Niuafoʻou language

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Native to Tonga
Native speakers
500 (2015)[1]
Language codes
ISO 639-3 num
Glottolog niua1240[2]

Niuafoʻouan is the language spoken on Tonga's northernmost island, Niuafoʻou.

Niuafoʻouan has traditionally been classified as closest to ʻUvean and Tokelauan, in an East Uvean–Niuafo'ou branch. However, recent research[3] suggests that it is closest to its neighbor, Tongan, as one of the Tongic languages.


The phonology of Niuafo'ou is similar to that of Tongan, with twelve consonants and five vowel phonemes.

Labial Alveolar Velar Glottal
Plosive p t k ʔ
Fricative f v s h
Nasal m n ŋ
Lateral l
Front Central Back
High i u
Mid e o
Low a

Vowels are more centralized when unstressed. /i/ and /u/ are de-voiced under some conditions.[4]

Sometimes the phoneme /t/ is realized as a apico-alveolar flap (/ɾ/). /h/ is only realized as /h/ at the beginning of words. In the middle of words, it is either /ɦ/ or /x/.[4]

Syllable structure[edit]

Niuafo'ou has a very simple syllable structure, (C)V. However, it is apparently transitioning towards allowing consonant clusters, due to the influence of foreign languages and the de-voicing of vowels.[4]


  1. ^ Niuafo'ou at Ethnologue (19th ed., 2016)
  2. ^ Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin, eds. (2017). "Niuafo'ou". Glottolog 3.0. Jena, Germany: Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History. 
  3. ^ Marck, Jeff (2000), Topics in Polynesian languages and culture history. Canberra: Pacific Linguistics.
  4. ^ a b c d e Akihisa, Tsukamoto (1988). The language of Niuafo'ou Island (Thesis). The Australian National University. Retrieved 20 April 2018.