Motu language

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Native to Papua New Guinea
Region Central Province
Ethnicity Motuan
Native speakers
39,000 (2008)[1]
Latin script (Motu alphabet)
Motu Braille
Language codes
ISO 639-3 meu
Glottolog motu1246[2]

Motu (sometimes called Pure Motu or True Motu to distinguish it from Hiri Motu) is one of many Central Papuan Tip languages and is spoken by the Motuans, native inhabitants 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 "pure" vowel sounds (approximately those of Italian); Motu diphthongs are written (and pronounced) as combinations of two "pure" vowels. The diphthongs "oi" and "oe" (both approximately like the diphthong in the English word "boy"), ""ai" and "ae" (both approximately like the diphthong in the English word "high") and "ao" and "au" (both approximately like the diphthong in the English word "cow") are the only vowel sounds that present difficulties.[citation needed]

There are sixteen consonants. These are b, d, g, gw, h, k, kw, l, m, n, p, r, s, t, v, and the voiced velar fricative (ɣ), usually written as ḡ. The letter "r" is an alveolar lateral flap or "flapped r"; its IPA symbol is (ɺ), and it is closer to "l" than the equivalent consonant in English. In practice, the letters "r" and "l" form a single phoneme to native speakers of Motu.[3] There is no letter "f": When it occurs in loan words, it is usually represented as "p".

Motu Braille has the usual letter assignments apart from ḡ, which is .[unreliable source?][4]


  1. ^ Motu at Ethnologue (18th ed., 2015)
  2. ^ Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin; Bank, Sebastian, eds. (2016). "Motu". Glottolog 2.7. Jena: Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History. 
  3. ^ Wurm and Harris, 1963, p. 1
  4. ^ 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.
  • Dutton, Tom (1985). Police Motu: Iena Sivarai (its story). Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea: University of Papua New Guinea Press.
  • Lister-Turner, R and Clark, J.B. (1931), A Dictionary of the Motu Language of Papua, Second Edition (P. Chatterton, ed). Sydney, New South Wales: Government Printer.
  • Brett, Richard; Brown, Raymond; Brown, Ruth and Foreman, Velma. (1962), A Survey of Motu and Police Motu. Ukarumpa, Papua New Guinea: SIL International.
  • Wurm, S.A. and Harris, J.B., Police Motu, Canberra: SIL International, 1963
  • External links