, and emphasis; generally singular clitics are suffixed, while plurals are separate words.:154, 381
The relative pronoun me means "one who is" or "which," and is used with adjectives and general verbs: Ih me kehlail (He one strong > He is the strong one); Ih me mwenge (He one eat > He is the one who ate).:200
Possessive classifiers 
Possessive classifiers are used frequently and differentiate among person, possessum, and honorific usage. Their personal forms appear below:
|First person||nei, ei, ahi||neita||atai
|Second person||ahmwt||amwa, noumwa||amwai, noumwai|
|Honorific: noumw, omw, omwi|
|Third person||nah, ah||nair, neira||ahri, arai|
Further possessive classifiers include: sapwellime (third person honorific), were (vehicles, canoes), nime (drinkable things), imwe (buildings, homes), ulunge (pillows), sapwe (land), kie (things to sleep on), tie (earrings), mware (garlands, titles, names), ipe (covers, sheets), kene (edibles), and seike (catch of fish).:184
Specialized kinship classifiers include: kiseh (relatives), sawi (clan members), rie (sibling in Crow kinship), wahwah (man's sister-relation's children), and toki (persons with whom one has had sexual intercourse).:116, 184
|edibles of title holders of koanoat||koanoat||kene|
|things to sleep on (also means mat)||moatoare||kie|
Numbers and measure words 
Numbers normally follow the nouns they count, however they may be pre-posed in certain situations. Numbers and measure words depend on the grammatical class and physical characteristics of the object being counted. The several number systems are grouped by linguists into to three sets, reflecting their term for "ten." When naming numbers in order, natives most often use the –u class. Ngoul is an alternate word for "ten" for -pak and -sou classifiers.:127, 135, 141–2
|inanimate, some animate||–u||ehu||riau||siluh||pahieu||limau||weneu||isuh||waluh||adu||eisek|
|strips, strands, used with "piten"||–pit||epit||riepit||silipit||pahpit||limpit||wenepit||isipit||walipit||duwapit|
|stalks, i.e. sugarcane||–sop||osop||riaspo||silisop||pahsop||limisop||wensop||isisop||welisop||duwasop|
|small round objects||–mwodol||emwodol||riemwodol||silimwodol||pahmwodol||limwomwodol||wenemwodol||isimwodol||welimwodol||duwemwodol|
|gusts of wind||–tumw||otumw||riotumw||silitumw||pahtumw||limatumw||wenetumw||isitumw||welitumw||duwetumw|
|longness, songs, stories||–pwoat||oapwoat||rioapwoat||silipwoat||pahpwoat||limpwoat||wenepwoat||isipwoat||welipoat||duwoapwoat|
|parts, divisions, sides||–pali||apali||riapali||silipali||pahpali||limpali||wenepali||isipali||welipali||duwepali|
|strips, long, thin objects; used with "poaren"||–poar||oapoar||rioapoar||silipoar||pahpoar||limpoar||wenepoar||isipoar||welipoar||duwoapoar|
|leaves; used with teh||–te||ete||riete||silete||pahte||limete||wente||isite||welite||duwete|
|sheaves, bundles; used with kap||–kap||akap||riakap||silikap||pahkap||limakap||wenakap||isikap||welikap||duwakap|
|branches; used with rah||–ra||ara||riara||silira||pahra||limara||wenera||isira||welira||duwara|
|yams, bananas, and other foods cooked in a stone oven uhmw||–umw||oumw||rioumw||sliuhmw||pahumw||limoumw||wenoumw||isuhmw||weluhmw||duwoumw||ngoul|
|nights; used with pwohng||–pwong||opwong||rioapwong||silipwong||pahpwong||limpwong||wenepwong||isipwong||welipwong||duwoapwong|
|plants with a single root and many stalks, i.e., sugarcane, hibiscus, bamboo||–wel||ewel||riewel||siliwel||pahwel||limwel||wenewel||isiwel||welewel||duwewel|
|small pieces or fragments of objects||–kis||ekis||riakis||silikis||pahkis||limakis||wenekis||isikis||welikis||duwakis|
|(none)||–ehd||ari (are)||esil||epeng||alim (alen)||oun (aun)||eis||ewel||adit (edut)||koadoangoul/kedingoul|
|bunches of bananas||–i||ih||rial||—||—||—||—||—||—||—||—|
Ordinals are formed with the prefix ka–, pronounced as ke– in certain words.:141–42, 215–218, 318
Pohnpeian distinguishes between intransitive and transitive verbs. Transitive verbs are those with both a subject and an object. Intransitive verbs indicate most other verbal, adjectival, and adverbial relationships. Within verb phrases, aspect markers are followed by adverbs, and lastly the main verb.:193–5, 255–67
Many, if not most, transitive and intransitive verbs share common roots, though their derivation is often unpredictable. Some thematic features among intransitive verbs include ablaut, reduplication, the suffix -ek, and the prefix pV, where V stands for any vowel. Thematic suffixes among transitive verbs include -ih and -VC, where C stands for any consonant. Some transitive verbs also end in a final short vowel.:202–209
Pohnpeian indicates four grammatical aspects: unlreaized, habitual, durative, and perfective. Alternations in vowel length, as well as ablaut, are a salient feature of the aspect paradigm.:253–54, 267–73
Pohnpeian permits relative clauses and conjoined clauses through use of conjunctions and conjunctive adverbs. The language also permits verbs within nominal clauses as gerundive clauses, finite clauses, and infinitive clauses.:349
Intransitive verbs 
Pohnpeian intransitive verbs can be divided into the following types:
|Intransitive verbs:195, 202|
to be cut
to split, be split
to be stupid
Ka-, the causative prefix, makes intransitive verbs into transitive ones. It is the most productive prefix, as it is the only that can precede the other four above. It often occurs in conjunction with a reduplicative vowel suffix. For example, with luwak, "be jealous", an adjective::215–218, 221
- Liho luwak: That woman is jealous
- Liho kaluwak: That woman was made jealous
- Liho kaluwaka lihet: That woman made the [other] woman jealous
- Pisek, idle
- Soupisek, busy (i.e., un-idle)
- Kasoupisek, to make busy
The majority of intransitive verbs have only a transitive causative form: pweipwei > kapweipwei, "to be stupid." Among verbs where ka- is productive, only adjectives and a few resultative intransitive verbs have both intransitive and transitive causative forms. Though the prefix is productive in many active and resultative verbs, it is not productive with neutral intransitive verbs, nor for a handful of intransitives denoting bodily functions such as "sneeze" (asi), "frown" (lolok), "be full" (tip), and "be smelly" (ingirek). The prefix ka- often has assimilative allophones depending on the stem, for example soai (to tell a tale) becomes koasoia (to talk), dou (to climb) becomes kodoudou (to trace one's ancestry), and rir (to be hidden) becomes kerir (secret sweetheart). As illustrated in these examples, the prefix often causes semantic differentiation, necessitating different constructions for literally causative meanings; karirala, a different form empoying ka-, is used to mean "to make hidden.":216–218
Sa- and sou- negate verbs, however sou- is less productive than sa-, which itself varies in productivity according to regional dialect. The general meaning of sa- appears to be "not," while sou- apparently means "un-," thus::218–219
- wehwe, to understand; sawehwe, to not understand
- pwung, correct; sapwung, incorrect
- nsenoh, concerned; sounsenoh, careless (i.e., un-concerned)
Like ka-, sa- displays assimilative allophony: ese, "to know" > sehse, "to not know;" loalekeng, "intelligent" > soaloalekeng, "not intelligent." Only a single example has been found of sa- preceding ka-: the word koasoakoahiek means "inappropriate," deriving from the verb koahiek, "be competent.":220
Ak- adds a semantic meaning of demonstration or display when combined with adjectives. When preceded by ka-, it becomes kahk-. Li- generally means "may," or "predisposed, given to" some quality or action.:221–3
General intransitive verbs 
General intransitive verbs describe actions or events. They are divided into active, resultative, and neutral subtypes. For example, mwenge (to eat) and laid (to fish) are active; langada (to be hung up) and ritidi (to be closed) are resultative (static); and deidei (to sew, to be sewn) and pirap (to steal, to be stolen) are neutral — they can have either an active or a resultative meaning. Though resultative verbs sometimes resemble passive transitive verbs in English, they are in fact a class of intransitive verbs in Pohnpeian, which entirely lacks a comparable active-passive voice distinction. For example, Ohlo pahn kilel means both "That man will take a photograph" and "That man will be photographed." Reduplication is frequently productive among general intransitives and adjectives alike. Derivations often include reduplication: pihs > pipihs (to urinate); us > usuhs (to pull out).:196–8, 207
Many intransitives are ablauted from their transitive forms, sometimes with reduplication: apid (trans.) > epid (intrans.) "to carry on one's side," par (trans.) > periper (intrans.) "to cut.":206
Others are derived from transitive forms through the prefix pV-, conveying a meaning of reciprocal action: kakil (stare) > pekekil (stare at one another). These reciprocal intransitives form a distinct subgroup.:208
A few intransitives derive from transitive roots through the suffix -ek, though this is a fossilized suffix and is no longer productive. For example, dierek (to be found) from diar (to find); dilipek (for a thatch roof to be mended) from dilip (to mend a thatch roof). Sometimes this results in two intransitive derivations of a single transitive root, usually with a semantic nuance: transitive wengid (to wring), intransitive wengiweng (to wring/be wrung), intransitive wengidek (to be twisted); transitive widinge (to deceive), intransitive widing (to deceive/be deceived); intransitive widingek (to be deceitful). The suffix was apparently much more productive earlier in the language's history, even among active verbs.:207–8
Intransitives include verbs that incorporate their objects, in contrast with transitives, which state objects separately; this is somewhat akin to "babysitting" in English. This process sometimes results in vowel shortening within the incorporated noun. Any verbal suffixes, normally suffixed to the initial initial verb, follow the incorporated object. Incorporation is not possible when there is a demonstrative suffix, however::212–4
- I pahn pereklos, I will mat-unroll
- I pahn pereki lohs, I will unroll mats
- I pahn pereki lohso, I will unroll that mat
Pohnpeian adjectives are a class of non-action intransitive verbs. They function in a mostly parallel way to other intransitive verbs: E pahn [tang/lemei] – "He will run/be cruel"; E [tangtang/lemelemei] – "He is running/being cruel"; E [tenge/lamai] pwutako – "He ran to/is cruel to that boy." Many adjectives themselves can be used as commands, and have transitive counterparts.:198
Adjectives function as a subclass of intransitive verbs, though grammatical functions set them apart. For example, the superlative -ie is reserved for adjectives, as in lingan, "beautiful," and lingahnie, "most beautiful." Likewise reserved for adjectives is the suffix -ki, which indicates instrumentality in transitive verbs, means "to consider [beautiful]" when suffixed to an adjective. Superlatives may also appear using the ordinal numeral keieu "first." Comparatives are made through word order and the suffix -sang: Pwihke laudsang pwihko means "This pig is bigger than that pig.":195–200, 215, 224–6, 250
One feature setting adjectives apart from non-active verbs is the productivity of the stative marker me (different to the pronoun and focus particle me), which is generally not grammatically correct with intransitive verbs of any kind::199–200
- E mwahu, He is good; and E me mwahu, He is good!
- E mi mwo, It exists there; but not *E me mi mwo.
Another aspect setting adjectives apart from other intransitives is that adjectives precede numerals, while intransitives follow. Adjectives generally follow the head noun, though possessives and numbers with fractions precede the noun::124, 141
- pwutak, boy
- pwutako, that boy
- pwutak silimeno, those three boys
- pwutak reirei silimeno, those three tall boys
- nei pwutak silimeno, my three sons there
- orenso, that orange
- pahkis ehuwen orenso, one-fourth of that orange
- mahio, that breadfruit
- pahkis siluhwen mahio, three-fourths of that breadfruit
Transitive verbs 
Transitive verbs consist of single roots and various suffixes upon modern intransitive verbs. Historically, intransitive verbs probably developed by dropping these transitive suffixes and ablauting.
Some transitive verbs end in -VC on intransitive forms, appearing as unablauted or without reduplication; as intransitives were likely products of final syllable dropping, the endings are rather unpredictable: poad > poadok, "to plant," id > iding, "to make fire," pek > pakad, "to defecate," and dapadap > daper, "to catch.":203
Several transitive verbs end in -ih on intransitive roots, sometimes also with vowel changes: mahlen > mahlenih, "to draw," sel > salih, "to tie," and erier > arih, "to stir, probe." This form is the most productive and is used with loanwords.:204–5 For example: mahlenih, deriving from German mahlen, means "to paint, draw.":xv
Some transitive verbs ending in short final vowels have intransitive counterparts that lack those endings; again, ablaut and reduplication often differentiate. Examples include langa > lang, "to hang up," doakoa > dok, "to spear," and rese > rasaras, "to sharpen." The short vowel ending -i appears only in -ki.
Transitive verbal suffixes include the perfective -ehr, -ki (which derives verbs from nouns; different to the noun instrumental suffix -ki and short vowel suffix), object pronoun suffixes, and a host of directional suffixes. These include -ehng (towards) and -sang (away, without).:106–7, 222–52, 246–9, 279
Basic phrases 
Below are some basic words and phrases in Pohnpeian:
- Kaselehlie - Hello (formal)
- Kalahngan - thank you (formal)
- Menlau - thank you (informal)
- edei - my name
- edomw - your name
- Ia edomw? - What is your name?
- Ia iromw? - How are you?
- Lewis, M. Paul, ed. (2009). "Pohnpeian". Ethnologue: Languages of the World (16 ed.). Dallas: SIL International online. Retrieved 2012-12-15.
- Dalby, Andrew (2004). Dictionary Of Languages, The Definitive Reference To More Than 400 Languages. Bloomsbury Pub Ltd. ISBN 0231115695. Retrieved 2012-01-09.
- Poyer, Lin (1990). "6. Being Sapwuahfik: Cultural and Ethnic Identity in a Micronesian Society". In Jocelyn Linnekin, Lin Poyer. Cultural Identity and Ethnicity in the Pacific. University of Hawaii Press. p. 127. ISBN 0824818911. Retrieved 2012-12-15.
- Poyer, Lin (1993). The Ngatik massacre: history and identity on a Micronesian atoll. Smithsonian Institution Press. pp. 1–3, 146. ISBN 1560982624. Retrieved 2012-12-15.
- Rehg, Kenneth L.; Sohl, Damian G. (1979). Ponapean-English Dictionary. PALI language texts: Micronesia. University of Hawaii Press. ISBN 0824805623. Retrieved 2012-01-08.
- Rehg, Kenneth L.; Sohl, Damian G. (1981). Ponapean Reference Grammar. PALI language texts: Micronesia. University of Hawaii Press. ISBN 0824807189. Retrieved 2012-01-08.