Duke language

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Native toSolomon Islands
RegionKolombangara island
Native speakers
2,300 (1999)[1]
Language codes
ISO 639-3nke

Duke (Nduke, pronounced N-doo-kay) is an Oceanic language now spoken by about 3,000 people on Kolombangara island, Solomon Islands. Duke is an exonymic name (not used by speakers themselves). Endonymic names (used by the speakers themselves) are Dughore (Ndughore) and Kolei. Dughore is also a name for an area in southwest Kolombangara, 'Kolei' is the general bilateral address term specific to Nduke. A more recent alternative name is Kolombangara (after the name of the island).

Social linguistics[edit]

Oral history in Dughore recounts that the northwest, northeast and southeast of Kolombangara had their own languages, which became extinct when the people of those areas were annihilated in warfare that probably occurred in the early 19th century. The people of the southwest built a series of hill fortresses and survived. At the beginning of the colonial period (about 1900), Duke had about 250 speakers, all concentrated in the southwest.[3]

Inter-island exchange with neighbouring island language areas of Vella Lavella, Simbo and Roviana was strong in the latter 19th century, possibly leading to some language borrowing, although marriage remained largely endogamous at that time. In the early twentieth century, colonial rule instituted Roviana as a lingua franca, and the Seventh-day Adventist church, which was widely adopted on Kolombangara, used bible materials written in Marovo. By the mid-twentieth century marriages to Marovo became numerous and many households are bilingual Duke/Marovo. Roviana, although it ceased to be a regional lingua franca in the 1960s, is still widely understood by Duke speakers. Twentieth century borrowing from Roviana and Marovo has occurred to a small extent.

From the 1960s onward many marriages have taken place across the wider Solomons, leading to mixed language communities, at the same time that Solomon Pijin has risen to prominence as a national language. As a result, Pijin is a widely used household language on Kolombangara, which in some families has almost fully replaced Duke. Additionally, re-orientation of the economy away from the traditional Oceanic lifestyle has led to less reliance on traditional ecological knowledge and traditional technology, so that many specialist terms have largely been forgotten. The lexical richness of the language is now markedly less among speakers under 40 years old. Ethnologue rates the language as 'vigorous'.[4]


Orthography refers to the spelling system used to write words down. The Nduke alphabet is based on the Latin alphabet. The first systematic orthography was used by A.M. Hocart in 1908 to document a Nduke wordlist and Nduke anthropological fieldnotes. These sources were never published and did not form the basis for later orthographies. Two variant orthographies arose in local use, based on that used by the Methodist mission for Roviana language, and that used by the Seventh-day Adventist mission for Marovo language. These missions arrived in Nduke in 1917 and 1919 respectively. Recent lexical work on Nduke has used a composite of these two orthographies to avoid ambiguity.[5]

Nduke orthography

IPA a mb nd ɛ ɣ h i k l m n ŋ g ɔ p r s t u β z
Hocart a mb nd e gh h i k l m n ng ngg o p r s t u v z
SDA a b d e gh h i k l m n ng g o p r s t u v z
Methodist a b d e g h i k l m n n q o p r s t u v z
Composite a b d e gh h i k l m n ng q o p r s t u v z

There are five diphthongs: /ei/, /ai/, /ae/, /au/, and /oi/

Pronouns and possessives[edit]

The pronoun series is typically Oceanic. In addition to the basic forms tabulated below, dual and trial forms exist.

Personal pronouns

Person Singular Plural
First inclusive ghita
First exclusive rai ghami
Second ghoi ghamu
Third aia ria

Possession may be grammatically marked in two ways. Preposed possessive particles can be used. 'Inalienable' possession, as in the case of body parts, kin, or inherent characteristics, can be marked by possessive suffixes.


Form 1S 2S 3S 1Pinc 1Pexc 2P 3P
Preposed qu mu nona noda mami mi di
Suffix -qu -mu -na -da -ma -mi -di

Modern Nduke is tending away from use of these possessive series in preference for the general possessive marker ta, as in mata ta rai (my eye).


Deictic terms are 'pointing words'. In addition to the personal deixis (pronoun and possessive) series above, Nduke has classes of words for spatial and time deixis.

Spatial deictic terms

Relation Gloss Deictic adverbs Demonstrative Singular Demonstrative Plural
1P near speaker hai hoa hora
2P near addressee hane/sane hana/sana hara/sara
3P distant from both hoze hoi hore

Directional verbs for participant motion

Directional term Direction of motion indicated Gloss
mai toward the speaker come
la, lagho away from speaker go
atu toward addressee follow

Relational directional verbs

Gloss Directional Deictic centre Directional Gloss
ascend hill tete ← ⋅ → iqo descend hill
up saghe ← ⋅ → ghore down
sunrise direction saghe ← ⋅ → ghore sunset direction
enter lughe ← ⋅ → kakaha exit


Sources for documentation of Nduke language have been noted by Palmer 2005.[6] Grammar notes above have been sourced from Scales 1997.[7] Wordlists include Hocart 1908,[8] Tryon and Hackman 1983,[9] and an online wordlist based on Tryon and Hackman.[10] Lexical and Bible translation work are currently underway.


  1. ^ Nduke at Ethnologue (18th ed., 2015)
  2. ^ Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin, eds. (2017). "Duke". Glottolog 3.0. Jena, Germany: Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History.
  3. ^ "Duke, Nduke in Solomon Islands". Joshua Project. Retrieved 31 October 2014.
  4. ^ "Duke". Ethnologue languages of the world. SIL. Retrieved 1 November 2014.
  5. ^ Scales, Ian (2003). The Social Forest: landowners, development conflict and the State in Solomon Islands. PhD Thesis, Australian National University.
  6. ^ Palmer, Bill. "New Georgia". An annotated bibliography of Northwest Solomonic materials. University of Surrey. Retrieved 1 November 2014.
  7. ^ Scales, Ian (1998). Indexing in Nduke (Solomon Islands) (Seminar paper). Canberra: Department of Linguistics, Research School of Pacific and Asian Studies, Australian National University.
  8. ^ Hocart, Arthur M. (1908). Nduke vocabulary (TS). TS held at Turnbull Library, Auckland.
  9. ^ Tryon, Darrell T.; Hackman, Bryan D. (1983). Solomon Islands languages: an internal classification. Canberra: Pacific Linguistics.
  10. ^ "Language: Nduke". Austronesian Basic Vocabulary Database. University of Auckland.