Drehu language

Region Lifou, New Caledonia
Native speakers
unknown; est. 13,000 includes many L2 speakers (2009)[1]
Language codes
ISO 639-3 dhv
Glottolog dehu1237[2]

Drehu ([ɖehu]; also known as Dehu,[3] Lifou,[4] Lifu,[5] qene drehu[6]) is an Austronesian language mostly spoken on Lifou Island, Loyalty Islands, New Caledonia. It has about twelve-thousand fluent speakers and the status of a French regional language. This status means that pupils can take it as an optional topic for the baccalauréat in New Caledonia itself or French mainland.[7] It has been also taught at the Institut National des Langues et Civilisations Orientales (INALCO) in Paris since 1973 and at the University of New Caledonia since 2000. As for other Kanak languages, Drehu is now regulated by the "Académie des langues kanak", officially founded in 2007.

There is also a respective register in Drehu, called qene miny.[8] In time past, this was used to speak to the chiefs (joxu). Today very few people still know and practice this language.



Front Central Back
High i iː u uː
Mid e eː ø øː o oː
Open æ æː ɑ ɑː


Bilabial Labiodental Dental Alveolar Retroflex Alveopalatal Velar Glottal
Stops and
p (b) t d ʈ ɖ t͡ʃ (d͡ʒ) k ɡ
Nasals m̥ m n̥ n ɲ̊ ɲ ŋ̊ ŋ
Fricatives f (v) θ ð s z x h
Laterals l̥ l
Semivowels ʍ w

/b d͡ʒ v/ occur only in loanwords.

Writing system

Drehu was first written in the Latin script by the Polynesian[9] and English missionaries of the London Missionary Society during the 1840s, with the help of the natives. The first complete Bible was published in 1890. The bible writing system didn't distinguish between the dental (written "d", "t") and the alveolar/retroflex ("dr" and "tr") consonants, which for a long time were written indifferently "d" and "t". In Drehu /θ/ and /ð/ are not dental but interdental consonants. The new writing system was created during the 1970s.


Personal pronouns





  1. Drehu at Ethnologue (18th ed., 2015)
  2. Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin; Bank, Sebastian, eds. (2016). "Dehu". Glottolog 2.7. Jena: Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History.
  3. In missionary time
  4. In French
  5. In English
  6. Qene means language (literally "qe" : mouth, "ne" : of)
  7. Only five of the twenty-eight Kanak languages (in the 1999 Rapport Cerquilini or 40 according to the Académie des langues kanak) have this status: Drehu (island of Lifou), Nengone (island of Maré), A'jië (around Houaïlou), Paicĩ (around Poindimié) and Xaracuu (around Canala and Thio).
  8. As Maurice Leenhardt did ("Langues et dialectes de l'Austro Mélanésie" (1946), the Académie considers qene miny not only as a respective register but also a distinct language
  9. Most were from the Cook Islands.


External links

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