Kosraean language

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Native to Federated States of Micronesia
Region Kosrae
Native speakers
9,000 (2001)[1]
Official status
Official language in
Federated States of Micronesia
Language codes
ISO 639-2 kos
ISO 639-3 kos
Glottolog kosr1238[2]

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).

Historical sound changes[edit]

Kosraean reflexes of Proto Oceanic consonants[3]
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) 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.


Reduplication is actually a big part of Kosraean, and is used in all sorts of ways. It can be used for verbs, nouns, and pretty much anything. Lee (1975), states that there are two types of reduplication, with one being complete reduplication, which is when an entire word is repeated, and the other one being partial reduplication, which is when only part of the word is repeated. There are different kinds of reduplication, as it depends on the vowels and consonants in the word. For example, complete reduplication of a CV: C(consonant, long vowel, consonant) word “fact”, which means “fat”, turns into the word “factfact” and the meaning becomes “rather fat”. The same goes with the word “lahs” which means “coral”. The word changes into “lahs-lahs”, which means “lots of coral”. Many of the words when completely reduplicated, often try to emphasize that there is more of what the original word was. The complete reduplication of V:C (long vowel, consonant) words are a little different. 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”. So the word “af” (rain), is “af-yaf”, which translates into “rainy”. Then we have partial reduplication, where Lee (1975) states that “when a monosyllabic word undergoes partial reduplication, the first consonant and the vowel are repeated”. For example, the partial reduplicated form of “fosr” (smoke), is “fo-fosr” which means “to emit smoke”. For more complex words such as “fule”, which has two syllables “fu” and “le”, the reduplication for this word would be “ful.fu.le”. This comes to show how much reduplication is used in Kosraean and how important it is to the language.


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. Fortunately, for Kosraean, the language is on a good track and 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; Bank, Sebastian, eds. (2016). "Kosraean". Glottolog 2.7. Jena: Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History. 
  3. ^ Bender, Byron W. (2003). "Proto-Micronesian Reconstructions: 1". Oceanic Linguistics. 42: 4, 5. doi:10.2307/3623449. 

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]