Samoan ( or ; ) is the language of the Samoan Islands, comprising Samoa and the United States 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 2.2% of the population, 101,900 people, were able to speak it as of 2018. 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 ''aliʻi'', ''ʻava'', ''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. The "traditional" classification, 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, the old subgroups Tongic and Nuclear Polynesian are still included in the classification search of the database itself.

Geographic distribution

There are approximately 470,000 Samoan speakers worldwide, 50 per cent of whom live in the Samoan Islands.Lewis, M. Paul (ed.), 2009.
. Ethnologue: Languages of the World, Sixteenth edition. Dallas, Tex.: SIL International.
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 and various organisations including UNESCO. Samoan Language Week was started in Australia for the first time in 2010.


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


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


Diphthongs are . 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). is reduced to 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 are used. In colloquial Samoan, however, merge as and is pronounced . The glottal stop is phonemic in Samoan. The presence or absence of the glottal stop affects the meaning of words otherwise spelled the same, e.g. ''mai'' = from, originate from; ''maʻi'' = sickness, illness. is pronounced as a flap following a back vowel () and preceding an ; otherwise it is . is less sibilant (hissing) than in English. are found in loan words. The consonants in parentheses are only present in loanwords and formal Samoan.

Foreign words

Loanwords from English and other languages have been adapted to Samoan phonology: /k/ is retained in some instances (Christ = "Keriso", club = "kalapu", coffee = "kofe"), and has become in rare instances (such as "se totini", from the English "stocking"). /ɹ/ becomes in some instances (e.g. Christ = "Keriso", January = "Ianuari", number = "numera"), and in others (January = "Ianuali", herring = "elegi"). /d/ becomes (David = "Tavita", diamond = "taimane"). /g/ becomes in some cases (gas = "kesi"), while /tʃ/, /ʃ/ and /dʒ/ usually become (Charles = "Salesi", Charlotte = "Salata", James = "Semisi"). /h/ is retained at the beginning of some proper names (Herod = "Herota"), but in some cases becomes an 's' (hammer = "samala"), and is omitted in others (herring = "elegi", half-caste = "afakasi") /z/ becomes (Zachariah = "Sakaria") /w/ becomes (William = "Viliamu") /b/ becomes (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'', ''faʻataga'' and ''aga''. So also all words ending in a diphthong, as ''mamau'', ''mafai'', ''avai''. 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 ona le mea'', the owner, literally the (person) whose (is) the thing, instead of ''O le e ona 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 maua, ma te o atu 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 ''iá'' is accented on the ultima, the pronoun ''ia'' on the penultima.


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', ''lavaʻau'' for ''valaʻau'' '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; ''talafaʻasolopito'', ("history") stories placed in order, ''faletalimalo'', ("communal house") house for receiving guests.



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. 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 matai o 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 laʻau" = cut me some sticks). The article "le" is omitted before plural nouns: ''ʻO le tagata'', the person; ''ʻO tagata'', people.


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 person; ''ʻo le talo'', the taro; ''ʻo le iʻa'', the fish; also manufactured articles, such as ''matau'', an axe, ''vaʻa'', canoe, ''tao'', spear, ''fale'', house, etc. Some nouns are derived from verbs by the addition of either ''ga'', ''saga'', ''taga'', ''maga'', or ''ʻaga'': such as ''tuli'', to chase; ''tuliga'', chasing; ''luluʻu'', to fill the hand; ''luʻutaga'', a handful; ''feanu'', to spit; ''anusaga'', spittle; ''tanu'', to bury; ''tanulia'', 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. ''paʻapaʻa'', 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 sauga muamua '', his first coming; ''mau" to mauga'', ''ʻO le mauga muamua'', the first dwelling.


Gender is sometimes expressed by distinct names: ''ʻO le matai'', 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.


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 toʻalua teine'', two girls, for persons; or ''ʻo fale e lua'', two houses; ''ʻo tagata e toʻalua'', two persons; or ''ʻo lāʻua'', them/those two (people). The plural is known by: # the omission of the article; ''ʻo ʻulu'', breadfruits. # 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. # lengthening, or more correctly doubling, a vowel in the word; ''tuafāfine'', instead of ''tuafafine'', sisters of a brother. This method is rare. 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.


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: # 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. # 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. # Houses, and all their parts; canoes, land, country, trees, plantations; thus, ''pou o le fale'', posts of the house; ''lona fanua'', ''lona naʻu'', etc. # 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''. # Garments, etc., if for use; ''ona ʻofu''. Except when spoken of as property, riches, things laid up in store. ''A'' is used with: # Words denoting conduct, custom, etc.; ''amio'', ''masani'', ''tu''. # Language, words, speeches; ''gagana'', ''upu'', ''fetalaiga'', ''afioga''; ''ʻO le upu a le tama''. # Property of every kind. Except garments, etc., for use. # Those who serve, animals, men killed and carried off in war; ''lana tagata''. # Food of every kind. # 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''. # 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. Exceptions: # 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. # 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. # 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. # 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. # The country or town of a person omits the particle: ''ʻO le tagata Sāmoa'', a man or person of Samoa. # 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. # 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 ''vā'' 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 ''paʻepaʻe'' (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). For example:- ''The girl went to the house.'' (SVO); girl (subject), went (verb), house (object). Samoan word order; *(VSO) ''Sa alu le teine ʻi le fale.''; ''sa alu'' (verb), ''teine'' (subject), ''fale'' (object). went-girl-house. *(VOS) ''Sa alu ʻi le fale le teine.'' went-house-girl. *(OVS) ''Le fale sa alu ʻi ai le teine.'' house-went-girl. *(SVO) ''Le teine sa alu ʻi le fale.'' girl-went-house.


A phrase or clause can be made negative by the addition of a particle, a morpheme usually meaning 'not'. There are two common negative particles in Samoan, ''lē'' and ''leʻi'' (sometimes also written as ''lei'')''.'' ''Lē'' has the allomorphs e:or e(Mosel & Hovdhaugen, 1992, pp. 142, 375). ''Lē'' should not be confused for ''le'', the specific singular article, which indicates that the noun phrase refers to one particular entity (Mosel & Hovdhaugen, 1992, pp. 259). ''Lē'' and ''lei'' negate declarative and interrogative sentences, but do not negate imperative sentences. Negative imperative verbs are discussed later in this entry. ''Lē'' (meaning "not") can be combined with all tense-aspect-mood particles (or 'TAM' particles), except those that are optative and subjunctive, such as ''neʻi'', ''seʻi'', and ''ʻia'' (Mosel & Hovdhaugen, 1992, pp. 375). A negative particle may mark a negative verbal clause, as seen in the example below (from Mosel & Hovdhaugen, 1992, pp. 56). In this example of a negated declarative sentence, it can be seen that, in Samoan, there is no equivalent gloss for 'unhappy'. The negative particle ''lē'' modifies the verbal clause to form something like "not happy" instead. The meaning of ''leʻi'' differs slightly from that of ''lē.'' ''Leʻi'' indicates that an event or state has not been actualised yet, or for the time being, but is expected to become so. Therefore, ''leʻi'' is often translated as "not yet" rather than simply "not". ''Leʻi'' is usually only combined with the general TAM particle ''e'' or ''te''. See the example below (from Mosel & Hovdhaugen, 1992, pp. 376). The above example (2) demonstrates the common usage of ''leʻi'' to mean "not yet". In some cases, ''leʻi'' simply means "no, not at all", expressing the concept that an event that had been expected to happen or had been thought to have happened, did not occur after all (Mosel & Hovdhaugen, 1992, pp. 479). There is a particle, ''faʻa=,'' that acts as a causative, as well being as the most common prefix in the Samoan language. This particle can be attached to nearly all nouns and non-ergative verbs. When attached to negated verb phrases, ''faʻa='' means having the qualities of or being similar to whatever is denoted by the basic stem or phrase. It is often combined with the negative particle ''lē'' (or its allomorphs) to form the construction ''faʻa=lē=''. Prefixing ''Faʻa=lē='' onto a verb provides a polite way to say a negative phrase. Mosel & Hovdhaugen (1992, pp. 175–179) state that these particles provide three ways to express negative evaluations that vary on a scale of politeness, as demonstrated below:

Position of negation in sentences

In Samoan, particles modifying sentences usually take the first place in the sentence, with the exception of the question particle ''ʻea''. The particles forming a category are not always mutually exclusive: for instance, while two negative particles cannot be combined, certain prepositions can occur together. Additionally, negative prenuclear particles will follow the preverbal pronoun or the TAM particle (Mosel & Hovdhaugen, 1992, pp. 140). In the following examples from Mosel & Hovdhaugen (1992, pp. 331), the negative particles follow the TAM particle ''te'' (Example 1: ''e'') or the preverbal pronoun (Example 2: ''ʻou''). In both examples, the negative particle is in the second position, after the preverbal pronoun and/or the TAM particle. In Example 2, there is both a preverbal pronoun (ou'') AND a TAM particle following it (''te''). This demonstrates that the negative particle must always follow these two types of preceding particles in the sentence, even if they are both present.

Verbs exempt from negation

There are two existential verbs in Samoan: ''iai,'' "to exist, be present" and the negative equivalent ''leai'' eáior e:ái "to not exist, be absent". They differ from all other Samoan verbs in at least one respect: they cannot be negated by a negative particle. Mosel & Hovdhaugen (1992, pp.114) suggest that this originates in the etymology of these verbs: the negative existential verb ''leai'' is probably derived from ''lē'' ("not") and ''ai'' (ANAPH, "not there"). It seems that the inclusion of negation in the verb itself disallows the negative particle from the sentence structure. See the example from Mosel & Hovdhaugen (1992, pp.56) in the sentence below: In this example, the existential verb ''leai'' has been used to indicate the absence of something (that is, the cars) rather than using a negative particle. However, a negative particle (''lei'') has been used in the second clause, modifying the verbal clause to create the phrase "the roads did NOT reach there", with the emphasis on the absence of the roads in that area. According to Mosel & Hovdhaugen (1992, pp. 480–481) the only TAM particles that appear with ''leai'' are ''ʻua'' and ''e or te.'' This means that ''leai'' acts as if non-existence is a general fact, rather than linking it to a specific point in time. When another verb follows ''leai'' within the same verb phrase, it functions as a more emphatic negation meaning something like "not at all". This is demonstrated in the following example: Here, the addition of ''leai'' to the verb ''gāoi'' "to move" makes the statement more emphatic: not only did Sina not move, she did not move ''at all''.

Negative imperative verbs

There are two negative imperative verbs, ''ʻaua'' and ''sōia.'' ''ʻAua'' should not be confused with ''aua'', which means "because". These negative imperative verbs can be used independently of negative particles; as the negation is in the verb itself, an extra particle is not required. ''ʻAua'' means "don’t do, should not do" and is employed to express commands in both direct and indirect speech. What should not be done is indicated by a verbal complement clause, as seen in the example below (Mosel & Hovdhaugen, 1992, pp. 482). As discussed above, this sentence does not require a negative particle, because the negative imperative verb is sufficient. Alternatively, ''sōia'' means that 'one should stop doing something one has already started' (Mosel & Hovdhaugen, 1992, pp. 483). As with ''ʻaua'', what should not be done is indicated by a verbal complement. In direct speech, ''sōia'' is either used in the imperative without any TAM particle or in the optative marked by ''seiʻi'' (Mosel & Hovdhaugen, 1992, pp.483). See the example below with ''sōia'' as the negative imperative: This works differently from ''ʻaua'', although they are both imperative. It can be seen here that ''sōia'' means something like "cease what you are doing immediately" while ''ʻaua'' means "don’t do that action" (in a general sense).

Negation of existential clauses

The noun phrase forming an existential clause is introduced by a preposition: ''ʻo'' or ''naʻo'', meaning "only". An existential clause is negated with a complex clause: Mosel & Hovdhaugen (1992, pp. 500–501) state that 'the existential clause functions as the argument of a verbal predicate formed by a TAM particle and the negative particle ''lē'' ("not")'. An example of this can be seen in the example below, where the preposition ''o'' precedes the negative particle ''lē''. This complex sentence has several examples of negation where the negative particle lē is combined with the preposition ''o'' in order to negate an existential clause ("there will be no...").


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. 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. 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 and /n/ has merged with /ŋ/ as Additionally, /l/ is pronounced 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: t is pronounced k – ''tama'' (child, boy) is pronounced ''kama''; ''tautala'' ("to speak") is pronounced ''kaukala''; ''tulāfale'' ("orator", "talking chief") is pronounced ''kulāfale''. n is pronounced ng – ''fono'' ("meeting", "assembly") is pronounced ''fongo''; ''ono'' (the numeral "six") is pronounced ''ongo''; ''māona'' ("satisfied", "full") is pronounced ''māonga''.

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") 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, and the "dignified language" is used mainly in 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: 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.


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 introducing the Latin script for writing. In 1834, an orthography of the language was distributed by the London Missionary Society, which also set up a printing press by 1839. The first complete Bible (''Tusi Pa'ia'', Sacred Book) in Samoan was completed and published in 1862. The first problem that 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, teaching the indigenous people how to write and read their own language was next necessary. A printing press, with the alphabet keys used only English, 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 also to print them for use as texts in teaching. Thus, the missionaries introduced writing for the first time within Polynesia, were the first printers and established the first schools in villages.


The alphabet proper consists of only 15 letters: 5 vowels, a e i o u, and 10 consonants, f g l m n p s t v . In addition, a macron (''faamamafa'') written over a vowel letters indicates the five long vowels, ā ē ī ō ū, as in ''manu'' 'animal', ''mānu'' 'float, afloat'. The ʻokina (''koma liliu'', a reversed apostrophe) indicates the glottal stop, as in many other Polynesian languages. The ʻokina is often replaced by a simple apostrophe, . The additional letters h, k, r are used in foreign loanwords, apart from the single interjection ''puke(ta)!'' 'gotcha!'; although the sound is found in native words in colloquial speech, it is spelled t. The letter g represents a velar nasal, as in the English word ''sing,'' rather than a voiced velar stop, as in the English ''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. 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. Pratt was a missionary for the London Missionary Society and lived for 40 years in Matautu on the island of Savai'i.



The cardinal numerals are: 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. 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.

Similarities to other Austronesian languages

Despite the geographical distance, there are many shared words between different Austronesian languages. Below is a list of examples from 4 other Malayo-Polynesian languages: Tongan, Hawaiian, Ma'anyan, Malay. Note the presence of IPA(key) where available.

Language preservation

Though it is not the primary language of a number of nations outside of Samoa, there is an effort by the descendants of Samoans to learn the native language of their ancestors and to better understand their origins and history. Much like any language, a shift is occurring in the way words are spoken and pronounced, especially as Samoans further integrate with other languages. Unfortunately, most looking to learn Samoan are forced to turn to written materials instead of living examples. To preserve the language, linguists must use diacritical marks. Without them, the actual pronunciations of words quickly become altered and lost. The marks are commonly found before, under and above letters in words and are especially helpful for students and non-native speakers to realize the difference the vowels and glottal stops can make in the pronunciation of words. Examples include: Below is another example of a sentence with and without diacritical marks from the Samoan Bible (O le tusi paia, o le Feagaiga Tuai ma le Feagaiga fou lea
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/nowiki> [OriginalFaauta, ua e le foai mai ia te au ... [With diacritics] Fa'auta 'ua 'e lē fōa'i mai iā te a'u ... Samoan diacritical marks may seem confusing at first due to the way the language shifts based on context. Also, the mixed use of diacritical marks in literature and even within the same publication can surprise non-native speakers. This is evident in the Bible translation created by early missionaries and Reverend George Pratt which features markings in some words and not others. Part of it was due to the need to save time on the writing and typesetting and to use the markings as a guideline. Much like the Bible helped improve literacy and understanding of the language throughout Samoan communities, written works continue to be important in much the same way today. The use of the diacritical marks are not only prevalent in Samoan but also other Polynesian languages, such as Hawaiian, where similar pronunciation losses exist. Since native speakers understand how a word should be pronounced without the markings, words are commonly written and accepted with the markings absent. To prevent the loss of correct pronunciations, however, language preservation groups and the Samoan and Hawaiian governments, are taking measure to include diacritical markings in signage, television programs, school materials and printed media.

See also

*Fa'amatai Samoa's chiefly ''matai'' system which includes ''ali'i'' and ''orator chief'' statuses *Samoan plant names, includes plants used in traditional Samoan medicine. *List of Important Publications in Samoan



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. *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. .

External links

George Pratt (1878) ''A Grammar and Dictionary of the Samoan Language''
Trübner & Company, London (Google eBook)
Samoan language software ''Gagana Sāmoa: A Samoan Language Coursebook'' (2009)
Galumalemana Afeleti L. Hunkin (Programme Director, Samoan Studies, Victoria University of Wellington), University of Hawaii Press.
''Samoan: Word Book'' (1999)
Aumua Mataitusi Simanu, Luafata Simanu-Klutz, Illustrated by Regina Meredith Malala, Bess Press. *Kaipuleohone has archived index cards with words for animals and plants *Paradisec ha
a number of collections that includes Samoan materials
{{DEFAULTSORT:Samoan Language Category:Samoic languages Category:Verb–subject–object languages