Samoan language

Gagana fa'a Sāmoa
Native to Samoan Islands
Ethnicity Samoans
Native speakers
510,000 (2015)[1]
Latin (Samoan alphabet)
Samoan Braille
Official status
Official language in
 American Samoa
Language codes
ISO 639-1 sm
ISO 639-2 smo
ISO 639-3 smo
Glottolog samo1305[2]
Linguasphere 39-CAO-a

Samoan (Gagana fa'a Sāmoa or Gagana SāmoaIPA: [ŋaˈŋana ˈsaːmʊa]) is the language of the Samoan Islands, comprising the Independent State of Samoa and the Territory of American Samoa. It is an official language — alongside English — in both jurisdictions.

Samoan, a Polynesian language, is the first language for most of the Samoa Islands' population of about 246,000 people. With many Samoan people living in other countries, the total number of speakers worldwide is estimated at 510,000 in 2015. It is the third most widely spoken language in New Zealand, where more than 2% of the population - 86,000 people - were able to speak it as of 2013.[3]

The language is notable for the phonological differences between formal and informal speech as well as a ceremonial form used in Samoan oratory.


Samoan is an analytic, isolating language and a member of the Austronesian family, and more specifically the Samoic branch of the Polynesian subphylum. It is closely related to other Polynesian languages with many shared cognate words such as ali'i, 'ava, atua, tapu and numerals as well as in the name of gods in mythology.

Linguists differ somewhat on the way they classify Samoan in relation to the other Polynesian languages.[4] The "traditional" classification,[5] based on shared innovations in grammar and vocabulary, places Samoan with Tokelauan, the Polynesian outlier languages and the languages of Eastern Polynesia, which include Rapanui, Māori, Tahitian and Hawaiian. Nuclear Polynesian and Tongic (the languages of Tonga and Niue) are the major subdivisions of Polynesian under this analysis. A revision by Marck reinterpreted the relationships among Samoan and the outlier languages. In 2008 an analysis, of basic vocabulary only, from the Austronesian Basic Vocabulary Database is contradictory in that while in part it suggests that Tongan and Samoan form a subgroup,[6] the old subgroups Tongic and Nuclear Polynesian are still included in the classification search of the database itself.[7]

Geographic distribution

There are approximately 470,000 Samoan speakers worldwide, 50 per cent of whom live in the Samoan Islands.[8] Thereafter, the greatest concentration is in New Zealand, where people of Samoan ethnicity comprise the largest group after New Zealand European, Māori, and Chinese: the 2006 New Zealand census recorded 95,428 speakers of the Samoan language, and 141,103 people of Samoan ethnicity. Among ethnic Samoans in New Zealand, 70.5 percent (87,109 people) could speak Samoan. Samoan is the third most commonly spoken language in New Zealand after English and Māori. The majority of Samoans in New Zealand (66.4 per cent) reside in the commercial capital, Auckland. Of those who speak Samoan, 67.4 percent live in Auckland, and 70.4 percent of people who are both of Samoan ethnicity and Samoan speakers live in that city.

According to the Australian census of 2006, there were 38,525 speakers of Samoan in Australia, and 39,992 people of Samoan ancestry.

US Census 2010 shows more than 180,000 Samoans reside in the United States, which is triple the number of people living in American Samoa, while slightly less than the estimated population of the island nation of Samoa — 193,000, as of July 2011.

Samoan Language Week (Vaiaso o le Gagana Sāmoa) is an annual celebration of the language in New Zealand supported by the government[9] and various organisations including UNESCO. Samoan Language Week was started in Australia for the first time in 2010.[10]


The Samoa alphabet consists of 14 letters, with another three letters (H, K, R) used in loan words. The ʻ (koma liliu or 'okina) is used for the glottal stop.

Aa, Āā Ee, Ēē Ii, Īī Oo, Ōō Uu, Ūū Ff Gg Ll Mm Nn Pp Ss Tt Vv (Hh) (Kk) (Rr)
/a/, /aː/ /ɛ/, /eː/ /ɪ/, /iː/ /o/, /ɔː/ /ʊ, w/, /uː/ /f/ /ŋ/ /l, ɾ/ /m/ /n, ŋ/ /p/ /s/ /t, k/ /v/ (/h/) (/k/) (/ɾ/) /ʔ/


Vowel length is phonemic in Samoan; all 5 vowels also have a long form denoted by the macron.[11] For example, tama means child or boy, while tamā means father.

Diphthongs are /au ao ai ae ei ou ue/.

The combination of u followed by a vowel in some words creates the sound of the English w, a letter not part of the Samoan alphabet, as in uaua (artery, tendon).

/a/ is reduced to [ə] in only a few words, such as mate or maliu 'dead', vave 'be quick'.


In formal Samoan, used for example in news broadcasts or sermons, the consonants /t n ŋ/ are used. In colloquial Samoan, however, /n ŋ/ merge as [ŋ] and /t/ is pronounced [k].[12]

The glottal stop /ʔ/ is phonemic in Samoan. The presence or absence of the glottal stop affects the meaning of words otherwise spelled the same,[11] e.g. mai = from, originate from; ma'i = sickness, illness.[13]

/l/ is pronounced as a flap [ɾ] following a back vowel (/a, o, u/) and preceding an /i/; otherwise it is [l]. /s/ is less sibilant (hissing) than in English. /ɾ h/ are found in loan words.

Foreign words

Loanwords from English and other languages have been adapted to Samoan phonology:[14]

/k/ is retained in some instances (Christ = "Keriso", club = "kalapu", coffee = "kofe"), and has become [t] in rare instances (such as "se totini", from the English "stocking").

/ɹ/ becomes [ɾ] in some instances (e.g. Christ = "Keriso", January = "Ianuari", number = "numera"), and [l] in others (January = "Ianuali", herring = "elegi").

/d/ becomes [t] (David = "Tavita", diamond = "taimane").

/g/ becomes [k] in some cases (gas = "kesi"), while /dʒ/ and /tʃ/ usually become [s] (George = "Siaosi", Charlotte = "Salata", James = "Semisi").

/h/ is retained at the beginning of some proper names (Herod = "Herota") and Tongan and Hawaiian loanwords ("halu", "hula", "Hawai'i"), becomes [s] in some cases (hammer = "samala"), and is omitted in others (herring = "elegi", half-caste = "afakasi")

/z/ becomes [s] (Zachariah = "Sakaria")

/w/ becomes [u] (William = "Uiliamu", wire = "uaea"), except with German loanwords, where it is realized as [v] (Wilhelm = Viliamu).

/b/ becomes [p] (Britain = "Peretania", butter = "pata")


Stress generally falls on the penultimate mora; that is, on the last syllable if that contains a long vowel or diphthong or on the second-last syllable otherwise. There are exceptions though, with many words ending in a long vowel taking the accent on the ultima; as ma'elega, zealous; ʻonā, to be intoxicated; faigatā, difficult.

Verbs formed from nouns ending in a, and meaning to abound in, have properly two aʻs, as puaa (puaʻaa), pona, tagata, but are written with one.

In speaking of a place at some distance, the accent is placed on the last syllable; as ʻO loʻo i Safotu, he is at Safotu. The same thing is done in referring to a family; as Sa Muliaga, the family of Muliaga, the term Sa referring to a wide extended family of clan with a common ancestor. So most words ending in ga, not a sign of a noun, as tigā, puapuaga, pologa, fa'ataga and aga. So also all words ending in a diphthong, as mamau, mafai, avai.[14]

In speaking the voice is raised, and the emphasis falls on the last word in each sentence.

When a word receives an addition by means of an affixed particle, the accent is shifted forward; as alofa, love; alofága, loving, or showing love; alofagía, beloved.

Reduplicated words have two accents; as palapala, mud; segisegi, twilight. Compound words may have even three or four, according to the number of words and affixes of which the compound word is composed; as tofátumoánaíná, to be engulfed.

The articles le and se are unaccented. When used to form a pronoun or participle, le and se are contractions for le e, se e, and so are accented; as ʻO le ana le mea, the owner, literally the (person) whose (is) the thing, instead of O le e ana le mea. The sign of the nominative ʻo, the prepositions o, a, i, e, and the euphonic particles i and te, are unaccented; as ʻO i maua, ma te o alu ia te oe, we two will go to you.

Ina, the sign of the imperative, is accented on the ultima; ína, the sign of the subjunctive, on the penultima. The preposition is accented on the ultima, the pronoun ia on the penultima.[14]


Samoan syllable structure is (C)V, where V may be long or a diphthong. A sequence VV may occur only in derived forms and compound words; within roots, only the initial syllable may be of the form V. Metathesis of consonants is frequent, such as manu for namu 'scent', lava‘au for vala‘au 'to call', but vowels may not be mixed up in this way.

Every syllable ends in a vowel. No syllable consists of more than three sounds, one consonant and two vowels, the two vowels making a diphthong; as fai, mai, tau. Roots are sometimes monosyllabic, but mostly disyllabic or a word consisting of two syllables. Polysyllabic words are nearly all derived or compound words; as nofogatā from nofo (sit, seat) and gatā, difficult of access; taʻigaafi, from taʻi, to attend, and afi, fire, the hearth, making to attend to the fire; talafa'asolopito, ("history") stories placed in order, faletalimalo, ("communal house") house for receiving guests.[14]



Personal pronouns

Like many Austronesian languages, Samoan has separate words for inclusive and exclusive we, and distinguishes singular, dual, and plural. The root for the inclusive pronoun may occur in the singular, in which case it indicates emotional involvement on the part of the speaker.

singular dual plural
First person exclusive a‘u , ‘ou mā‘ua, mā mātou
First person inclusive tā‘ua, tā tātou
Second person ‘oe, ‘e ‘oulua ‘outou, tou
Third person ia / na lā‘ua lātou

In formal speech, fuller forms of the roots mā-, tā-, and lā- are ‘imā-, ‘itā-, and ‘ilā-.


The definite article is le: ʻo le Atua, God; indefinite e.g., ʻo le aliʻi Pai, (the) chief (named) Pai. It is sometimes used where English would require the indefinite article: Ua tu mai le vaʻa, a canoe appears. The article se is always a singular indefinite (ta mai se laʻau = cut me a stick), while "ni" is the plural indefinite ("ta mai ni la'au" = cut me some sticks). The article "le" is omitted before plural nouns: ʻO le tagata, the man; ʻO tagata, men.[14]


Names of natural objects, such as men, trees and animals, are mostly primitive nouns, e.g.ʻO le la, the sun; ʻo le tagata, the man; ʻo le talo, taro; ʻo le iʻa, the fish; also manufactured articles, such as matau, an axe, vaʻa, canoe, tao, spear, fale, house, etc.[14]

Some nouns are derived from verbs by the addition of either ga, saga, taga, maga, or ʻaga: such as tuli, to drive; tuliga, a driving; luluʻu, to fill the hand; luʻutaga, a handful; anu, to spit; anusaga, spittle; tanu, to bury; tanumaga, the part buried. These verbal nouns have an active participial meaning; e.g. ʻO le faiga o le fale, the building of the house. Often they refer to the persons acting, in which case they govern the next noun in the genitive with a; ʻO le faiga a fale, contracted into ʻo le faiga fale, those who build the house, the builders. In some cases verbal nouns refer to either persons or things done by them: ʻO le faiga a talo, the getting of taro, or the party getting the taro, or the taro itself which has been got. The context in such cases decides the meaning. Sometimes place is indicated by the termination; such as tofā, to sleep; tofāga, a sleeping-place, a bed. ʻO le taʻelega is either the bathing-place or the party of bathers. The first would take o after it to govern the next noun, ʻO le taʻelega o le nuʻu, the bathing-place of the village; the latter would be followed by a, ʻO le taʻelega a teine, the bathing-place of the girls.

Sometimes such nouns have a passive meaning, such as being acted upon; ʻO le taomaga a lau, the thatch that has been pressed; ʻo le faupuʻega a maʻa, the heap of stones, that is, the stones which have been heaped up. Those nouns which take ʻaga are rare, except on Tutuila; gataʻaga, the end; ʻamataʻaga, the beginning; olaʻaga, lifetime; misaʻaga, quarrelling. Sometimes the addition of ga makes the signification intensive; such as ua and timu, rain; uaga and timuga, continued pouring (of rain).

The simple form of the verb is sometimes used as a noun: tatalo, to pray; ʻo le tatalo, a prayer; poto, to be wise; ʻo le poto, wisdom.

The reciprocal form of the verb is often used as a noun; e.g. ʻO le fealofani, ʻo femisaiga, quarrellings (from misa), feʻumaiga; E lelei le fealofani, mutual love is good.

A few diminutives are made by reduplication, e.g. pa'apa'a, small crabs; pulepule, small shells; liilii, ripples; 'ili'ili, small stones.

Adjectives are made into abstract nouns by adding an article or pronoun; e.g. lelei, good; ʻo le lelei, goodness; silisili, excellent or best; ʻo lona lea silisili, that is his excellence or that is his best.

Many verbs may become participle-nouns by adding ga; as sau, come, sauga; e.g. ʻO lona luai sauga, his first coming; mau to mauga, ʻO le mauga muamua, the first dwelling.


Gender is sometimes expressed by distinct names:—

ʻO le aliʻi, a chief.

ʻO le tamāloa, a man.

ʻO le tama, a boy.

ʻO le poʻa, a male animal.

ʻO le toeaʻina, an elderly man.

sole, colloquial male label.

ʻO le tamaitaʻi, a lady.

ʻO le fafine, a woman.

ʻO le teine, a girl.

ʻO le manu fafine, a female animal.

ʻO le loʻomatua, an elderly woman.

suga, funa, colloquial female label.

When no distinct name exists, the gender of animals is known by adding poʻa and fafine respectively. The gender of some few plants is distinguished by tane and fafine, as in ʻo le esi tane; ʻo le esi fafine. No other names of objects have any mark of gender.[14]


The singular number is known by the article with the noun; e.g. ʻo le tama, a boy.

Properly there is no dual. It is expressed by omitting the article and adding numbers e lua for things e.g. e to'alua teine, two girls, for persons; or ʻo fale e lua, two houses; ʻo tagata e to'alua, two persons; or ʻo lā'ua, them/those two (people).

The plural is known by:

  1. the omission of the article; ʻo ʻulu, breadfruits.
  2. particles denoting multitude, as ʻau, vao, mou, and moíu, and such plural is emphatic; ʻo le ʻau iʻa, a shoal of fishes; ʻo le vao tagata, a forest of men, i.e., a great company; ʻo le mou mea, a great number of things; ʻo le motu o tagata, a crowd of people. These particles cannot be used indiscriminately; motu could not be used with fish, nor ʻau with men.
  3. lengthening, or more correctly doubling, a vowel in the word; tuafāfine, instead of tuafafine, sisters of a brother. This method is rare.[14]

Plurality is also expressed by internal reduplication in Samoan verbs (-CV- infix), by which the root or stem of a word, or part of it, is repeated.

    savali 'he/she walks' (singular) sāvavali 'they walk' (plural) (sā-va-vali)
    alofa 'he/she loves' (singular) ālolofa 'they love' (plural) (a-lo-lofa) (Moravcsik 1978, Broselow and McCarthy 1984)
    le tamāloa 'the man' (singular)[14] tamāloloa 'men' (plural) (tamā-lo-loa)


Possessive relations are indicated by the particles a or o. Possessive pronouns also have a-forms and o-forms: lou, lau, lona, lana, lo and la matou, etc. Writers in the 1800s like Platt were unable to understand the underlying principles governing the use of the two forms: "There is no general rule which will apply to every case. The governing noun decides which should be used; thus ʻO le poto ʻo le tufuga fai fale, "the wisdom of the builder"; ʻO le amio a le tama, "the conduct of the boy"; ʻupu o fāgogo, "words of fāgogo" (a form of narrated and sung storytelling); but ʻupu a tagata, "words of men". Pratt instead gives a rote list of uses and exceptions:

O is used with:

  1. Nouns denoting parts of the body; fofoga o le aliʻi, eyes of the chief. So of hands, legs, hair, etc.; except the beard, which takes a, lana ʻava; but a chief's is lona soesa. Different terms and words apply to chiefs and people of rank and status according to the 'polite' variant of the Samoan language, similar to the 'polite' variant in the Japanese language.
  2. The mind and its affections; ʻo le toʻasa o le aliʻi, the wrath of the chief. So of the will, desire, love, fear, etc.; ʻO le manaʻo o le nuʻu, the desire of the land; ʻO le mataʻu o le tama, the fear of the boy.
  3. Houses, and all their parts; canoes, land, country, trees, plantations; thus, pou o le fale, posts of the house; lona fanua, lona naʻu, etc.
  4. People, relations, slaves; ʻo ona tagata, his people; ʻo le faletua o le aliʻi, the chief's wife. So also of a son, daughter, father, etc. Exceptions; Tane, husband; ava, wife (of a common man), and children, which take a; lana, ava, ma, ana, fānau.
  5. Garments, etc., if for use; ona ʻofu. Except when spoken of as property, riches, things laid up in store.

A is used with:

  1. Words denoting conduct, custom, etc.; amio, masani, tu.
  2. Language, words, speeches; gagana, upu, fetalaiga, afioga; ʻO le upu a le tama.
  3. Property of every kind. Except garments, etc., for use.
  4. Those who serve, animals, men killed and carried off in war; lana tagata.
  5. Food of every kind.
  6. Weapons and implements, as clubs, knives, swords, bows, cups, tattooing instruments, etc. Except spears, axes, and ʻoso (the stick used for planting taro), which take o.
  7. Work; as lana galuega. Except faiva, which takes o.

Some words take either a or o; as manatu, taofi, ʻO se tali a Matautu, an answer given by Matautu; ʻo se tali ʻo Matautu, an answer given to Matautu.


  1. Nouns denoting the vessel and its contents do not take the particle between them: ʻo le ʻato talo, a basket of taro; ʻo le fale oloa, a house of property, shop, or store-house.
  2. Nouns denoting the material of which a thing is made: ʻO le tupe auro, a coin of gold; ʻo le vaʻa ifi, a canoe of teak.
  3. Nouns indicating members of the body are rather compounded with other nouns instead of being followed by a possessive particle: ʻO le mataivi, an eye of bone; ʻo le isu vaʻa, a nose of a canoe; ʻo le gutu sumu, a mouth of the sumu (type of fish); ʻo le loto alofa, a heart of love.
  4. Many other nouns are compounded in the same way: ʻO le apaau tane, the male wing; ʻo le pito pou, the end of the post.
  5. The country or town of a person omits the particle: ʻO le tagata Sāmoa, a man or person of Samoa.
  6. Nouns ending in a, lengthen (or double) that letter before other nouns in the possessive form: ʻO le sua susu; ʻo le maga ala, or maga a ala, a branch road.
  7. The sign of the possessive is not used between a town and its proper name, but the topic marker 'o is repeated; thus putting the two in apposition: ʻO le ʻaʻai ʻo Matautu, the commons of Matautu.


Some adjectives are primitive, as umi, long; poto, wise. Some are formed from nouns by the addition of a, meaning "covered with" or "infested with"; thus, ʻeleʻele, dirt; ʻeleʻelea, dirty; palapala, mud; palapalā, muddy.

Others are formed by doubling the noun; as pona, a knot; ponapona, knotty; fatu, a stone; fatufatu, stony.

Others are formed by prefixing faʻa to the noun; as ʻo le tu fa'asāmoa, Samoan custom or fa'amatai.

Like ly in English, the faʻa often expresses similitude; ʻo le amio faʻapuaʻa, behave like a pig (literally).

In one or two cases a is prefixed; as apulupulu, sticky, from pulu, resin; avanoa, open; from and noa.

Verbs are also used as adjectives: ʻo le ala faigatā, a difficult road; ʻo le vai tafe, a river, flowing water; ʻo le laʻau ola, a live tree; also the passive: ʻo le aliʻi mātaʻutia.

Ma is the prefix of condition, sae, to tear; masae, torn; as, ʻO le iʻe masae, torn cloth; Goto, to sink; magoto, sunk; ʻo le vaʻa magoto, a sunken canoe.

A kind of compound adjective is formed by the union of a noun with an adjective; as ʻo le tagata lima mālosi, a strong man, literally, the stronghanded man; ʻo le tagata loto vaivai, a weak-spirited man.

Nouns denoting the materials out of which things are made are used as adjectives: ʻo le mama auro, a gold ring; ʻo le fale maʻa, a stone house. Or they may be reckoned as nouns in the genitive.

Adjectives expressive of colours are mostly reduplicated words; as sinasina' or "pa'epa'e" (white); uliuli (black); samasama (yellow); ʻenaʻena'" (brown); mumu" (red), etc.; but when they follow a noun they are usually found in their simple form; as ʻo le ʻie sina, white cloth; ʻo le puaʻa uli, a black pig. The plural is sometimes distinguished by doubling the first syllable; as sina, white; plural, sisina; tele, great; pl. tetele. In compound words the first syllable of the root is doubled; as maualuga, high; pl. maualuluga. Occasionally the reciprocal form is used as a plural; as lele, flying; ʻo manu felelei, flying creatures, birds.

Comparison is generally effected by using two adjectives, both in the positive state; thus e lelei lenei, ʻa e leaga lena, this is good—but that is bad, not in itself, but in comparison with the other; e umi lenei, a e puupuu lena, this is long, that is short.

The superlative is formed by the addition of an adverb, such as matuā, tasi, sili, silisiliʻese aʻiaʻi, naʻuā; as ʻua lelei tasi, it alone is good—that is, nothing equals it. ʻUa matuā silisili ona lelei, it is very exceedingly good; ʻua tele naʻuā, it is very great. Silisili ese, highest, ese, differing from all others.

Naua has often the meaning of "too much"; ua tele naua, it is greater than is required.


Sentences have different types of word order and the four most commonly used are verb–subject–object (VSO), verb–object–subject (VOS), subject–verb–object (SVO) and object–verb–subject (OVS).[11][15][16]

For example:- The girl went to the house. (SVO); girl (subject), went (verb), house (object).

Samoan word order;

Sa alu le teine 'i le fale.; sa alu (verb), teine (subject), fale (object).


Sa alu 'i le fale le teine.


Le fale sa alu 'i ai le teine.


Le teine sa alu 'i le fale.



Formal versus colloquial register

The language has a polite or formal variant used in oratory and ceremony as well as in communication with elders, guests, people of rank and strangers.[16]

The consonant system of colloquial Samoan ("casual Samoan", or "tautala leaga" as it is known) is slightly different from the literary language ("proper Samoan", or "tautala lelei"), and is referred to as K speech or K style.[11] In colloquial speech, defined as taking place in casual social situations among intimates or in the home among familiars of equivalent social rank, /t/ is sometimes pronounced [k] and /n/ has merged with /ŋ/ as [ŋ]. Additionally, /l/ is pronounced [ɾ] following a back vowel (/a, o, u/) and preceding an /i/. /s/ is less sibilant than in English, and /h/ and /r/ are found only in borrowings, with /s/ and /l/ sometimes being substituted for them.

Therefore, in colloquial Samoan speech, common consonant replacements occur such as:[11][16]

t is pronounced ktama (child, boy) is pronounced kama; tautala ("to speak") is pronounced kaukala; tulāfale ("orator", "talking chief") is pronounced kulāfale.

n is pronounced ngfono ("meeting", "assembly") is pronounced fongo; ono (the numeral "six") is pronounced ongo; ʻona ("satisfied", "full") is pronounced ʻonga.

Oratorical register

Historically and culturally, an important form of the Samoan language is oratory, a ceremonial language sometimes referred to in publications as 'chiefly language', or gagana fa'aaloalo ("dignified language")[17] which incorporates classical Samoan terms and prose as well as a different set of vocabulary, which is tied to the roles of orator chiefs (tulāfale) and 'speechmaking' (failāuga) that remains part of the culture's continuing indigenous matai system of governance and social organization. The gagana fa'aaloalo (polite speech) register is used by lower-ranking people to address people of higher status, such as their family matai chief, government officials, or clergy. It is also the formal register used among chiefs during ceremonial occasions and social rites such as funerals, weddings, chiefly title bestowals and village council meetings. It is not common for entire conversations to be held in chiefly register, instead the "dignified language" is mainly employed when making formal introductions between individuals, opening and concluding formal meetings, and executing ceremonial tasks (such as the Samoa 'ava ceremony). It is also considered proper to use the "polite" language when praying. Untitled people (those without matai chief titles) who are unfamiliar with each other will often greet each other in chiefly register as a common courtesy, while familiar individuals frequently use chiefly addresses in jest (as in humorously addressing friends with "talofa lava lau afioga" – "respectful greetings your highness" – instead of the more colloquial "malo sole!" – "hey man!").

Examples of "polite" word variants according to social rank:

English Common term In relation to a "High Chief" In relation to a "Talking Chief" In relation to a "Tufuga" artisan/builder
house fale māota laoa apisā
wife to'alua, avā faletua, masiofo tausi meana'i
dog maile ta'ifau 'uli
you 'oe lau susuga, lau afioga lau tofā mataisau, agaiotupu
welcome, greeting tālofa, mālo susu mai, afio mai maliu mai, sosopo mai
to sit nofo afio alāla
to eat 'ai tausami, talisua, talialo taumafa
to drink inu taute taumafa
to bathe tā'ele 'au'au, fa'amalu, penapena fa'amalu, 'au'au
pillow, headrest 'ali lalago āluga
grave, tomb tu'ugamau, tia loa, lagi, lagomau, 'oli'olisaga alālafagamau
kava 'ava agatonu, fanua, uta, lupesina, lātasi agatonu, fanua, uta, lupesina, lātasi
garden, plantation fa'ato'aga fa'ele'eleaga velevelega
to meet, to receive a guest feiloa'i fesilafa'i fetapa'i
speech, sermon lauga malelega, saunoaga, tuleiga, tānoa fetalaiga, lafolafoga, moe, tu'u
to die oti, mate, maliu tu'umalo usufono
to look, to see va'ai silasila, silafaga māimoa taga'i

Another polite form of speech in "polite" Samoan includes terms and phrases of self-abasement that are used by the speaker in order to show respect and flatter the listener. For example when praising the child of another woman, a mother might politely refer to her own children as "ui" (literally, "piglets"); in order to emphasize the beauty of a fine tapa cloth, the presenter might refer to it as a simple "vala" (plain cloth); the weaver of an especially fine mat might call it "launiu" (coconut leaf) or "lā" (sail cloth) in order to not appear boastful. Overshadowing the dignity or prestige of higher-ranking individuals is a grave offense in Samoan culture, so words are chosen very carefully to express individual feelings in a way that acknowledges relative statuses within social hierarchy.

Writing system and alphabet

Encounters with Europeans began in the 1700s followed by the era of colonialism in the Pacific. Samoan was only a spoken language until the early to mid-1800s when Christian missionaries began documenting the spoken language for religious texts and introduced writing using the Latin script. In 1834, an orthography of the language was distributed by the London Missionary Society who also set up a printing press by 1839. The first complete Bible (Tusi Pa'ia, Sacred Book) in the Samoan language was completed and published in 1862.[18]

The first problem which faced the missionaries in Polynesia was that of learning the language of the island which they intended to convert to Christianity. The second was that of identifying the sounds in the local languages with the symbols employed in their own languages to establish alphabets for recording the spelling of native words. Having established more or less satisfactory alphabets and spelling, it was next necessary to teach the indigenous people how to write and read their own language. A printing press, with the alphabet keys used only in the English language, was part of the mission equipment, and it was possible not only to translate and write out portions of the Bible scriptures, and hymns in the local language, but to print them for use as texts in teaching. Thus, the missionaries introduced writing for the first time within Polynesia, they were the first printers, and they established the first schools in villages.[19]


See also: Samoan Braille

The alphabet proper consists of only fourteen letters: five vowels, a e i o u, and nine consonants, f g l m n p s t v. In addition, there are two diacritics: a macron (fa'amamafa) is used to indicate the five long vowels, ā ē ī ō ū', as in manu 'animal', mānu 'float, afloat'. A reversed apostrophe, ʻ (koma liliu or 'okina), is used to write the glottal stop, as in many other Polynesian languages. The ʻ (okina) is often replaced by ' (apostrophe) in modern usage.[11] The additional letters h, k, r are used in foreign loanwords, apart from the single interjection puke(ta)! 'gotcha!'; although the sound [k] is found in native words in colloquial speech, it is spelled t. Note that the letter g represents a velar nasal, as in the English word sing, rather than a voiced velar stop, as in go. Thus, the correct pronunciation of Pago Pago is not Pay-go Pay-go but Pah-ngo Pah-ngo.

The first grammar and dictionary of the Samoan language, A Grammar and Dictionary of the Samoan Language, with English and Samoan Vocabulary, was written by Reverend George Pratt in 1862.[14] Pratt's valuable Samoan dictionary records many old words of special interest, specialist terminology, archaic words and names in Samoan tradition. It contains sections on Samoan proverbs and poetry, and an extensive grammatical sketch.[20] Pratt was a missionary for the London Missionary Society and lived for forty years in Matautu on the island of Savai'i.



The cardinal numerals are:

Numeral Samoan English
0 noa, selo (English loanword) zero
1 tasi one
2 lua two
3 tolu three
4 fa four
5 lima five
6 ono six
7 fitu seven
8 valu eight
9 iva nine
10 sefulu ten
11 sefulu ma le tasi, sefulu tasi eleven
12 sefulu ma le lua, sefulu lua twelve
20 luafulu, lua sefulu twenty
30 tolugafulu, tolu sefulu thirty
40 fagafulu, fa sefulu forty
50 limagafulu, lima sefulu fifty
60 onogafulu, ono sefulu sixty
70 fitugafulu, fitu sefulu seventy
80 valugafulu, valu sefulu eighty
90 ivagafulu, iva sefulu ninety
100 selau, lau one hundred
200 lua lau, lua selau two hundred
300 tolugalau, tolu selau three hundred
1000 afe one thousand
2000 lua afe two thousand
10,000 mano, sefulu afe ten thousand
100,000 Selau afe one hundred thousand
1,000,000 miliona (English loan word) one million

The term mano was an utmost limit until the adoption of loan words like miliona (million) and piliona (billion). Otherwise, quantities beyond mano were referred to as manomano or ilu; that is, innumerable.[14]

The prefix fa'a is also used to indicate the number of times. For example; fa'atolu – three times. Or fa'afia? – how many times?

The prefix "lona" or "le" indicates sequential numbering, as in "lona lua" (second), lona tolu (third), "le fa" (fourth); "muamua" or "ulua'i" denote "first". Familial sequence was denoted with terms such as ulumatua ("eldest"), ui'i ("youngest"), and ogatotonu ("middle child"); first and last born were also deemed honorifically, pa le manava ("opening the womb") and pupuni le manava ("sealing the womb"), respectively.

To denote the number of persons, the term to'a is used. For example; E to'afitu tagata e o i le pasi. Seven people are going/travelling by bus.

The suffix "lau" is used when formally counting fish, in reference to the customary plaiting of fish in leaves ("lau") before cooking. For example: "tolu lau" – three fishes

There are also formal prefixes or suffixes used in the chiefly register when counting different species of fish, taro, yams, bananas, chickens, pigs, and other foodstuffs.

See also


  1. Samoan at Ethnologue (18th ed., 2015)
  2. Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin; Bank, Sebastian, eds. (2016). "Samoan". Glottolog 2.7. Jena: Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History.
  3. "2013 Census totals by topic". Statistics New Zealand. Retrieved 11 December 2013.
  4. "Language Materials Project, Samoan". University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA). Retrieved 17 July 2010.
  5. "Ethnologue Report for Polynesian". Retrieved 2011-09-11.
  6. "Austronesian Basic Vocabulary Database figure template" (PDF). Retrieved 2011-09-11.
  7. "Classification search of the Austronesian Basic Vocabulary Database". Retrieved 2011-09-11.
  8. Lewis, M. Paul (ed.), 2009. "Samoan". Ethnologue: Languages of the World, Sixteenth edition. Dallas, Tex.: SIL International.
  9. "Motions; Samoan Language Week – Recognition". New Zealand Parliament. Retrieved 10 July 2010.
  10. "Samoan Language Week on its way". Human Rights Commission of New Zealand. Retrieved 10 July 2010.
  11. 1 2 3 4 5 6 Hunkin, Galumalemana Afeleti (2009). Gagana Sāmoa: A Samoan Language Coursebook. University of Hawaii Press. pp. 103–105. ISBN 0-8248-3131-4. Retrieved 10 July 2010.
  12. A somewhat similar situation is found in Hawaiian, where /k/ is the reflex of *t and has merged with *n.
  13. The glottal stop is often represented by an apostrophe in recent publications, and is referred to as the koma liliu (inverted comma).
  14. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 Pratt, George (1984) [1893]. A Grammar and Dictionary of the Samoan Language, with English and Samoan vocabulary (3rd and revised ed.). Papakura, New Zealand: R. McMillan. ISBN 0-908712-09-X. Retrieved 14 March 2010.
  15. Philips, Susan Urmston; Susan Steele; Christine Tanz (1987). Language, gender, and sex in comparative perspective. Cambridge University Press. ISBN 978-0-521-33807-3. Retrieved 3 January 2011.
  16. 1 2 3 Ochs, Elinor (1988). Culture and language development. CUP Archive. p. 56. ISBN 0-521-34894-3. Retrieved 18 August 2010.
  17. Beedham, Christopher (2005). Language and meaning: the structural creation of reality. John Benjamins Publishing Company. p. 140. ISBN 90-272-1564-2.
  18. Hunkin, Alfred; Penny Griffith; Lagi Sipeli; Jean Mitaera (1997). Book and Print Culture in New Zealand. Wellington, NZ: Victoria University Press. p. 250. ISBN 978-0-86473-331-3. Retrieved 22 July 2010.
  19. Hiroa, Te Rangi (1945). An Introduction to Polynesian Anthropology. NZETC, Victoria University of Wellington. Honolulu: Kraus Reprint Co.,. p. 28. Retrieved 17 July 2010.
  20. Pawley, Andrew (1984). "Foreward (sic)". In George Pratt. A Grammar and Dictionary of the Samoan Language, with English and Samoan vocabulary (3rd and revised ed.). Papakura, New Zealand: R. McMillan. ISBN 0-908712-09-X. Retrieved 14 March 2010.


  • An Account of Samoan History up to 1918 by Teo Tuvale, NZ Licence CC-BY-SA 3.0, Retrieved 8 March 2010.
  • Broselow, Ellen; and McCarthy, John J. (1984). A theory of internal reduplication. The linguistic review, 3, 25-88.
  • Churchward, Spencer. 1951. A Samoan Grammar, 2nd ed. rev. and enl. Melbourne: Spectator Publishing Company.
  • Milner, G.B. 1993, 1966. Samoan Dictionary. Polynesian Press. ISBN 0-908597-12-6
  • Mosel, Ulrike and Even Hovdhaugen, 1992. Samoan reference grammar. Oslo: Scandinavian University Press/Institute for Comparative Research in Human Culture.
  • Mosel, La'i Ulrike and Ainslie So'o. Say it in Samoan. Pacific Linguistics D88. Canberra: ANU.
  • Payne, Thomas E. 1997. Describing morphosyntax: a guide for field linguists. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0-521-58224-5.

External links

Samoan edition of Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
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