Tuvalu Languages

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Description[edit | edit source]

Tuvaluan and English are the official languages of Tuvalu but English is not spoken in daily use. Parliament and official functions are conducted in Tuvaluan.


  • is distantly related to all other Polynesian languages such as Hawaiian, Māori, Tahitian, Rapa Nui, Samoan and Tongan
  • is most closely related to the languages spoken on the Polynesian outliers in Micronesia and northern and central Melanesia.
  • has borrowed from the Samoan language, as a consequence of Christian missionaries in the late 19th and early 20th centuries being predominantly Samoan.
  • is spoken by virtually everyone, while a language very similar to Gilbertese is spoken on Nui. [1]

Even though the population of Tuvalu was approximately 10,837 people in 2012, there are estimated to be more than 13,000 Tuvaluan speakers worldwide. In 2015 it was estimated that more than 3,500 Tuvaluans live in New Zealand, with about half that number born in New Zealand and 65 percent of the Tuvaluan community in New Zealand is able to speak Tuvaluan. [2]

It was found that rising sea levels threaten the islands of Tuvalu so in 2002, the government made an agreement with the country of New Zealand to help preserve the people of Tuvalu and their language. New Zealand agreed to have the entire population gradually migrate to their country. As more Tuvaluans continue to migrate to New Zealand and integrate themselves into the culture and society, relative isolation decreases, contributing to the language's endangerment. [3]

Word List(s)[edit | edit source]

Tuvaluan English
talofa Good morning
talofa Good afternoon
talofa Good evening
talofa Hello
(Fine, thank you) ea koe? How are you?
tofa Goodbye
fakafetai Thank you
fakamolemole Please
tulou Excuse me (sorry)
ao Yes
ikai No

Alphabet and Pronunciation[edit | edit source]

The sound system of Tuvaluan consists of five vowels (/i/, /e/, /a/, /o/, /u/). All vowels come in short and long forms, which are contrastive.

Short vowel Long vowel
Front vowel Back vowel Front Back
Close i u i u
Mid vowel e o e o
Open a a

There are no diphthongs so every vowel is sounded separately. Example: taeao ‘tomorrow’ is pronounced as four separate syllables (ta-e-a-o).

Labial consonant Alveolar consonant Velar consonant Glottal consonant
Nasal consonant m n ŋ
Plosive p t k
Fricative f v s (h)
Lateral l

/h/ is used only in limited circumstances in the Nukulaelae dialect.

The sound system of Tuvaluan consists of 10 or 11 consonants (/p/, /t/, /k/, /m/, /n/, /ŋ/, /f/, /v/, /s/, /h/, /l/), depending on the dialect. All consonants also come in short and long forms, which are contrastive.

Language Aids and Dictionaries[edit | edit source]

Additional Resources[edit | edit source]

References[edit | edit source]

  1. Wikipedia contributors, "Tuvalu," in Wikipedia: the Free Encyclopedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tuvalu#Languages, accessed 27 Jun 2021.
  2. Wikipedia contributors, "Tuvalu Language," in Wikipedia: the Free Encyclopedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tuvaluan_language, accessed 27 Jun 2021.
  3. Wikipedia contributors, "Tuvalu Language," in Wikipedia: the Free Encyclopedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tuvaluan_language#Risk_of_Endangerment, accessed 27 Jun 2021.