Pingelapese language

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The Pingelapese language is a Micronesian language native to Pingelap, an atoll belonging to the state of Pohnpei in the Federated States of Micronesia. This atoll is the homeland to the Pingelapese people, consisting of a three-square mile range of inhabited small coral islets, Daekae and Sukora, and the uninhabited islet, Pingelap. These islands partially make up the Caroline Islands.

For various reasons, including natural disasters and emigration consequent to European and U.S. influence, the current overall population of the Pingelapese people remains relatively small, at around 2,000 people worldwide. Although the official language of the Pohnpei State is English, 200 of the 250 Pingelap atoll residents and 1,200 Pohnpei residents speak Pingelapese. Fortunately, the Pingelapese language is still used today during face-to-face communication amongst speakers of all ages and it maintains its classification as a vigorous language. With the help of linguists like Leilani Welley-Biza sharing knowledge from her elders, significant cultural/historical connections bound to the Pingelapese language can be more thoroughly documented and preserved, to be passed down between generations.[1][2]

Native to Micronesia
Region Pingelap
Native speakers
(3,000 cited 1991)[3]
Latin script
Language codes
ISO 639-3 pif
Glottolog ping1243[4]

It is a language featuring both reduplication and triplication.[2]

Family and Origin[edit]

Pingelapese is a Micronesian member of the Austronesian language family. It is closely related to other languages within the Chuukic-Pohnpeic branch, sharing 83% lexical similarity with Mokilese and sharing 79% lexical similarity with Pohnpeian. Approximately 5,000 years ago, the Micronesian peoples voyaged eastward from Taiwan, and eventually made it to Micronesia about 3,000 years later. Morton et al. estimated that the Micronesian peoples have resided on Pingelap for 1,000 years, nearly 800 years before any European contact were to be recorded. 

Popular legends passed down in oral history have created controversy over the true origin of the Pingelapese people, suggesting possible roots with Korsraean in the Legend of Nahwehlap, or a differing ancestry claimed to be linked to the Yapese in the Legend of Yap. Alternatively, close linguistic similarities found between the regions of Pingelap and Pohnpei hint that the Pingelapese people may have originally come from Pohnpei. Other versions of oral history make it difficult to decipher whether Pohnpeian vocabulary terms were used prior to the introduction of Korsraean vocabulary terms, specifically the titles used for Pingelapese chiefs.[5][2]


All throughout their history, the Pingelapese people were politically dominated by the Pohnpeian people, while being greatly influenced by initial European contact, the Germans during WWI, the Japanese post-WWI, and the U.S. thereafter. As a result of succumbing to such colonial powers while being dominated by neighboring islands, the Pingelapese language and vernacular was affected by the Spanish, German, Japanese, English, and Pohnpeian language.

Foreign influence has altered the stability of the Pingelapese language community, encouraging those native to the region to leave their home and move to other more populated areas or to the U.S. (incentivizing emigration under contract in the Federated States of Micronesia to work and study elsewhere). More promising financial opportunities for the Pingelapese people, meant prioritizing the education of foreign languages over their homeland language.

Typhoons have frequently devastated the Pingelapese population, and have played a significant role in Korsraean influence on the Pingelapese language as population numbers shrank. As a consequence of the Pingelapese population decreasing to a handful of typhoon survivors, inbreeding occurred among multiple Pingelapese generations, and genetic disorders such as achromatopsia (color blindness) now affect almost 1 in every 20 Pingelapese descendant today. This shrink in population due to natural disasters indirectly increased Korsraean-Pingelapese marriages, thus attributing to the Korsraean dynasty’s overall influence on the Pingelapese people and their language.[2]

Despite the Pingelapese people’s older clan traditions and clan titles maintaining some political power, the church and Christianity have been a strong presence and a part of Pingelapese lifestyle since its establishment in the 19th century. Oral history highlights the multiple ceremonial feasts celebrated within the matrilineal clan society. However, Christmas is now the biggest annual event to be participated in.[5]

Calendar System[edit]

The Pingelapese language has their own calendar system which corresponds with the lunar calendar. There are 12 months associated with this calendar. The Pingelap calendar begins with the month Kahlek which is March. In proceeding order; Sounpwong (April), Pelekwar (May), Sokosok (June), Idihd (July), Soledahn (August), Meseneir (September), Kepihsukoru (October), Pihker (November), Ihkehwa (December), Epwelap (January), and Memwahleu (February).[6]

Date system[edit]

Each date of the month has a specific name. In proceeding order:

E Sukoru (1st) - also known as the new moon

E Ling (2nd)

E Sehm (3rd)

Masepeng (4th)

Masalim (5th)

Mesawon (6th)

Meseis (7th)

Mesawel (8th)

Woalduadu (9th)

Medel (10th)

Siepwong (11th)

Arkohnge (12th)

Sekainpe (13th)

Woalopwo (14th)

Woalemwahu (15th)

Mas (16th) - also known as the full moon

Er (17th)

Lelidi (18th)

Koahmwaloa (19th)

Edemen Koahmwaloa (20th)

Apeleng (21st)

Sengek (22nd)

Wesengek (23rd)

Dapas (24th)

Dapasmeing (25th)

Kerdakehleng (26th)

Areiso (27th)

Semwenpal (28th)

Ihla (29th)

Esep (30th

Epei (31st).[6]

The Pingepalese people begin their weeks with Monday. They choose the names of the week by combining the names from one set of numerals (non specific object set) with the prefix "niy-". For example, the Pingelapese word for Monday is "niyaehd". The words for the other days of the months are as follows: niyari (Tuesday), niyesil (Wednesday), niyaepang (Thursday), and niyalim (Friday).


There are multiple numeral sets for the numbers one through nine, according to what they are being used to count. There is a set of words designated for deceiving long nouns, such as trees or roads. These numerals are:

1 - aepas

2 - risepas

3 - silipas

4 - pahpas

5 - luhpas

6 - woanaepas

7 - isipas

8 - waelaepas

9 - duaepas.[7]

There is another set of words used ro count animate things, such as: men, fish or birds. This words are as follows:

1 - aemen

2 - riaemaen

3 - silimaen

4 - pahmaen

5 - luhmaen

6 - woanaemaen

7 - isimaen

8 - waelaemaen

9 - duaemaen.[7]

A third set is designated for small or partial objects and these are as follows:

1 - ekis

2 - risekis

3 - silikis

4 - pahkis

5 - lumikis

6 - woanikis

7 - isikis

8 - waelikis

9 - duoau.[7]

For all other nouns (couples, stream, land), there is another set of words to represent the numbers one through nine.

1 - eu

2 - riau

3 - silu

4 - pahu

5 - limau

6 - wonou

7 - isu

8 - waelu

9 - duoau.

There is one final set of number names. This set is used to count things that are not specific. This list includes:

1 - aehd

2 - ari

3 - esil

4 - aepoang

5 - alim

6 - awoahn

7 - aeis

8 - aewael

9 - add

10 - eisik.

For numbers greater that nine, there is only one word for each numeral. they no longer vary depending on what they are being used to count. The Pingepalese words for numbers greater than 9 are as follows:

10 - eisaek

20 - rieisaek

30 - silihsaek

40 - pahisaek

50 - limeisaek

60 - woneisaek

70 - isihsaek

80 - waelihsaek

90 - tueisaek

100 - epwiki

200 - repwiki

300 - silipwiki

400 - pahpwiki

500 - limepwiki

600 - wonepwiki

700 - isipwiki

800 - waelipwiki

900 - duepwiki

1,000 - kid

10,000 - naen

100,000 - lop

1,000,000 - rar

10,000,000 - dep

100,000,000 - sap

1,000,000,000 - lik.

When reading a number in Pingelapse, start with the biggest number first and read the smaller numbers in succession.[7] An example of this would be as follows: the number 1,769 would be spoken as "kid isipwiki woneisaek duoau".

Sentence Structure[edit]

The Pingelapese language has four major types of sentences. These four are transitive sentences, intransitive sentences, existential sentences, and equational sentences.

The first type of sentence, transitive, use transitive verbs. Transitive verbs have two main characteristics. The first characteristic is that it must be an action verb expressing an activity that can physically be done. For example drink, sit, or drive. The second characteristic is that there must be a direct object, meaning someone or something has to be the recipient of the action verb. For example, Susan drank the water. Two participants must be involved to have a transitive sentence. There is also a fixed word order; Subject-Transitive verb-Object. For example Susan(subject) filled(transitive verb) the cup(object).

The second sentence structure used in Pingelapese would be intransitive verb sentences. An intransitive verb has no object attached to it. For example Richard winked. In Pingelapese must be a stative verb or an active verb. A stative verb is when the person or object is affected by said verb. An active verb occurs if the action is performed by the subject. There is a specific word order for intransitive sentences too. This word is order Subject-Verb. Referring back to the previous example, Richard(subject) winked(verb).  There are also cases when the word order used is Verb-Subject for intransitive sentence structure, however not all intransitive verbs can use the Verb-Subject word order. Verb-Subject word order is only available in Pingelapese when referencing unaccusative verbs or by discourse pragmatics.

Existential sentences are the third type of sentence structure used. This form has a dominant post-verbal subject order. Existential sentences make a claim that something either exists or it does not. There are not many verbs of existential origin in Pingelapese. These include “minae” (to exist), “soh” (to not exist), “dir” (to exist in large numbers), and “daeri” (to be finished). All four of these verbs use a postverbal subject.  These words are generally used when introducing characters of a story. These verbs are not used when the character is already known. If a character is already known, the verb would be used in the preverbal position. [2]

The fourth sentence structure would be equational sentences.


Pingelapese has ten syllables and eight vowel phonemes. This is the first recoded Pohnpeic language that has an eight-vowel system. Multiple young and elderly Pingelapese speakers in the Mwalok and Pingelap atoll can confirm this recent discovery of the eighth vowel. This is also the first Pohnpeic system that has a more symmetrical vowel system with [-round] [-back] vowels in four heights and [+round] [+back] vowels in four heights.

Low vowel dissimilation is a phonological process in which there are two low vowels in successive syllables, the first of which is raised. It is seen in various Micronesian languages as well as Ere, Southern Paamese, and in the Southern Vanuatu subgroup. Pingelapese is the first Pohnpeic language that demonstrates this process. [2]


Many native speaker of Pingelapese have little practice reading and writing in their language. On the atoll and in other areas, Pingelapese speakers speak Pingelapese at home and at church. English and Pohnpeian are the main languages of education and administrative communication. Because of this, Pingelapese people have proficiency reading and writing in English and Pohnpeian, but few people are able to read or write Pingelapese, leaving it to be a predominately spoken language.

There is a significant literacy challenge when it comes to learning Pingelapese. There are few study materials available to elementary school student to teach them Pingelapese, and therefore it is common for students to learn only English and Pohnpeian. Children often have a difficult time learning how to read and write both Pingelapese and Pohnpeian, often incorrectly correlating sounds and letters.

The difficulty of learning how to read and write in Pingelapese may also be due to an inadequate alphabet suited to the language. This along with the lack of training in the language makes many people reluctant to write in Pingelapese.

Unlike many other Micronesian languages, the Pingelapese people were never able to form a proper orthography committee board. The purpose of this board is to develop an official and agreed upon writing system. This has left the Pingelapese language with different spellings of its documents and records. For example, the name has been spelt as both Pingilap and Pingelap.

It has been reported that around fifty years ago there was an early orthography taught at the Pingelap elementary atoll. It is not know to many people, but elderly Pingelapese people have confirmed it. It is not actively used or taught in schools despite efforts to revive it. The loss of this orthography could have been due to emigration out of the Pingelap and into Pohnpei, increasing the use of the Pohnpeian alphabet. Most people who speak Pingelapese use Pohnpeic orthography for administrative and educational purposes and early orthography for history and legends of Pingelap. There are great differences between early orthography and Pohneic orthography when it comes to phonemic distinction. Some of these differences can alter the meaning of some words in Pingelapese. Some other differences are the number of vowels. Pingelapese has eight and Pohnpeian orthography has only six. This means that the distinction of some of the vowels in Pingelapese are underrepresented in Pohnpeic. These changes cause drastic ambiguity that context cannot fix, such as tense change. [2]


The Pingelapse language consists of a total of thirty five phonemes. There are 11 consonants and 14 vowels.[7] The constants include p, pʷ, t, k, s, m, mʷ, n, ŋ, l, r.[7]

Historical sound changes[edit]

Pingelapese reflexes of Proto Oceanic consonants[8]
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
Proto Chuukic-Pohnpeic *p *pʷ *f *m *mʷ *k *r,∅ *y *w *t *j *t *t * ̻t *r *l *n
Proto Pohnpeic *p *pʷ *p, ∅ *m *mʷ *k *r,∅ *y *w *j,∅ *j *t *t * ̻t *r *l *n *∅,n
Pingelapese *p *pʷ *p, ∅ *m *mʷ *k *r,∅ *∅,y *w *s,∅{_i,u,e} *s *t *t *s *r *l *n *∅,n{V+hi_}


  1. ^ EnduringVoices (2013-10-17), Pingelapese language identity and status, retrieved 2017-02-10 
  2. ^ a b c d e f g Hattori, Ryoko (2012). Preverbal Particles in Pingelapese. Ann Arbor. ISBN 9781267817211. 
  3. ^ Pingelapese at Ethnologue (13th ed., 1996).
  4. ^ Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin; Bank, Sebastian, eds. (2016). "Pingelapese". Glottolog 2.7. Jena: Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History. 
  5. ^ a b need to add catalog citation. 
  6. ^ a b Stenson, Solomon. Pingelap Non-Sacred Knowledge. Historic Preservation Fund Grant Department of Land and Natural Resources. pp. 15–16. 
  7. ^ a b c d e f Good, Elaine (1989). Papers in Kosraean and Ponapeic. Australia: Canberra, A.C.T. pp. 9, 10. ISBN 0858833905. 
  8. ^ Bender, Byron W. (2003). "Proto-Micronesian Reconstructions: 1". Oceanic Linguistics. 42: 4, 5. doi:10.2307/3623449.