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Motu language

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(Redirected from ISO 639:meu)
Pure Motu, True Motu
Native toPapua New Guinea
RegionCentral Province
Native speakers
39,000 (2008)[1]
Latin script (Motu alphabet)
Motu Braille
Language codes
ISO 639-3meu

Motu (sometimes called Pure Motu or True Motu to distinguish it from Hiri Motu) is a Central Papuan Tip language that is spoken by the Motuans, an indigenous ethnic group of Papua New Guinea. It is commonly used today in the region, particularly around the capital, Port Moresby.

A simplified form of Motu developed as a trade language in the Papuan region, in the southeast of the main island of New Guinea, originally known as Police Motu, and today known as Hiri Motu. After Tok Pisin and English, Hiri Motu was at the time of independence the third most commonly spoken of the more than 800 languages of Papua New Guinea, although its use has been declining for some years, mainly in favour of Tok Pisin.

Motu is classified as one of the Malayo-Polynesian languages and bears some linguistic similarities to Polynesian and Micronesian languages.


Motu is a typical Austronesian language in that it is heavily vowel-based. Every Motu syllable ends in a vowel sound — this may be preceded by a single consonant (there are no "consonant clusters"). Vowel sounds may be either monophthongs (consisting of a single basic sound) or diphthongs (consisting of more than one basic sound).

There are only five vowel sounds /a, e, i, o, u/; Motu diphthongs are written and pronounced as combinations of two vowels. The sounds oi and oe, ai and ae, au and ao (approximately like English boy, high, cow), and r and l are distinguished in Motu but not in Hiri Motu.[2] There is no letter f; when it occurs in loan words, it is usually represented as p.

Labial Alveolar Velar Glottal
plain labialized
Stop voiceless p t k
voiced b d ɡ ɡʷ
Fricative v s ɣ h
Nasal m n
Approximant l
Flap ɺ

Motu Braille has the usual letter assignments apart from ḡ, which is .[unreliable source?][3]


  1. ^ Motu at Ethnologue (18th ed., 2015) (subscription required)
  2. ^ Wurm and Harris, 1963, p. 1
  3. ^ Unesco reports the language as simply "Motu", but Ethnologue 17 only notes braille usage for Hiri Motu. However, Hiri Motu does not have the letter ḡ.

Further reading[edit]

  • Brett, Richard; Brown, Raymond; Brown, Ruth; Foreman, Velma (1962). A Survey of Motu and Police Motu. Ukarumpa, Papua New Guinea: SIL International.
  • Dutton, Tom (1985). Police Motu: Iena Sivarai (its story). Port Moresby: University of Papua New Guinea Press.
  • Lister-Turner, R; Clark, J.B. (1931). Chatterton, P. (ed.). A Dictionary of the Motu Language of Papua (2nd ed.). Sydney: Government Printer.
  • Taylor, Andrew J. (1970). Syntax and phonology of Motu: a transformational approach.
  • Wurm, S.A.; Harris, J.B. (1963). Police Motu. Canberra: SIL International.

External links[edit]