Hiw language

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Native toVanuatu
Native speakers
280 (2012)[1]
Language codes
ISO 639-3hiw

Hiw (sometimes spelled Hiu) is an Oceanic language spoken by about 280 people on the island of Hiw, in the Torres Islands of Vanuatu.[2]

It is distinct from Lo-Toga, the other language of the Torres group.

The language[edit]

Hiw has 280 speakers, and is considered endangered.[3][4]



Hiw has 9 phonemic vowels. These are all short monophthongs /i ɪ e ʉ ɵ ə o ɔ a/:[5]

Hiw vowels
Front Central
Close i i ʉ u
Near-close ɪ ē
Close-mid e ë ɵ ö o ō
Mid ə e
Open-mid ɔ o
Open a a


Hiw has 14 consonants.[5]

Hiw consonants
Bilabial Alveolar Palatal Velar Labialized velar
Plosive p p t t k k q
Nasal m m n n ŋ ŋʷ n̄w
Fricative β v s s ɣ g
Glide j y w w

All plosives are voiceless. Hiw is the only Austronesian language whose consonant inventory includes a prestopped velar lateral approximant /ɡ͡ʟ/; this complex segment is Hiw's only liquid.[6] Historically, this complex segment was a voiced alveolar trill /r/ (which is why it is written as ). The voiced alveolar trill, spelt as r, appears in recent loanwords.


In terms of lexical flexibility, Hiw has been assessed to be “grammatically flexible”, but “lexically rigid”.[7] 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.

The language presents various forms of verb serialization.[8]

Its system of personal pronouns contrasts clusivity, and distinguishes three numbers (singular, dual, plural).[9]

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.[10] Hiw has 33 such pairs of verbs, which is the highest number recorded so far among the world's languages.[10]

Spatial reference in Hiw is based on a system of geocentric (absolute) directionals, which is partially typical of Oceanic languages, and partially innovative.[11]



External links[edit]