Sonsorolese language

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ramari Dongosaro
Native toPalau
RegionPalau: originally Sonsorol state (all three inhabited islands Sonsorol, Pulo Anna and Merir)
Native speakers
400 (2007)[1]
Language codes
ISO 639-3sov

The Sonsorolese language is a Micronesian language spoken in Palau, originally on the islands composing the state of Sonsorol, and spreading through migration elsewhere in the country. It is very close to Tobian.



Sonsorolese is mostly spoken in the Palau archipelago, particularly in Sonsorol, Pulo Anna, and the Merir Islands ( The language is one of the two indigenous languages spoken in the area and is actually the most spoken in the area, especially in Palau ( As the language being established in Palau, Palau has a little history of how it became what it is today. The country was settled in the early BC era from the Philippines and Indonesia (Wikipedia). The area became part of the Spanish–American War and in the end the Spanish gave up their territory of Palau and some of the other islands to the Germans. Later down the road the Japanese took the land and then gave up to the United States during World War 2.


There are about 360 speakers spread out within 60 islands. Some linguists believe that the language is fading little by little. The population started to fall due to an influenza epidemic that the Germans caused[citation needed]. Most speakers of Sonsorol are bilingual, with their second language being English, to be able to communicate with others outside their island The language is an official language for the areas where it is spoken. Some sister languages of Sonsorol are Ulithian, Woleaian, and Satawalese. The language is part of the Austronesian language family.

Geographic distribution[edit]




In Sonsorolese, there are 19 consonants. These consonants are: /p/, /b/, /t/, /d/, /c/, /k/, /g/, /m/, /n/, /f/, /v/, /j/, /x/, /ɣ/, /r/, /w/, /s/, /ŋ/, and /ʟʲ/.

IPA chart Sonsorolese consonants
Labial Dental-Alveolar Palatal Velar
Nasal m n ŋ
Plosive p b t d c k g
Fricative f v s j x ɣ
Continuant w r ʟʲ

Consonants that are plosive and labial are p and b. T and d are dental-alveolar and plosive. The consonant c is palatal and plosive. K and g are velar and plosive consonants. The consonant that is nasal and dental-alveolar is n. F and v are fricative and labio-dental. The consonant that is fricative and dental-alveolar is s. J is a fricative and palatal consonant. The consonants x and ɣ are fricative and velar. R is rolled and a dental-alveolar consonant. Lastly, w is a continuant and labial consonant (Capell, 1969).


Sonsorolese has 5 vowels which are; /o/, /e/, /a/, /u/, and /i/. The vowels that are in the front for frontness are /i/, /e/, and /a/. The back frontness vowels are /u/ and /o/. As for the height of the vowels, /i/ and /u/ is high, /e/ and /o/ is mid, and /a/ is low. There are many exceptions to the vowel usage depending on where the vowel is placed and the consonants used before and after the vowel. The vowel /i/ sometimes is drawn back in frontness, which produces a different sound. /E/ is considered as a chiefly vowel and is rare. The only time you will see the vowel used is when it is in the body of a word. The vowel /a/ developed a velar fricative that involves either a /x/ or /y/ in front of the vowel. /O/ is mostly used in diphthongs and a variety of French influenced words. And lastly the vowel /u/ is to lip-round the word that is being pronounced.

The language does allow diphthongs. Some of them are /ae/, /ai/, /ao/, and /au/. Some of the diphthongs are considered to be difficult to pronounce and some do elongate the vowel sound. An example of the diphthong /ae/ is mae, which means breadfruit in English (Capell, 1969).

Furtive vowels[edit]

Furtive vowels are unique and are only in a few languages. Sonsorolese is one of the few languages that have furtive vowels. The vowels become furtive when one does not hear the vowel being pronounced. The vowel is “whispered” or silent when pronouncing certain words (Capell, 1969). Capell stated that there are 3 ways that furtive vowels occur, which are; “as finals, after a consonant, after a full, generally long vowel, and before a consonant, when they are acoustically similar to falling diphthongs, after non-final consonants a furtive /i/ or /u/ produces palatalization or velarisation (respectively) of the consonants.”

Orthography and pronunciation[edit]

Sonsorolese is usually a spoken language, but is occasionally written to the writer's preference. Many of the sounds are like that in Tobian and Woleaian. A couple of dialects include the pronunciation of d, which is common at the beginning of words and similar to [ð]; r is pronounced as in Spanish, as opposed to English; also, l is always pronounced with tongue touching the back roof of the mouth and sounds something like a combination of the [ɡ] and [l] sounds. For that reason, some Sonsorolese prefer to spell their els as ⟨ɡl⟩. As in Woleaian, silent vowels are usually found at the end of Sonsorolese words. For example, in Dongosaro, the native name for Sonsorol island, the final -o is silent.


Basic word order[edit]

Sonsorolese’s basic word order when constructing a sentence is a subject, object, verb (SOV) order.

An example of the use of the SOV word order is: Etai maho tipel= I am not happy. Etai (I) is our subject, maho (happy) is our object, and tipel (not) is our adverb for this example sentence. As for asking questions, the word order does stay the same and there are many examples from Emaho tipomu = are you happy?


There is full reduplication in the Sonsorol language.

Ex. Orange = Hulu
Oranges= Huluhulu


Sonsorolese numeral system is a base 10 system. The numeral system can go up to 1,000, which is “da ngaladi” (

  • deo "one"
  • luwou "two"
  • doruw "three"
  • fauw "four"
  • rimouwa "five"
  • worouwa "six"
  • fuduwa "seven"
  • waruwa "eight"
  • tiwouwa "nine"
  • delh "ten"
  • liyelh "twenty"


Indigenous vocabulary[edit]

  • what?: meta?
  • dangerous: ehamatahutohu
  • cold: fou
  • I don't speak Sonsorolese: itei hae ramari Dongosaro
  • halifato- “apple”
  • fadolo- “banana”
  • buu- “betel nut”
  • farawo- “bread”
  • hayang- “chicken”
  • rutouya- “coconut”
  • sahai- “egg”
  • iha- “fish”
  • als- “ice”
  • woto- “taro”
  • lahumu- “land crab”
  • babai- “papaya”
  • pelhi- “pork”
  • raes- “rice”
  • bito-"come"



There are many resources and materials that deal with the Sonsorol language, which includes newspapers, small textbooks, dictionary, YouTube videos, and blogs.[citation needed] Without any of these documentations of the language, the language may have a lesser chance of surviving. As the school system improves in Palau, there will be more textbooks being produced in the language to provide a resource to learn the language. YouTube videos help give exposure of the language and culture, which can be a good way to preserve.


Sonsorol language is considered endangered, but the language is becoming stronger because of intergenerational transmission[citation needed]. In Palau, schools are being built one by one for the younger generation to attend school to learn the language ( Though the number of speakers is low, the language is increasing its number of speakers. Native speakers are attempting to preserve and keep the language alive by intergenerational transmission. The construction of schools is making a large impact in preserving speakers of the younger generation.

Further reading[edit]


  1. ^ Sonsorolese at Ethnologue (18th ed., 2015)
  2. ^ Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin, eds. (2017). "Sonsorol". Glottolog 3.0. Jena, Germany: Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History.

External links[edit]