Wednesday, August 22, 2007

language of the day: Samoan

Samoan is a language of the 1200+ strong Austronesian family which, amazingly, spans from Madagascar to Rapa Nui (Easter Island) in the Pacific - that's almost 9000 miles, if Google Earth is right! And although all these languages are quite different, the Samoan word for 'eight', valu, sounds much like the Malagasy word, valo, the word used by Tagalog in the Philippines, waló, or in Tetum, the language of East Timor, where it is ualu. And while Indonesian, the biggest Austronesian language, uses a wholly different word for the 'eight', delapan, its word for five is the same as in Samoan - lima. It is absolutely fascinating to see how far language similarities can go, even halfway around the world.

But back to Samoan. More than 350,000 people around the world speak the language, and most of them live in the Samoan Islands - which belong to the independent state of Samoa and the US territory of American Samoa, both of them having Samoan as an official language. Take a look at the photo from Wikimedia Commons of what sunset in Samoa looks like - and you'll get the picture. There's a sizeable community of Samoans living in New Zealand as well. Like its Polynesian siblings, Samoan has no words that end in consonants, and consonants are always followed by vowels. It uses an alphabet of 14 letters - the 5 vowels as well as f, g, l, m, n, p, s, t and v. That's why Veronica, who speaks the Samoan phrases on the Microsoft Encarta encyclopedia, actually says her name as Velonita (h, k and r do appear in words of foreign origin - kulimi is 'cream', for example). Samoans will often swap consonants in words when speaking informally, so that, according to Lonely Planet's South Pacific Phrasebook, Tātou nonofo i'inā - 'Let's sit there' - is spoken Kākou gogofo i'igā colloquially.

The all-rounder greeting is Tālofa (the macron indicates a long 'a'), fa'amolemole is 'please' and fa'afetai means 'thank you'. Samoan has separate words for a sibling of the same sex (uso) and for those of the opposite sex - a brother is tuagane and a sister is tuafafine. Mothers and fathers will also use different words when referring to their offspring. And given that you're never far from the ocean in Samoa, one word well worth knowing is matāfaga - the beach.


meima said...

Talofa :-)

Before i didn't know that's Samoan language even exists,now thanks to u i have learned.
And, something from me :

1. tasi
2. lua
3. tolu
4. fa
5. lima
6. ono
7. fitu
8. valu
9. iva

Cool :D

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