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Nauruan language

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Dorerin Naoe, Ekaiairũ Naoero
Native toNauru
Native speakers
9,356 (2013)[1]
Official status
Official language in
Language codes
ISO 639-1na
ISO 639-2nau
ISO 639-3nau
Map showing the distribution of the Micronesian languages; Nauruan-speaking region is shaded purple.
Nauruan is classified as Severely Endangered by the UNESCO Atlas of the World's Languages in Danger
This article contains IPA phonetic symbols. Without proper rendering support, you may see question marks, boxes, or other symbols instead of Unicode characters. For an introductory guide on IPA symbols, see Help:IPA.
A Nauruan speaker, recorded in Taiwan.

Nauruan[2] or Nauru[3][4][5] (Nauruan: dorerin Naoero) is an Austronesian language, spoken natively in the island country of Nauru. Its relationship to the other Micronesian languages is not well understood.



Nauruan has 16–17 consonant phonemes. Nauruan makes phonemic contrasts between velarized and palatalized labial consonants. Velarization is not apparent before long back vowels and palatalization is not apparent before non-low front vowels.[6]

Consonant phonemes[7][8]
Bilabial Dental Dorsal
palatalized velarized Palatal post-velar labial
Nasal n ŋ (ŋʷ)
Stop voiceless t k
voiced d ɡ ɡʷ
Fricative ʝ (ɣʷ)
Approximant j w
Rhotic r

Voiceless stops are geminated and nasals also contrast in length.[9] Dental stops /t/ and /d/ become [] and [] respectively before high front vowels.[10]

The approximants become fricatives in "emphatic pronunciation." Nathan (1974) transcribes them as ⟨j⟩ and ⟨w⟩ but also remarks that they contrast with the non-syllabic allophones of the high vowels. /w/ can also be heard as a fricative [ɣʷ].

Depending on stress, /r/ may be a flap or a trill. The precise phonetic nature of // is unknown. Nathan (1974) transcribes it as ⟨⟩ and speculates that it may pattern like palatalized consonants and be partially devoiced.

Between a vowel and word-final //, an epenthetic [b] appears.[6]


There are 12 phonemic vowels (six long, six short). In addition to the allophony in the following table from Nathan (1974), a number of vowels reduce to [ə]:[7]

Phoneme Allophones Phoneme Allophones
/ii/ [iː] /uu/ [ɨː ~ uː]
/i/ ~ ɨ] /u/ ~ u]
/ee/ [eː ~ ɛː] /oo/ [oː ~ ʌ(ː) ~ ɔ(ː)]
/e/ ~ ʌ] /o/ [ʌ]
/aa/ [æː] /ɑɑ/ [ɑː]
/a/ ~ ɑ] /ɑ/ ~ ʌ]

Non-open vowels (that is, all but /aa/, /a/, /ɑɑ/ /ɑ/) become non-syllabic when preceding another vowel, as in /e-oeeoun/[ɛ̃õ̯ɛ̃õ̯ʊn] ('hide').[11]


Stress is on the penultimate syllable when the final syllable ends in a vowel, on the last syllable when it ends in a consonant, and initial with reduplications.[7]

Writing system[edit]

In the original writing system for Nauruan, 17 letters were used:

  • The five vowels: a, e, i, o, u
  • Twelve consonants: b, d, g, j, k, m, n, p, q, r, t, w

The letters c, f, h, l, s, v, x, y, and z were not included. With the growing influence of foreign languages, in particular German, English, Gilbertese, and part of the Pama-Nyungan family, more letters were incorporated into the Nauruan alphabet. In addition, phonetic differences of a few vowels arose, so that umlauts and other similar sounds were indicated with a tilde.[citation needed]

Attempt at language reform of 1938[edit]

In 1938, there was an attempt by the Nauruan language committee and Timothy Detudamo to make the language easier to read for Europeans and Americans. It was intended to introduce as many diacritical symbols as possible for the different vowel sounds to state the variety of the Nauruan language[clarification needed] in writing. It was decided to introduce only a circumflex accent in the place of the former tilde, so that the characters "õ" and "ũ" were replaced by "ô" and "û". The "ã" was replaced with "e".

Also, "y" was introduced in order to differentiate words with the English "j" (puji). Thus, words like ijeiji were changed to iyeyi. In addition, "ñ" (which represented the velar nasal) was replaced with "ng", to avoid confusion with the Spanish Ñ. "bu" and "qu" were replaced with "bw" and "kw", respectively. "ts" was replaced with "j" (since it represented a sound similar to the English "j"); and the "w" written at the end of words was dropped.

These reforms were only partly carried out: the symbols "õ" and "ũ" are still written as such, with tildes. However, the letters "ã" and "ñ" are now only seldom used, being replaced with "e" and "ng", as prescribed by the reform. Likewise, use of the digraphs "bw" and "kw" has been implemented. Although "j" took the place of "ts", certain spellings still use "ts": e.g., the districts Baiti and Ijuw (according to the reform Beiji and Iyu) are still written with the old writing conventions. The "y" has become generally accepted.

Today the following 30 Latin letters are used.

  • Vowels: a, ã, e, i, o, õ, u, ũ
  • Consonants: b, c, d, f, g, h, j, k, l, m, n, ñ, p, q, r, s, t, v, w, x, y, z

The relationship of the above letters and phonemes is:[12][better source needed] a [ɑ/a], ã [ɛ], e [e/e̞/ɛ], i [i/ɪ/ɨ], o [o/ɔ], õ [ø], u [ʊ/ʉ], ũ [y], b [b], bw [b͡w], c [k/s], d [d], di [ʤi], f [f], g [g], gw [g͡w], h [h], j [ʤ̊], k [k], kw [k͡w], nng [ŋː], l [l], m [m], n [n], ñ [ŋ], p [p], qu [k͡w], r [ɾ/r], s [s], t [t], ti [ʧi], ts [ʤ̊], v [f/v], w [w/ɣ], x [k͡s], y [j/ʝ], z [z].


According to a report published in 1937 in Sydney, Australia, there was a diversity of dialects until Nauru became a colony of Germany in 1888 and the first texts in Nauruan began to be published. The varieties were so divergent that people from different districts often had problems understanding each other completely. With the increasing influence of foreign languages and the rise in the number of Nauruan texts, the dialects blended into a standardized language, which was promoted through dictionaries and translations by Alois Kayser and Philip Delaporte.

Today there is significantly less dialectal variation. In the district of Yaren and the surrounding area there is an eponymous dialect spoken, which is only slightly different from other varieties.

Delaporte's Nauruan dictionary[edit]

In 1907, Philip Delaporte published his pocket German-Nauruan dictionary. [1] The dictionary is small (10.5 × 14 cm), with 65 pages devoted to the glossary and an additional dozen to phrases, arranged alphabetically by the German. Approximately 1650 German words are glossed in Nauruan, often by phrases or synonymous forms. There are some 1300 'unique' Nauruan forms in the glosses, including all those occurring in phrases, ignoring diacritical marks. The accents used there are not common; just one accent (the tilde) is in use today.

Sample text[edit]

The following example of text is from the Bible (Genesis, 1.1–1.8):

1Ñaga ã eitsiõk õrig imin, Gott õrig ianweron me eb. 2Me eitsiõk erig imin ñana bain eat eb, me eko õañan, mi itũr emek animwet ijited, ma Anin Gott õmakamakur animwet ebõk. 3Me Gott ũge, Enim eaõ, me eaõen. 4Me Gott ãt iaõ bwo omo, me Gott õekae iaõ mi itũr. 5Me Gott eij eget iaõ bwa Aran, me eij eget itũr bwa Anũbũmin. Ma antsiemerin ma antsioran ar eken ũrõr adamonit ibũm. 6Me Gott ũge, Enim tsimine firmament inimaget ebõk, me enim ekae ebõk atsin eat ebõk. 7Me Gott eririñ firmament, mõ õ ekae ebõk ñea ijõñin firmament atsin eat ebõk ñea itũgain firmament, mõ ũgan. 8Me Gott eij egen firmament bwe Ianweron. Ma antsiemerin ma antsioran ar eken ũrõr karabũmit ibũm.

This text demonstrates a few of the German loanwords (e.g. Gott, "God"; and Firmament, "celestial sphere") in Nauruan, which is traced back to the strong influence of German missionaries.


Nauruan English
anũbũmin night
aran day
ebagadugu ancestor
Ekamawir omo/Ekamowir omo (more formal)
Mo mo (more informal)
ebõk water
Firmament Earth; celestial sphere
Gott God
ianweron heaven
iaõ light
iow peace
itũr darkness
õawin beginning
Tarawong (ka) goodbye
wa reit ed?/mo awe? How are you?


  1. ^ Nauruan at Ethnologue (25th ed., 2022) Closed access icon
  2. ^ Nauruan at Ethnologue (18th ed., 2015) (subscription required)
  3. ^ Hammarström, Harald; Forke, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin; Bank, Sebastian, eds. (2020). "Nauru". Glottolog 4.3.
  4. ^ "Documentation for ISO 639 identifier: nau". ISO 639-2 Registration Authority - Library of Congress. Retrieved 2017-07-04. Name: Nauru
  5. ^ "Documentation for ISO 639 identifier: nau". ISO 639-3 Registration Authority - SIL International. Retrieved 2017-07-04. Name: Nauru
  6. ^ a b Nathan (1974:481)
  7. ^ a b c Nathan (1974:483)
  8. ^ Hughes (2020), p. 15
  9. ^ Nathan (1974:481–483)
  10. ^ Nathan (1974:481–482)
  11. ^ Nathan (1974:482)
  12. ^ "Nauruan language and alphabet".


Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]