Niuafoʻou language

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Native toTonga
Native speakers
500 (2015)[1]
Language codes
ISO 639-3num
A speaker of Niuafoʻou

Niuafoʻou, or Niuafoʻouan, is the language spoken on Tonga's northernmost island, Niuafoʻou.

Niuafoʻouan has traditionally been classified as closest to ʻUvean and Tokelauan, in an East Uvean–Niuafoʻou branch. However, recent research[2] suggests that it is closest to its neighbour, Tongan, as one of the Tongic languages.


The phonology of Niuafoʻou is similar to that of Tongan, with twelve consonants and five vowel phonemes.

Labial Alveolar Velar Glottal
Nasal m n ŋ
Plosive p t k ʔ
Fricative f v s h
Lateral l
Front Central Back
High i u
Mid e o
Low a

Vowels are more centralized when unstressed. /i/ and /u/ are de-voiced under some conditions.[3]

Sometimes the phoneme /t/ is realized as a apico-alveolar flap (/ɾ/). /h/ is only realized as /h/ at the beginning of words. In the middle of words, it is either /ɦ/ or /x/.[3]

Syllable structure[edit]

Niuafoʻou has a very simple syllable structure, (C)V. However, it is apparently transitioning towards allowing consonant clusters, due to the influence of foreign languages and the de-voicing of vowels.[3]


  1. ^ Niuafoʻou at Ethnologue (19th ed., 2016)
  2. ^ Marck, Jeff (2000), Topics in Polynesian languages and culture history. Canberra: Pacific Linguistics.
  3. ^ a b c d e Tsukamoto, Akihisa (1988). The language of Niuafoʻou Island (Thesis). The Australian National University. Retrieved 20 April 2018.