Tokelauan language

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Native to Tokelau, Swains Island (American Samoa, United States)
Native speakers
(1,400 in Tokelau cited 1987)[1]
17 in Swains Island, 2,100 elsewhere, mostly New Zealand (no date)[1]
Official status
Official language in
Language codes
ISO 639-2 tkl
ISO 639-3 tkl
Glottolog toke1240[2]

Tokelauan /tkəˈlən/[3] is a Polynesian language spoken in Tokelau and in the American Samoan island of Swains Island which in turn part of the United States. It is closely related to Samoan language and distantly related to Tuvaluan language and other Polynesian languages. Tokelauan has a co-official status in Tokelau along with English. There are a total of 4,000 speakers of Tokelauan, of which 2,100 of them lives in New Zealand while 1,400 in Tokelau and 17 in Swains Island.


It is spoken by about 1,500 people on the atolls of Tokelau, and by the few inhabitants of Swains Island in neighbouring American Samoa. It is a member of the Samoic family of Polynesian languages. It is, alongside English, the official language of Tokelau. In addition to the population of Tokelau, it is spoken by approximately 2,900 Tokelauan expatriates in New Zealand. Its ISO 639-3 code is tkl.

Affinities with other languages[edit]

Tokelauan is mutually intelligible with the Tuvaluan language. Samoan literature is recognised mostly due to the early unwelcome introduction of Christian Samoan missionaries to which the Samoan language was forcibly held as the language of instruction at school and at church. It also has marked similarities to the Niuafo'ou language of Tonga.

Tokelauan is written in the Latin script, albeit only using 15 letters: a, e, i, o, u, f, g, k, l, m, n, p, h, t, and v. This consists of 5 vowels: a (pronounced: /a/), e (pronounced: /e/), i (pronounced: /i/), o (pronounced: /o/) and u (pronounced: /u/); and 10 consonants: f, ŋ, k, l, m, n, p, h, t, v.

Loimata Iupati, Tokelau's resident Director of Education, has stated that he is in the process of translating the Bible from English into Tokelauan.


Tokelauan English
Fanatu au là? Shall I come too?
Ko toku nena e i Nukunonu. My grandmother lives in Nukunonu.
Malo ni, ea mai koe? Hello, how are you?
E hēai ni vakalele i Tokelau. There are no airplanes in Tokelau.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Tokelauan at Ethnologue (15th ed., 2005)
  2. ^ Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin; Bank, Sebastian, eds. (2016). "Tokelau". Glottolog 2.7. Jena: Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History. 
  3. ^ Laurie Bauer, 2007, The Linguistics Student’s Handbook, Edinburgh

External links[edit]