Kokota language

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Region Santa Isabel Island
Native speakers
530 (1999)[1]
Language codes
ISO 639-3 kkk
Glottolog koko1269[2]
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Kokota is an Austronesian language spoken by perhaps as many as 1,200 people in three villages on Santa Isabel in the Solomon Islands. These villages are, the villages of Goveo and Sisiga, which lie on the north coast, and Hurepelo which lies on the south coast. People in all three villages use the language daily, but may eventually shift to neighboring Cheke Holo to the west, a language spoken by many more people who have recently settled between Goveo and Sisiga (Palmer 2009:1–2).



The vowel inventory of Kokota is remarkably uninteresting - reflecting the Oceanic five-vowel system - but the actual sound of each may vary according to the phonetic environment. Despite a lack of phonemic length distinction in Kokota, one does find long vowels; however, this is due to a sequence of two identical vowels, rather than one long vowel – this distinction is demonstrated by the optional insertion of an epenthetic glottal stop between the two vowels ((Palmer 1999:20).

Front Central Back
High i /i/ u /u/
Mid e /e/ o /o/
Low a /a/

Kokota doesn’t contain any phonemic diphthongs; however they do occur in normal speech. Only certain vowel sequences are eligible for diphthonisation. Sequences may only diphthongise if the second vowel present is higher than the first. Front-back and back-front movements are not eligible to become diphthongs. This leaves six diphthongs able to occur (Palmer 1999:21–22): /ae/, /ai/, /ao/, /au/, /ei/ and /ou/. Diphthongisation is also not restricted by morpheme boundaries. Thus, any sequence of eligible vowels may diphthongise.


Kokota orthography is heavily influenced by that of Cheke Holo. For instance, glottal stops are not phonemic in Kokota but are often written with an apostrophe (as in Cheke Holo) when they occur in certain nondistinctive environments, such as to mark morpheme boundaries between neighboring vowels. Similarly, Cheke Holo distinguishes j and z but Kokota does not. Nevertheless, Kokota speakers tend to use either letter to write phonemic /z/. The macron is used to write the voiced velar plosive /ɡ/ and the velar nasal /ŋ/.

Most consonants distinguish voiceless and voiced versions (left and right respectively in each cell in the table). Kokota presents a rather uncommon set of consonant phonemes in that each and every phoneme exists in a pair with its voiced or voiceless opposite. There are 22 consonant phonemes in total – 11 place and manner pairs of voiced and voiceless (Palmer 1999:12). The amount of voiced and voiceless consonants and vowels is nearly equal with the percentage being 52% voiced and 48% voiceless.[3] There are 5 different manner classes in the Kokota language. Two are obstruent classes which are fricative and plosive and three are sonorant classes which are lateral, nasal, and rhotic.[3] Its six fricative phonemes make Kokota a relative outlier in Oceanic, where 2-3 fricatives are usual.[4]

Bilabial Coronal Velar Glottal
Stops p /p/   b /b/ t /t/   d /d/ k /k/   ḡ /g/ (’)
Fricatives f /f/   v /v/ s /s/   z (j) /z/     g /ɣ/ h /h/
Nasals mh /m̥/   m /m/ nh /n̥/   n /n/ n̄h /ŋ̥/   n̄ /ŋ/
Lateral lh /l̥/   l /l/
Rhotic rh /ɾ̥/   r /ɾ/

Verb Complex[edit]

In the Kokota language there are two layers to the verb complex: an inner layer and an outer layer. The inner layer is the verb core which is transparent to any sentence modifiers. The outer layer can alter the verb core all together. Constituent modifiers can modify the verb complex in a sentence in addition to the inner and outer layers of verb complexes.[3]

Verb Compounding[edit]

Compound verbs stem from multiple verbs. The left-hand root is the verb and the right-hand can be a noun, verb, or adjective. The phrase all together acts as a verb phrase.[3]

Compound Verbs verb, noun, or adjective root
a.do~dou-n̄hau 'be a glutton' (lit. 'R.D-be.big-eat')
b.lehe-n̄hau 'be hungry' (lit. 'die-eat')
c.gato-ḡonu 'forget' (lit. 'think-be.insensible')
d.foḡra-dou 'be very sick' (lit. 'be.sick-be.big')
e.dia-tini 'be unwell' (lit. 'be.bad-body')
f.turi-tove 'tell custom stories' (lit. 'narrate-old')

Table retrieved from, Kokota Grammar by Bill Palmer, Honolulu, US: University of Hawaii Press, 2008.[3]


Kokomo shows full and partial reduplication of disyllabic roots.[3]

Partial Reduplication[edit]

In some cases partial reduplication shows the change of a noun to a verb; nouns from verbs; slight noun from noun differentiation; slight verb from verb differentiation; derived form of a habitual, ongoing, or diminutive event.

verb from noun
a. /fiolo/ 'penis' /fi~fiolo/ 'masturbate (of males)'
b. /piha/ 'small parcel' /pi~piha/ 'make a piha parcel'
c. /puki/ 'round lump of s.th.' /pu~puki/ 'be round'
noun from verbs
a. /siko/ 'steal' /si~siko/ ʻthiefʻ
b. /lase/ 'know' /la~Iase/ 'knowledge, cleverness'
c. /maku/ 'be hard' /ma~maku/ 'Ieatherjacket (fish w. tough skin)'
slight noun from noun differentiation
a. /baɣi/ 'wing' /ba~bayi/ 'side roof of porch'
b. /buli/ 'cowrie' /bu~buli/ 'clam sp.'
c. /tahi/ 'sea' /ta~tahi/ 'stingray'
slight verb from verb differentiation
a. /ŋau/ 'eat' /ŋa~ŋau/ 'be biting (of fish)'
b. /pɾosa/ 'slap self w. flipper (turtles)' /po~pɾosa/ 'wash clothes'
c. /maɾ̥i/ 'be in pain' /ma~maɾ̥a/ 'be in labor'
habitual, ongoing, or diminutive event
a. /m̥aɣu/ 'be afraid' /m̥a~m̥aɣu/ 'be habitually fearful'
b. /safɾa/ 'miss' /sa~safɾa/ 'always miss'
c. /seha/ 'climb' /se~seha/ 'climb all about'

Tables retrieved from, Kokota Grammar by Bill Palmer, Honolulu, US: University of Hawaii Press, 2008.[3]

Full Reduplication[edit]

There is only a small number of full reduplication of disyllabic roots in the Kokota language. Below are examples of full reduplication where the relationship is idiosyncratic:

a. /seku/ 'tail' /seku~seku/ 'black trevally'
b. /ɣano/ 'smell/taste good' /fa ɣano~ɣano/ ʻbe very goodʻ
c. /mane/ "man, maleʻ /fa mane~mane/ ʻbe dressed up (man or woman)ʻ
d. /ɣase/ ʻgirl, femaleʻ /fa ɣase~ɣase/ ʻbe dressed up to show off (woman only)ʻ

Tables retrieved from, Kokota Grammar by Bill Palmer, Honolulu, US: University of Hawaii Press, 2008.[3]

One example shows full reduplication deriving verbs from transitive roots, and nouns from verbs:

a. /izu/ ʻread s.th.ʻ /izu~izu/ ʻbe reading; a readingʻ

Tables retrieved from, Kokota Grammar by Bill Palmer, Honolulu, US: University of Hawaii Press, 2008.[3]

Class Structure[edit]

Equative Clauses[edit]

Equative clauses represent a characteristic of the subject in the sentence. In the Kokota language moods are unmarked. In equatives, the subject agreement component in verb clauses are excluded.[3]

Telling the Time[edit]

When telling the time; time is the subject. Telling time smaller than an hour is expressed by a NP that expresses the minutes numerically attached to a possessor that expresses the hour. Using the terms like ‘half past’ or ‘quarter to’ cannot be determined in Kokota language.[3]

A. tanhi [nihau] time how.much B. tanhi [fitu-gu] time seven-CRD tanhi [nabata-ai gaha miniti kenu//egu=na time ten-plus five minute frontlbehind=3SGP
'What's the time?' 'The time is seven o'clock.' 'The time is fifteen minutes to/past seven.' fitu-gu] seven-CRD

Table retrieved from, Kokota Grammar by Bill Palmer, Honolulu, US: University of Hawaii Press, 2008.[3]


The topicalized subject in Kokota language is in the preverbal position. Any subject can be tropicalized but rarely in natural conversation.[3]

a. ago n-o fa-lehe=au ara

youSG RL-2s Cs-die=ISGO I

'You are killing me.'
b. ia tara=n̄a n-e mai=ne

theSG enemy=IMM RL-3s come=thisR

'The enemy has come.'
c. tito tomoko n-e au=re zelu

three war.canoe RL-3s exist=thoseN PNLOC

'Three war canoes are at Zelu.'
d. manei e beha n̄hen̄he

he 3s NSP be. separate

'He is different.'

Table retrieved from, Kokota Grammar by Bill Palmer, Honolulu, US: University of Hawaii Press, 2008.[3]

Below is a table of the breakdown position occurrence of the first 100 verbal clauses in a normal text:

Preverbal topicalized arguments Focused arguments Arguments in unmarked position Total
A 2 (28.5%) 0 5 (71.5%) 7 (100%)
S 8 (15.5%) 2 (4.0%) 41 (80.5%) 51 (100%)
O 1 (5.5%) 0 17 (94.5%) 18 (100%)

Table retrieved from, Kokota Grammar by Bill Palmer, Honolulu, US: University of Hawaii Press, 2008.[3]



There exist four sets of pronominal forms: preverbal subject indexed auxiliaries, post verbal object indexing, possessor indexing and independent pronouns (Palmer 1999:65). Complying with typical Oceanic features, Kokota distinguishes between four person categories: first person inclusive, first person exclusive, second person, and third person. The preverbal subject indexing auxiliaries do not differentiate between singular and plural, whereas possessor and postverbal object indexing do – except in first person inclusive, where no singular is possible (Palmer 1999:65).

Non-Independent: Subject pronouns[edit]

The preverbal subject-indexing pronouns do not distinguish number (Palmer 1999:65).

Person Singular=Plural
1st person inclusive da
1st person exclusive a
2nd person o
3rd person e

Non-Independent: Object pronouns[edit]

The object-indexing pronouns are postverbal clitics (Palmer 1999:65).

Person Singular Plural
1st person inclusive =gita
1st person exclusive =(n)au =ḡai
2nd person =(n)igo =ḡau
3rd person =(n)i ~ Ø (null) =di ~ ri

Non-Independent: Possessor pronouns[edit]

The possessor-indexing pronouns are suffixed to nouns (Palmer 1999:65).

Person Singular Plural
1st person inclusive -da
1st person exclusive -ḡu -mai
2nd person -(m)u -mi
3rd person -na -di

Independent: Focal pronouns[edit]

The independent pronouns, however, go one step further and differentiate between singular, dual, trial and plural numbers (Palmer 1999:65).

Person Singular Plural Dual Trial
1st person inclusive gita (+NUM) gita-palu gita-tilo ~ gita+NUM
1st person exclusive ara gai (+NUM) gai-palu gai-tilo ~ gai+NUM
2nd person ago gau (+NUM) gau-palu gau-tilo ~ gau+NUM
3rd person manei / nai maneri ~ rei+NUM rei-palu rei-tilo ~ rei+NUM

Possessive Constructions[edit]

Similarly to many Oceanic languages, Kokota makes the distinction between alienable possession and inalienable possession.


Inalienable possession consists of possessor indexing enclitics attaching to the nominal core of the possessed noun phrase as follows (Palmer 1999:121)):

Singular Plural
1st person inclusive - -da
1st person exclusive -ḡu -mai
2nd person -mu -mi
3rd person -na -di


Alienable possession is formed with a possessive base that is indexed to the possessor. This entire unit precedes the possessed noun phrase. Alienable possession is further broken down into two categories, consumable, whose base is ge-, and non-consumable, whose base is no- (Palmer 1999:121).

Singular Plural
1st person inclusive ge-da
1st person exclusive ge-ḡu ge-mai
2nd person ge-u ge-mi
3rd person ge-na ge-di
Singular Plural
1st person inclusive no-da
1st person exclusive no-ḡu no-mai
2nd person no-u no-mi
3rd person no-na no-di


Below are phrases spoken in Kokota by a native speaker named Nathaniel Boiliana as he reminisced about World War II:[3]

n-e-ge tor-i b=ana manei goi?

RL-3SGS-PRS open-TR ALT=thatN s/he VOC

Has he opened it [i.e., started the tape recorder]?

au bla n-a-ke=u [goveo] banesokeo


I was living in [Goveo] Banesokeo,

tana aḡe ira mane ta zuke leba

then go thePL man SBO seek labor

then the men came to look for labor.

ḡ-e-la ara-hi ka vaka kabani-na amerika

NT-3s-go I-EMPH LOC ship company-3sGP PNLOC

So I was on an American company ship

aḡe hod-i=au banesokeo,


that took me from Banesokeo,

rauru raasalo, kepmasi

go.seaward PNLOC PNLOC

[we] went seaward to Russell, to Cape Masi.

n-e la au=nau sare. au bla ge au

RL-3s go exist=lsGO therep exist LMT SEQ exist

I went and stayed there. Staying and staying

ka frin̄he=na mane amerika=re maḡra maneri.

LOC work=thatN man PNLOC=thoseN fight they

in the work of those American men in the fight.

gu ḡ-au-gu rasalo e=u.

be.thus NT-exist-CNT PNLOC 3s=be.thus

Like that, living on Russell.


The numeral system of Kokota has many typologically odd features and shows significant lexical replacement. In the numbers up to 10, only "7" fitu (< *pitu) is a clear Proto-Oceanic reflex. The higher numerals also alternate between multiples of 10 (e.g. tulufulu "30" from POc *tolu-puluq "3 x 10") and 20 (tilotutu "60" or "3 x tutu"), including two distinct morphemes with the meanings "10" (-fulu from Proto-Oceanic and -salai, used only on numbers above 60 and likely from a substrate) and "20" (varedake "20" and -tutu, also likely from a substrate). Ross describes it as one of the most bizarre numeral systems attested for an Oceanic language.[4]










































  1. ^ Kokota at Ethnologue (18th ed., 2015)
  2. ^ Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin, eds. (2017). "Kokota". Glottolog 3.0. Jena, Germany: Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History. 
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p Palmer, Bill. "Kokota Grammar". ProQuest ebrary. University of Hawaii Press. Retrieved 12 September 2016. 
  4. ^ a b Blust, Robert (2005-01-01). "Review of The Oceanic Languages". Oceanic Linguistics. 44 (2): 544–558.