The language is named after the island.
|Close||i ⟨i⟩||ʉ ⟨u⟩|
|Close-mid||e ⟨ë⟩||ɵ ⟨ö⟩||o ⟨ō⟩|
The high back rounded vowel [u] occurs, but only as an allophone of /ʉ/ and /ə/ after labio-velar consonants. /ʉ/ always becomes [u] after a labio-velar, while /ə/ only becomes [u] in pre-tonic syllables, and then only optionally.
|Nasal||m ⟨m⟩||n ⟨n⟩||ŋ ⟨n̄⟩||ŋʷ ⟨n̄w⟩|
|Plosive||p ⟨p⟩||t ⟨t⟩||k ⟨k⟩||kʷ ⟨q⟩|
|Fricative||β ⟨v⟩||s ⟨s⟩||ɣ ⟨g⟩|
|Glide||j ⟨y⟩||w ⟨w⟩|
All plosives are voiceless.
The historical phoneme *l has shifted to /j/, which is unique within the Torres–Banks languages.
Hiw is the only Austronesian language whose consonant inventory includes a prestopped velar lateral approximant /ɡ͡ʟ/; this complex segment is Hiw's only native liquid. Historically, this complex segment was a voiced alveolar trill /r/ (which is why it is written as r̄). The voiced alveolar trill, spelt as r, appears in recent loanwords. In some other, perhaps older, loanwords, alveolar trills have been borrowed as velar laterals.
Stress is predictable in Hiw, except in the case of words which only contain /ə/.
Generally, primary stress falls on the last syllable which does not contain /ə/. For example: [mɔˈwɪ] 'moon', [ˈwɔtəjə] 'maybe'. In the case of words whose only vowel is schwa, stress is unpredictable: thus [βəˈjə] 'pandanus leaf' is oxytone and [ˈtəpjə] 'dish' is paroxytone. These are the only polysyllabic words that may have a stressed schwa.
The syllable structure of Hiw is CCVC, where the only obligatory element is V: e.g. /tg͡ʟɔɣ/ 'throw (PL)'; /βti/ 'star'; /kʷg͡ʟɪ/ 'dolphin'; /g͡ʟɵt/ 'tie'.
Hiw allows consonant gemination, word-medially and initially. These geminated consonants can be analyzed as C1C2 consonant clusters in which both consonants happen to be identical. An example of gemination is in /tin/ 'buy' vs /ttin/ 'hot'. Consonants and vowels may also be lengthened for expressive purposes, for example: /ne maβə/ ‘it’s heavy’ becomes [ne mːaβə] ‘it’s so heavy!’.
Hiw's phonology follows the Sonority Sequencing Principle, with the following language-specific sonority hierarchy:
vowels > glides > liquids > nasals > obstruents
In syllable onsets, C1 may not be more sonorous than C2. Fricatives and plosives are not distinguished with regard to sonority.
Even though /w/ is always pronounced as an approximant, it is best treated as an obstruent with regards to sonority: this interpretation accounts for words like /wte/ 'small', which would otherwise constitute a sonority reversal.
Phonological evidence shows that /ɡ͡ʟ/ patterns as a liquid, more sonorous than nasals but less sonorous than the glide /j/. Unlike the obstruents, /ɡ͡ʟ/ cannot be followed by a nasal. However, it can come after a nasal, as in /mɡ͡ʟe/ ‘wrath’. The only consonant found after /ɡ͡ʟ/ is /j/ - e.g. /ɡ͡ʟje/ ‘sweep’.
In terms of lexical flexibility, Hiw has been assessed to be “grammatically flexible”, but “lexically rigid”. The vast majority of the language's lexemes belongs to just one word class (noun, adjective, verb, adverb…); yet each of those word classes is compatible with a large number of syntactic functions.
Together with its neighbour Lo-Toga, Hiw has developed a rich system of verbal number, whereby certain verbs alternate their root depending on the number of their main participant. Hiw has 33 such pairs of suppletive verbs, which is the highest number recorded so far among the world's languages.
Spatial reference in Hiw is based on a system of geocentric (absolute) directionals. That space system is largely reminiscent of the one widespread among Oceanic languages, yet also shows some innovations that make it unique.
- François (2012):88).
- François (2005:444)
- François (2012):100).
- UNESCO Atlas of the World's Languages in Danger: Hiw.
- François (2010a:421–422)
- François (2011:195)
- François (2021).
- François (2005:458)
- François (2010a:396)
- François (2010a:397)
- François (2010a)
- François (2010a:397–398)
- François (2010a:399)
- François (2010a:412)
- François (2010a:414)
- François (2012:90)
- François (2017)
- François (2017:311)
- François (2016).
- François (2019).
- François (2015:) 140-141, 176-183).
- François, Alexandre (2005), "Unraveling the History of the Vowels of Seventeen Northern Vanuatu Languages" (PDF), Oceanic Linguistics, 44 (2): 443–504, doi:10.1353/ol.2005.0034, S2CID 131668754
- —— (2010a), "Phonotactics and the prestopped velar lateral of Hiw: Resolving the ambiguity of a complex segment" (PDF), Phonology, 27 (3): 393–434, doi:10.1017/s0952675710000205, S2CID 62628417
- —— (2010b), "Pragmatic demotion and clause dependency: On two atypical subordinating strategies in Lo-Toga and Hiw (Torres, Vanuatu)" (PDF), in Bril, Isabelle (ed.), Clause hierarchy and Clause linking: The Syntax and Pragmatics interface, Studies in Language Companion Series 121, Amsterdam: Benjamins, pp. 499–548, ISBN 978-90-272-0588-9
- —— (2011), "Social ecology and language history in the northern Vanuatu linkage: A tale of divergence and convergence" (PDF), Journal of Historical Linguistics, 1 (2): 175–246, doi:10.1075/jhl.1.2.03fra, hdl:1885/29283, S2CID 42217419
- —— (2012), "The dynamics of linguistic diversity: Egalitarian multilingualism and power imbalance among northern Vanuatu languages" (PDF), International Journal of the Sociology of Language, 2012 (214): 85–110, doi:10.1515/ijsl-2012-0022, S2CID 145208588
- —— (2015). "The ins and outs of up and down: Disentangling the nine geocentric space systems of Torres and Banks languages" (PDF). In Alexandre François; Sébastien Lacrampe; Michael Franjieh; Stefan Schnell (eds.). The languages of Vanuatu: Unity and diversity. Studies in the Languages of Island Melanesia. Canberra: Asia-Pacific Linguistics. pp. 137–195. hdl:1885/14819. ISBN 978-1-922185-23-5.
- —— (2016), "The historical morphology of personal pronouns in northern Vanuatu" (PDF), in Pozdniakov, Konstantin (ed.), Comparatisme et reconstruction : tendances actuelles, Faits de Langues, vol. 47, Bern: Peter Lang, pp. 25–60
- —— (2017), "The economy of word classes in Hiw, Vanuatu: Grammatically flexible, lexically rigid" (PDF), in Eva van Lier (ed.), Lexical Flexibility in Oceanic Languages, Studies in Language, vol. 41, pp. 294–357, doi:10.1075/sl.41.2.03fra
- —— (2019). "Verbal number in Lo–Toga and Hiw: The emergence of a lexical paradigm" (PDF). Transactions of the Philological Society. 117 (3): 338–371. doi:10.1111/1467-968X.12168. S2CID 210543649..
- —— (2021). "Presentation of the Hiw language and audio archive". Pangloss Collection. Paris: CNRS. Retrieved 14 June 2022.