Vaeakau-Taumako language

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Region Reef Islands and Taumako, Solomon Islands
Native speakers
1,700 (1999)[1]
Language codes
ISO 639-3 piv
Glottolog pile1238[2]
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Vaeakau-Taumako (formerly known as Pileni) is a Polynesian language spoken in some of the Reef Islands as well as in the Taumako Islands (also known as the Duff Islands) in the Temotu province of the Solomon Islands.

The language is spoken throughout the Taumako Islands, while in the Reef Islands, it is spoken on Aua, Matema, Nifiloli, Nupani, Nukapu, and Pileni. Speakers are thought[by whom?] to be descendants of people from Tuvalu.

The language has traditionally been considered one of the Futunic group of Polynesian languages, but a 2008 study exclusively based on lexical evidence concluded that this membership is weakly supported.[3]



Vaeakau-Taumako does not vary from the standard Polynesian and Austronesian vowel system, featuring five vowels that can be used either in a long or short form. Short vowels found in word-final syllables are frequently devoiced or dropped, but long vowels in the same position are always stressed. There is little allophonic variation between vowel pronunciations.[GVT 1]

Front Central Back
High i: /i/ and /ī/ u: /u/ and /ū/
Mid e: /e/ and /ē/ o: /o/ and /ō/
Low a: /a/ and /ā/

Vowel sequences in Vaeakau-Taumako are typically not treated as diphthongs, as they are not fully reduplicated, as shown in the word "holauhola". This is despite the vowels in the original word being pronounced like a diphthong.[GVT 1]


The Vaeakau-Taumako language has one of the most complex consonant system of the Polynesian languages, with 19 distinct phonemes, plus a large amount of variation across dialects. /b/ and /d/ are found primarily in loan words, rather being native to the language.[GVT 2]

Aspirated sounds are characteristic of the language, and are typically strong and audible. However, the use of aspirated sounds varies across dialects, enough that it is difficult to identify a consistent pattern aside from noting they always occur at the start of stressed syllables.[GVT 3]

Labial Dentalveolar Velar
Oral stop unvoiced, unaspirated

unvoiced, aspirated







Nasal voiced, unaspirated

unvoiced, aspirated





Lateral voiced, unaspirated

unvoiced, aspirated


Fricative voiced







Vaeakau-Taumako pronouns distinguish between 1st, 2nd and 3rd person pronouns. There are some inclusive and exclusive distinctions, and variations for singular, dual and plural in all cases. There are no gender distinctions. There is variation in the pronoun system for the dialects of Vaeakau-Taumako which can become quite complex, so for simplicity, only the general forms are recorded here.[GVT 4]

Independent personal pronouns[edit]

There are two distinctive base sets of independent personal pronouns in Vaeakau-Taumako. The standard forms are used for formal occasions and recorded text, while the colloquial forms are typically found in informal, everyday conversation.[GVT 5]

Standard Colloquial
Singular 1st person

2nd person

3rd person

iau, au



Dual 1st person inclusive

1st person exclusive

2nd person

3rd person



khoulua, kholua



houlua, holua


Plural 1st person inclusive

1st person exclusive

2nd person

3rd person

thatou, thatu

mihatou, mhatu

khoutou, khotou

lhatou, lhatu

hatou, hatu


hatou, hatu

Bound subject pronouns[edit]

The language also features bound subject pronouns which act as clitics to the tense-aspect-mood marker of the verb of the constituent. They are not obligatory to use. The presence of the "u" has free variation by the choice of the speaker, but they are typically less prevalent in the colloquial forms.[GVT 6]

Standard Colloquial
Singular 1st person

2nd person

3rd person

u=, ku=



Dual 1st person inclusive

1st person exclusive

2nd person

3rd person








Plural 1st person inclusive

1st person exclusive

2nd person

3rd person








Hortative pronouns[edit]

The dual, plural and 2nd person singular have specific pronouns used in imperative and hortative sentences.[GVT 7]

Singular Dual Plural
1st person inclusive ta tatu, hatu, tatou
1st person exclusive ma matu
2nd person ko lu tu
3rd person la latu, hatu

Emphatic corefential pronouns[edit]

When the subject and direct object of a sentence are the same thing, repetition of the independent pronoun in place of both argument positions is typically used. However, there is a set of emphatic coreferential pronouns used for the direct object to refer to someone or a group of people acting alone.[GVT 8]

Singular Dual Plural
1st person inclusive okhitaua okithatou
1st person exclusive okhoiau okhimaua okimhatou
2nd person okhoe okhoulua okhoutou
3rd person okhoia okhilaua okilhatou

The general pronoun nga[edit]

The word nga functions as a pronoun with specific use. It is a third person pronoun, but lacks specification for number, and is used to refer to both singular and plural referents. It typically is an anaphoric reference to a previously mentioned referent.[GVT 9]



While it is common for Polynesian languages to distinguish between alienability and inalienability with a and o possessives, this is not the case for Vaeakau-Taumako. This distinction exists, however it instead marks control – not of the possessed item itself, but of the possessive relationship.[GVT 10]


Relationships that can be initiated or terminated freely, such as items that can be bought, sold or given away at will are marked with the a-possessive.[GVT 10]


Relationships that are outside of the possessor's personal control, such as body parts and kinship relationships are marked with o-possessives.[GVT 10]

Alienability and inalienability[edit]

Instead of a- and o- possessives, alienability and inalienability in Vaeakau-Taumako are distinguished by the use of either prenominal or postnominal possessive pronouns.[GVT 11]

Prenominal possessive pronouns[edit]

Prenominal possessive pronouns occur directly preceding the possessed nouns, and are typically used for inalienable relationships, such as kinship terms and body parts.[GVT 12] Prenominal possessive pronouns distinguish between singular, dual and plural of the possessor. The singular possessive forms make an additional distinction between singular and plural of the possessed entity, and encode the a- or o-possessive directly. The dual and plural possessor forms are combined with the possessive prepositions a and o to express this distinction, or they may occur without a preposition.[GVT 11]

Singular possessed Plural possessed
Singular 1st person

2nd person

3rd person

taku, toku/tuku


tana, tona, tena, na

aku, oku

au, ou/ō

ana, ona

Dual 1st person inclusive

1st person inclusive

2nd person

3rd person

(a/o) ta

(a/o) ma

(a/o) lu

(a/o) la

Plural 1st person inclusive

1st person exclusive

2nd person

3rd person

(a/o) tatu

(a/o) matu

(a/o) koto, (a/o) tu

(a/o) latu

Postnominal possessive pronouns[edit]

The postnominal possessive pronoun succeeds the possessed noun, and are used to mark alienable relationships, such as owned items. They make no distinction between singular and plural of the possessed item, instead the distinction is usually made through the choice of article preceding the possessed noun. Like with prenominal possessive pronouns, the postnominal possessives are based on the possessive prepositions a and o, plus a pronominal form indicating person and number of the possessor. In the singular form, this is the same set of suffixes found on the prenominal possessives, whereas in the dual and plural form, a distinct set of person and number forms are found. In the third and first person, these forms are identical to the independent personal pronouns, except for the lack of aspiration on the initial consonant.[GVT 13]

Singular Dual Plural
1st person inclusive taua tatou
1st person exclusive aku, oku maua matou
2nd person au, ou aulua, oulua autou, outou
3rd person ana, ona laua latou

Possessive Suffixes[edit]

The possessive suffixes -ku (1st person), -u (2nd person) and -na (3rd person) apply to a restricted set of kinship nouns: tama/mha ‘father’, hina ‘mother’, thoka ‘same-sex sibling’, thupu ‘grandparent’, and mokupu ‘grandchild’. These nouns cannot occur without possessive marking, they require either a possessive suffix or, in the dual and plural, a postnominal possessive pronoun.[GVT 14] An alternative construction is for these nouns to take the 3rd person possessive suffix -na in combination with a prenominal possessive pronoun or possessive prepositional phrase. The form in -na must in such cases be understood as a neutral or unmarked form, since it may combine with a pronoun of any person and number; but a form in -na without any further possessive marking is unambiguously 3rd person.[GVT 15] Nouns other than those previously mentioned do not take possessive suffixes, but instead combine with possessive pronouns.[GVT 16]


Vaeako-Taumako displays negation in prohibitions (prohibitive, irrealis, imperfective, admonitive), statements (verbal and non verbal) polar questions and noun phrases. Negation morphemes behave similarly to verbs in many respects although they do not take tense-aspect-mood markers or form independent predicates.[4] However, there are instances of their taking complement clauses and for this reason negation morphemes might be considered a sub-class of verb.[5]


Prohibitive clauses may be divided into two. Prohibitive auā, (equal to the English 'don’t') and Admonitive na. Prohibitives pattern themselves in similar ways and are most frequently positioned cause initially. Admonitives behave and distribute slightly differently as will be illustrated below.

Negated clauses appear with only a small range of tense-aspect-mood markers. Prohibitive clauses often display no tense-aspect-mood marker at all, if they do, the markers are either na irrealis or me prescriptive. Negated declarative clauses typically occur with either perfective ne or imperfective no, with other options only marginally represented in collected data.[6]

Prohibitive auā[edit]

auā appears clause-initially, however discourse particles such as nahilā (’take care, make sure’) may precede it. Other grammatical morphemes such as articles or markers of tense, aspect or mood may not precede it which excludes auā from the verb category of Vaeakao-Taumako.[7]


auā t-a-u hano

Auā tau hano!

‘Don’t go.’ [8]

However, auā behaves like a verb in that it may take clausal complements, which are then often either nominalised or the irrealis marker na is present (see table 1.1.3).[9] A correlation exists between singular 2nd person subject and a nominalised clause although this correlation is not absolute.[10]

1.1 a

auā ko=no hualonga
PROH 2SG=IPFV make.noise

Auā ko no hualonga!

‘Don’t make noise!’ [11]

Contrasting this, the 2nd person dual or plural subjects attract the irrealis marker na to create a prohibitive clause.

1.1 b

auā kholu=na ō

Auā kholuna ō!

‘Don’t you (two) go!’ [12]

Within data sets of Næss, A., & Hovdhaugen, E. (2011), as implied by the imperative nature of the morpheme, auā will tend to appear with 2nd person subjects as above, although both 1st and 3rd subjects are also found.

1st Person

1.1 c

tatu noho themu, auā hat=no holongā
1PL.INCL.HORT stay quiet PROH PL.INCL=IPFV make.noise

Tatu noho themu, auā hatno folongā

‘We should all sit still and not be noisy.’ [13]

3rd Person

1.1 d

o ia auā no kute-a mai t-o-ku mata ia a iau auā t-a-ku kut-a ange o-na mata

O ia auā no kutea mai tuku mata, ia a iau auā taku kuteange ona mata.

‘She is not allowed to look at my face, ‘and I cannot look at her face.’ [14]

Auā is also found in conjunction with modifiers such as ala which marks a hypothetical or oki, ‘back, again’. ([15]



auā ala t-a-u fai-a e anga e tapeo i taha

Auā ala tau faia e anga e tapeo i taha

‘You should not do bad things outside.’ [16]

auā - oki[edit]


auā oki t-ō hai-a ange oki la mua nei oki la
PROH again SG.SP-2S.POSS do-TR go.along again DM.3 place DEM.1 again DM.3

Auoki tō haiange oki la manei oki la

‘Don’t ever do that anymore here.’ [17]

Irrealis na and Imperfective no[edit]

Irrealis na and imperfective no adheres to a common pattern of appearing in 2nd person in dual or plural within prohibitive clause structure.


auā kholu= na

Auā kholuna  !

‘Don’t you (two) go!’ [18]

Instances of 3rd person are less frequent and tend to include the imperfective no in postposition to morpheme auā.

1.1.3 a

a heinga auā no ite koe
COLL thing PROH IPFV hidden LDA 2SG

A heinga auā no hū ite koe.

‘Nothing shall be hidden from you.’[19]

Admonitive na[edit]

na behaves similarly to aluā only in that it is clause initial, it is otherwise classified as a clause initial particle and it must be accompanied by the tense-aspect-mood marker me which acts as a prescriptive.[20]


na me ta-ai te tangata

Na me teia te tangara!

‘Don’t kill the man!’[21]

However na also has a second function, it acts to point out the consequences of disobeying the order. In this role the na often appears without me, creating a clause without tense-aspect-mood marking.[22]

1.1.4 a

Meri noho lavoi na me sepe
Mary stay good ADMON PRSC expose.oneself

Meri noho lavoi, na me sepe.

‘Mary, sit properly, do not expose yourself.’[23]


Verbal Clause Negation[edit]

Verbal negation is made up of three morphemes which act independently and may be understood as the English equivalents to siai ‘not’, sikiai ‘not yet’,and hiekh ‘not at all’.[24]

siai ‘not, no’[edit]

According to Næss, A., & Hovdhaugen, E. (2011) the colloquial pronunciation of siai is hiai, however the standard written form is siai. Siai comes after preverbal arguments but is placed before the tense-aspect-mood particle and following clitic pronoun.


ko ia siai ne longo ange ki a sina na
TOP 3SG NEG PFV listen go.along to PERS mother 3SG.POSS

Ko ia siai ne longo ange ki a sinana.

‘She did not listen to her mother.’[25]

As in the case of auā modifying particles, which are traditionally found after verbs, may appear following siai. An example of this is loa which is an emphatic marker.

For example, siai loa.

2.1.1 a

e mae loa te kai ia siai oki ne-i fui-a o-na mata
GNR refuse EMPH SG.SP eat CONJ NEG again PFV-3SG wash-TR POSS-3SG.POSS eye

E mae loa te kai ia siai oki nei fuia ona mata.

'He refused to eat, and he didn’t wash his face either.’ [26]

A further example is the addition of po which generally serves to connect a complement clause.

2.1.1 b

siai po ke ila~ila sika
NEG COMP HORT RED~look straight

Siai po ke ileila sika.

‘She did not feel safe.’[27]

sikiai, hikiai ‘not yet’[edit]

sikiai, hikiai (where sikiai is the formal written expression of spoken hikiai) appears in the same formation as above siai except it proceeds the preverbal argument and precedes any tense-aspect-mood markers. It appears less frequently and is often accompanied by the perfective marker ne.[28]


A Osil sikiai ne ala
PERS Åshild not.yet PFV wake

A Osil hikiai ne ala.

‘Åshild is not yet up.’[29]

hiekhī/hiekhiē ‘not at all’[edit]

This is the emphatic form of the negator. It follows the same distribution as both sia and sikiai and is often accompanied by the post-nuclear modifier loa.[30]


hiekhī loa ne-i kute-a te ali na EMPH PFV-3SG see-TR SG.SP flatfish DM.2

Hiekhī loa nei kutea te ali na.

‘He couldn’t find the flatfish at all.’ [31]

As with siai hiekhī appears in conjunction with complementiser po, although with lower frequency.[32]

2.1.3 a

a thatou hiekhiē po no kutea i mui thatu=no utu~utu ai na

A thatou hiekhiē po no kutea i mui thatuno utuutu ai na.

‘We had no idea where to draw water.’[33]

Non-verbal Clause Negation[edit]

The same negators are used as in the verbal clauses above.


a Malani na siai e vai ai
then Malani DEM.2 NEG SG.NSP water OBL.PRO

A Malani na siai e vai ai.

‘And Malani, there was no water there.’[34]


Polar Questions[edit]

Polar questions are commonly formed in three ways. A declarative clause with a rise in intonation to mark the interrogative which requires the binary, ‘yes’ or ‘no’ response, much as they are in English may be used. The second alternative is the addition of the verbal negator (o) siai ‘(or) not’ and the third is the addition of verbal negator sikiai (not yet) if the interrogative has a temporal element.[35]

Simple interrogative formed with declarative clause:


tha=ka ō mua?
1DU.INCL=FUT go.PL just

Thaka ō mua?

‘Shall we go?’[36]

3.1 a

(o) siai

E ai mua etai ne au o sai
GNR exist just person PFV come CONJ NEG

E ai mua etai ne au o siai? (NUP)

‘Has anyone come here?’ [37]

3.1 b


a hina-na ko-i taku-a ange po ke hano mua oi kute-a mua a thaupē po ka lanu o sikiai
PERS mother-3SG.POSS INCP-3SG say-TR go.along COMP HORT go.SG just CONJ see-TR just PERS lagoon COMP FUT rise CONJ not.yet

A hinana koi takuange po ke hano moa oi kutea moa a haupƝ po ko lanu e hikiai?

‘His mother told him to go and see if the tide was rising yet.’[38]

Noun Phrase Negation[edit]

Negated Existence[edit]

Non-specific article e can be used to express 'negated existence' unless the noun has a possessive marker in which case e is absent.[39]


siai loa e mahila k=u kapakapa ai i hale

Hiai loa e mahila ku kapakapai i hale.

‘There is no knife for me to use in the house.’ [40]


  • References from Næss, Åshild; Hovdhaugen, Even (2011). A Grammar of Vaeakau-Taumako. Berlin: De Gruyter Mouton. ISBN 978-3-11-023826-6. :
  1. ^ a b p.28
  2. ^ p.34-35
  3. ^ p.36
  4. ^ p.98
  5. ^ p.99-100
  6. ^ p.103-104
  7. ^ p.105
  8. ^ p.106
  9. ^ p.106-107
  10. ^ a b c p.109
  11. ^ a b p.111
  12. ^ p.112
  13. ^ p.115
  14. ^ p.147
  15. ^ p.148
  16. ^ p.149.
  • Other sources
  1. ^ Vaeakau-Taumako at Ethnologue (18th ed., 2015)
  2. ^ Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin; Bank, Sebastian, eds. (2016). "Pileni". Glottolog 2.7. Jena: Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History. 
  3. ^ Austronesian Basic Vocabulary Database
  4. ^ Næss, A., & Hovdhaugen, E. (2011). A grammar of Vaeakau-Taumako. Berlin: De Gruyter Mouton.p.397
  5. ^ Næss, A., & Hovdhaugen, E. (2011) p.385
  6. ^ Næss, A., & Hovdhaugen, E. (2011) p.386
  7. ^ Næss, A., & Hovdhaugen, E. (2011) p.386
  8. ^ Næss, A., & Hovdhaugen, E. (2011) p.386
  9. ^ Næss, A., & Hovdhaugen, E. (2011) p.386
  10. ^ Næss, A., & Hovdhaugen, E. (2011) p.387
  11. ^ Næss, A., & Hovdhaugen, E. (2011) p.388
  12. ^ Næss, A., & Hovdhaugen, E. (2011) p.388
  13. ^ Næss, A., & Hovdhaugen, E. (2011) p.387
  14. ^ Næss, A., & Hovdhaugen, E. (2011) p.387
  15. ^ Næss, A., & Hovdhaugen, E. (2011) p.386
  16. ^ Næss, A., & Hovdhaugen, E. (2011) p.386
  17. ^ Næss, A., & Hovdhaugen, E. (2011) p.387
  18. ^ Næss, A., & Hovdhaugen, E. (2011) p.388
  19. ^ Næss, A., & Hovdhaugen, E. (2011) p.388
  20. ^ Næss, A., & Hovdhaugen, E. (2011) p.389
  21. ^ Næss, A., & Hovdhaugen, E. (2011) p.389
  22. ^ Næss, A., & Hovdhaugen, E. (2011) p.390
  23. ^ Næss, A., & Hovdhaugen, E. (2011) p.390
  24. ^ Næss, A., & Hovdhaugen, E. (2011) p.390
  25. ^ Næss, A., & Hovdhaugen, E. (2011) p.391
  26. ^ Næss, A., & Hovdhaugen, E. (2011) p.392
  27. ^ Næss, A., & Hovdhaugen, E. (2011) p.393
  28. ^ Næss, A., & Hovdhaugen, E. (2011) p.394
  29. ^ Næss, A., & Hovdhaugen, E. (2011) p.394
  30. ^ Næss, A., & Hovdhaugen, E. (2011) p.395
  31. ^ Næss, A., & Hovdhaugen, E. (2011) p.395
  32. ^ Næss, A., & Hovdhaugen, E. (2011) p.395
  33. ^ Næss, A., & Hovdhaugen, E. (2011) p.395
  34. ^ Næss, A., & Hovdhaugen, E. (2011) p.396
  35. ^ Næss, A., & Hovdhaugen, E. (2011) p.398
  36. ^ Næss, A., & Hovdhaugen, E. (2011) p.398
  37. ^ Næss, A., & Hovdhaugen, E. (2011) p.399
  38. ^ Næss, A., & Hovdhaugen, E. (2011) p.398
  39. ^ Næss, A., & Hovdhaugen, E. (2011) p.166
  40. ^ Næss, A., & Hovdhaugen, E. (2011) p.167

External links[edit]