Yapese language

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Native to Federated States of Micronesia
Region Island of Yap
Native speakers
(7,400 cited ca. 1987 census)[1]
Language codes
ISO 639-2 yap
ISO 639-3 yap
Glottolog yape1250[2]

Yapese is a language spoken by the people on the island of Yap (Federated States of Micronesia). It belongs to the Austronesian languages, more specifically to the Oceanic branch of that family. It has been difficult to classify it further, but Yapese may prove to be one of the Admiralty Islands languages.[3]


The branches of the Oceanic languages. Orange is the Admiralties languages and Yapese, yellow-orange is St. Matthias, green is Western Oceanic, violet is Temotu, and the rest are Central-Eastern: dark red Southeast Solomons, blue Southern Oceanic, pink Micronesian, and ocher Fijian-Polynesian.

The glottal stop is a leading feature of Yapese. Words beginning with a vowel letter (with a few grammatical exceptions) begin with a glottal stop. Adjacent vowels have the glottal stop between them. There are many word-final glottal stops.

Written Yapese uses Latin script. In Yapese spelling as practised until the 1970s, the glottal stop was not written with an explicit character. A word-final glottal stop was represented by doubling the final vowel letter. Glottalization of consonants was represented with an apostrophe. In the 1970s an orthography was created which uses double vowel letters to represent long vowels; and because of the ambiguity that would occur if the glottal stop was not written, the glottal stop was written with the letter 'q'. This new orthography using the letter 'q' is not in universal use, but many works and maps about Yap represent place names using the orthography and contain amounts of the letter 'q' that are likely to be puzzling to persons not familiar with the language and the new orthography.


Apart from a couple grammatical forms which are V, syllables are CV or CVC.


Yapese is one of the relatively few languages in the world with ejective fricatives.[4] The Yapese ejective consonants are /pʼ tʼ kʼ θʼ/. There are also glottalised nasals /mˀ nˀ ŋˀ/ and approximants /jˀ wˀ lˀ/.[5]

In the table below, each phoneme is listed to the left of the grapheme that represents it in Yapese orthography.

Labial Dental Alveolar Palatal Velar Glottal
Nasal plain m m n n ŋ ng
glottalized m' n' ŋˀ ng'
Plosive plain p p t t k k ʔ q
ejective p' t' k'
Fricative voiceless f f θ th s s ʃ ch x g (h) h
voiced β b ð d
ejective θʼ th'
Approximant plain l l j y/j w w
glottalized l' y' w'

/h/ <h> and /j/ <j> only occur in English and Japanese loans (/j/ <y> does occur in native words, however).


In the table below, each phoneme is listed to the left of the grapheme that represents it in Yapese orthography.

Front Back
unrounded rounded unrounded rounded
short long short long short long short long
Close ɪ i iː ii ʊ u ʊː uu
Mid ɛ e eː ee œ ö œː oe ʌ a ɔ o ɔː oo
Near-open æ ë æː ea
Open a ä ae ɑː aa


  1. ^ Yapese at Ethnologue (18th ed., 2015)
  2. ^ Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin; Bank, Sebastian, eds. (2016). "Yapesic". Glottolog 2.7. Jena: Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History. 
  3. ^ Lynch, John; Malcolm Ross; Terry Crowley (2002). The Oceanic languages. Richmond, Surrey: Curzon. ISBN 978-0-7007-1128-4. OCLC 48929366. 
  4. ^ Ladefoged, Peter; Maddieson, Ian (1996). The Sounds of the World's Languages. Oxford: Blackwell. p. 178. ISBN 0-631-19814-8. 
  5. ^ Jensen (1977)


  • Jensen, John Thayer. 1977. Yapese–English Dictionary. (PALI Language Texts: Micronesia.) Honolulu: University of Hawai‘i Press.
  • Jensen, John Thayer. 1977. Yapese Reference Grammar. Honolulu: University of Hawai‘i Press.

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