Kosraean language

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Native toFederated States of Micronesia
Native speakers
9,000 (2001)[1]
Official status
Official language in
Federated States of Micronesia
Language codes
ISO 639-2kos
ISO 639-3kos

Kosraean /kˈʃən/, sometimes rendered Kusaiean, is the language spoken on the islands of Kosrae (Kusaie), Caroline Islands, and Nauru. In 2001 there were approximately 8,000 speakers.

Kosraean features possessive classes such as "sihk" for "mine" when referring to dwellings, and "nihmuhk" for "mine" when referring to drinks.



Kosrae has been a country where it has been colonized since at least the 17th century. According to Wikipedia, the island was under nominal Spanish sovereignty since 1668, but it was not effectively occupied until 1885. The Spaniards converted the people to Christianity and had control over the island until 1898 when the Spaniards lost the Spanish–American War to the United States. Wikipedia says that Spain sold the Carolinas islands (where Kosrae is located) to Germany for 25 million pesetas. Now it became under German control, until they were defeated in World War 1, where then the island fell under the Empire of Japan’s control. The colonization by so many countries resulted in many of the Kosraean people being bilingual as some of them are still able to speak Japanese. After World War Two ended, administration of the island was passed to the United States until 1986 when they became independent.


According to Ethnologue, there are about 8,000 speakers in Micronesia, and in population total about 9,000. The people are recognized by the government, as Kosraean is the official language of Kosrae.


Kosraean is classified as, Austronesian, Malayo-Polynesian, Central-Eastern Malayo-Polynesian, Eastern Malayo-Polynesian, Oceanic, Central-Eastern Oceanic, Remote Oceanic, Micronesian, Micronesian Proper, Kusaiean.



Kosraean has 11 plain consonants that are p, t, k, m, n, ng, l, r, s, and sr (Kinnaman).


Kosraean has the vowels .I, e, ac, ah, ih, uc, uh, a, u, o, oh, and oa (Kinnaman).


  • /p/ p
  • /pʷ/ pw
  • /t/ d
  • /T/ t
  • /k/ k
  • /sj/ s
  • /m/ m
  • /mʷ/ mw
  • /n/ n
  • /ŋ/ g
  • /l/ l
  • /r̃/ r
  • /y/ y
  • /w/ w
  • /i (i:)/ i (ih)
  • /u (u:)/ u (uh)
  • /e (e:)/ e (eh)
  • /ɛ (ɛ:)/ e (eh)
  • /o (o:)/ o (oh)
  • /ɔ (ɔ:)/ o (oh)
  • /a (a:)/ a (ah)


Historical sound changes[edit]

Kosraean reflexes of Proto Oceanic consonants[4]
Proto-Oceanic *mp *mp,ŋp *p *m *m,ŋm *k *ŋk *y *w *t *s,nj *ns,j *j *nt,nd *d,R *l *n
Proto-Micronesian *p *pʷ *f *m *mʷ *k *x *y *w *t *T *s *S *Z *c *r *l *n
Kosraean *p *f *∅1 *m *w,m2 *k *k,∅3 *∅ *∅ *t,s4 *s *t,s5 *∅ *s *sr *l,r3 *l *n *∅

1 See Jackson 1983:329-330 for explanation of apparent exceptions.
2 At the end of a word.
3 Before /u/, but with rare exceptions.
4 Before /e/ or /i/.
5 In loans only.


Basic word order[edit]

The main word order in Kosraean is SVO, but can sometimes change with the different kind of sentences said. Lee (1975)[5] presented a sentence in Kosreaen that said “mwet ah tuh ahscak ik ah”, which means ‘the men caught the fish” (“mwet” meaning men, “ahscak” meaning “to catch”, and “ik” meaning “fish”). For interrogative sentences, which are used to ask questions, the word order relatively stays the same, but can change as well. Lee (1975) writes a question in Kosraean “Kuh kom mas?”, which means “Are you sick?” But when the sentence includes an interrogative word such as the word “fuhka” which means “how”, then the structure can change. For example, “kuh kom mas” means “are you ok”, but when you include the word “fuhka” at the end of the sentence, “Kuh kom fuhka”, it means “How are you?”. So there are a couple ways you could interpret an interrogative sentence in Kosraean, but most of the sentences are in SVO form.[5]:24


Reduplication is a major feature of Kosraean. Lee (1975), states that there are two types of reduplication: complete reduplication, when an entire word is repeated, and partial reduplication, when only part of the word is repeated.
Reduplication manifests differently depending on the consonant and vowel structure of the word. For example: the complete reduplication of CV:C word "fact" (fat) results in "factfact", translating to "very fat". This can also be seen in the word "lahs" (coral), which becomes "lahs-lahs", meaning "lots of coral".
The complete reduplication of V:C words differ. Lee (1975) states that “when monosyllabic words of the V:C shape undergo complete reduplication, the glide y appears before the second syllable in some words”. The word “af” (rain), reduplicates to “af-yaf”, which translates to “rainy”. Complete reduplication commonly indicates an increase in quantity or significance over the base form of the word.
As for partial reduplication, Lee (1975) states that “when a monosyllabic word undergoes partial reduplication, the first consonant and the vowel are repeated”. For example, the partially reduplicated form of “fosr” (smoke), is “fo-fosr” which means “to emit smoke”. Multi-syllable words are slightly more complex. The two-syllable "fule" becomes "ful-fu-le".


Lee (1975) states that verbs in Kosraean are structurally either simple, complex, or compound verbs. Simple verbs consist of a single free morpheme, complex verbs consist of one free morpheme combined with one or more bound morphemes, and compound verbs are a combination of more than one free morpheme which may or may not be combined with bound morphemes. According to Lee (1975), "The verbs in Kusaiean can be classified into transitive and intransitive verbs." Lee (1975) states that one way to tell if a verb is transitive or intransitive is to combine it with the passive suffix -yuhk. Lee (1975) determined that "The passive suffix can be used with transitive verbs, but not with intransitive verbs."


According to Lee (1975) adjectives in Kosraean have two major uses. Lee (1975) states that the first major use is to "modify nouns in terms of the kind, state, condition, or quality." The second major use is similar to that of intransitive verbs in Kosraean, and the adjective serves a "predicate like function" (Lee 1975). Lee (1975) also states that "The distinction between adjectives and intransitive verbs is not easy to draw."


Lee (1975) found that structurally, there are two types of determiners in Kosraean, referred to as "simple" and "compound". Simple determiners in Kosraean include "ah" meaning "the", "uh" meaning "this" or "these", "an" meaning "that" or "those", and "oh" meaning "that" or "those over there" (Lee 1975). According to Lee (1975) compound determiners can be further broken up into two separate categories. The first category is "made up of the numeral se 'one' and the simple determiners (Lee 1975). The second category is "made up of the morpheme ng, whose meaning is not clear, and the simple determiners." (Lee 1975).


Indigenous Vocabulary:

“fosr”= smoke
“pysre”= to steal
“in-sifac”= head
“infohk”= earth
“tuhram”= bird



There are not too many materials or resources on the Kosraean Language, but there are a few books and sources online people can research from. There are a couple YouTube videos on the Kosraean people and language, and some singing in the language. Lee Ki Dong wrote the Kosraean Reference Grammar, and the Kosraean-English Dictionary. Elizabeth Baldwin translated the Bible into then Kusaie in 1928, and the American Bible Society printed it in 1953.


Intergenerational transmission is key to a languages survival, as a language needs younger generations to pass on the language to the next generation and so forth. Kosraean is used quite frequently in and outside of school, at home and at work.


  1. ^ Kosraean at Ethnologue (18th ed., 2015)
  2. ^ Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin, eds. (2017). "Kosraean". Glottolog 3.0. Jena, Germany: Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History.
  3. ^ Yi, Yi, K.-d. (1976). Kusaiean-English dictionary. Honolulu, University Press of Hawaii,.
  4. ^ Bender, Byron W. (2003). "Proto-Micronesian Reconstructions: 1". Oceanic Linguistics. 42: 4, 5. doi:10.2307/3623449.
  5. ^ a b Lee, Kee-dong (1975). Kusaiean Reference Grammar. ISBN 0824803558.

Further reading[edit]

  • Lee, K. D. (1975). Kusaiean reference grammar. Honolulu: UP Of Hawaii
  • Kinnaman, S. (n.d.). Lwem wolena kosrae!. Eugene: University Of Oregon.
  • Yi, K.-d. (1976). Kusaiean-English dictionary. PALI language texts. Honolulu: University Press of Hawaii. ISBN 0-8248-0413-9

External links[edit]