Vaeakau-Taumako language

Region Reef Islands and Taumako, Solomon Islands
Native speakers
1,700 (1999)[1]
Language codes
ISO 639-3 piv
Glottolog pile1238[2]

Vaeakau-Taumako (formerly known as Pileni) is a Polynesian language spoken in some of the Reef Islands as well as in the Taumako Islands (also known as the Duff Islands) in the Temotu province of the Solomon Islands.

The language is spoken throughout the Taumako Islands, while in the Reef Islands, it is spoken on Aua, Matema, Nifiloli, Nupani, Nukapu, and Pileni. Speakers are thought to be descendants of people from Tuvalu.

The language has traditionally been considered one of the Futunic group of Polynesian languages, but a 2008 study exclusively based on lexical evidence concluded that this membership is weakly supported.[3]



Vaeakau-Taumako does not vary from the standard Polynesian and Austronesian vowel system, featuring five vowels that can be used either in a long or short form. Short vowels found in word-final syllables are frequently devoiced or dropped, but long vowels in the same position are always stressed. There is little allophonic variation between vowel pronunciations.[GVT 1]

Front Central Back
High i: /i/ and /ī/ u: /u/ and /ū/
Mid e: /e/ and /ē/ o: /o/ and /ō/
Low a: /a/ and /ā/

Vowel sequences in Vaeakau-Taumako are typically not treated as diphthongs, as they are not fully reduplicated, as shown in the word "holauhola". This is despite the vowels in the original word being pronounced like a diphthong.[GVT 1]


The Vaeakau-Taumako language has one of the most complex consonant system of the Polynesian languages, with 19 distinct phonemes, plus a large amount of variation across dialects. /b/ and /d/ are found primarily in loan words, rather being native to the language.[GVT 2]

Aspirated sounds are characteristic of the language, and are typically strong and audible. However, the use of aspirated sounds varies across dialects, enough that it is difficult to identify a consistent pattern aside from noting they always occur at the start of stressed syllables.[GVT 3]

Labial Dentalveolar Velar
Oral stop unvoiced, unaspirated

unvoiced, aspirated







Nasal voiced, unaspirated

unvoiced, aspirated





Lateral voiced, unaspirated

unvoiced, aspirated


Fricative voiced







Vaeakau-Taumako pronouns distinguish between 1st, 2nd and 3rd person pronouns. There are some inclusive and exclusive distinctions, and variations for singular, dual and plural in all cases. There are no gender distinctions. There is variation in the pronoun system for the dialects of Vaeakau-Taumako which can become quite complex, so for simplicity, only the general forms are recorded here.[GVT 4]

Independent personal pronouns

There are two distinctive base sets of independent personal pronouns in Vaeakau-Taumako. The standard forms are used for formal occasions and recorded text, while the colloquial forms are typically found in informal, everyday conversation.[GVT 5]

Standard Colloquial
Singular 1st person

2nd person

3rd person

iau, au



Dual 1st person inclusive

1st person exclusive

2nd person

3rd person



khoulua, kholua



houlua, holua


Plural 1st person inclusive

1st person exclusive

2nd person

3rd person

thatou, thatu

mihatou, mhatu

khoutou, khotou

lhatou, lhatu

hatou, hatu


hatou, hatu

Bound subject pronouns

The language also features bound subject pronouns which act as clitics to the tense-aspect-mood marker of the verb of the constituent. They are not obligatory to use. The presence of the "u" has free variation by the choice of the speaker, but they are typically less prevalent in the colloquial forms.[GVT 6]

Standard Colloquial
Singular 1st person

2nd person

3rd person

u=, ku=



Dual 1st person inclusive

1st person exclusive

2nd person

3rd person








Plural 1st person inclusive

1st person exclusive

2nd person

3rd person








Hortative pronouns

The dual, plural and 2nd person singular have specific pronouns used in imperative and hortative sentences.[GVT 7]

Singular Dual Plural
1st person inclusive ta tatu, hatu, tatou
1st person exclusive ma matu
2nd person ko lu tu
3rd person la latu, hatu

Emphatic corefential pronouns

When the subject and direct object of a sentence are the same thing, repetition of the independent pronoun in place of both argument positions is typically used. However, there is a set of emphatic coreferential pronouns used for the direct object to refer to someone or a group of people acting alone.[GVT 8]

Singular Dual Plural
1st person inclusive okhitaua okithatou
1st person exclusive okhoiau okhimaua okimhatou
2nd person okhoe okhoulua okhoutou
3rd person okhoia okhilaua okilhatou

The general pronoun nga

The word nga functions as a pronoun with specific use. It is a third person pronoun, but lacks specification for number, and is used to refer to both singular and plural referents. It typically is an anaphoric reference to a previously mentioned referent.[GVT 9]



While it is common for Polynesian languages to distinguish between alienability and inalienability with a and o possessives, this is not the case for Vaeakau-Taumako. This distinction exists, however it instead marks control – not of the possessed item itself, but of the possessive relationship.[GVT 10]


Relationships that can be initiated or terminated freely, such as items that can be bought, sold or given away at will are marked with the a-possessive.[GVT 10]


Relationships that are outside of the possessor's personal control, such as body parts and kinship relationships are marked with o-possessives.[GVT 10]

Alienability and inalienability

Instead of a- and o- possessives, alienability and inalienability in Vaeakau-Taumako are distinguished by the use of either prenominal or postnominal possessive pronouns.[GVT 11]

Prenominal possessive pronouns

Prenominal possessive pronouns occur directly preceding the possessed nouns, and are typically used for inalienable relationships, such as kinship terms and body parts.[GVT 12] Prenominal possessive pronouns distinguish between singular, dual and plural of the possessor. The singular possessive forms make an additional distinction between singular and plural of the possessed entity, and encode the a- or o-possessive directly. The dual and plural possessor forms are combined with the possessive prepositions a and o to express this distinction, or they may occur without a preposition.[GVT 11]

Singular possessed Plural possessed
Singular 1st person

2nd person

3rd person

taku, toku/tuku


tana, tona, tena, na

aku, oku

au, ou/ō

ana, ona

Dual 1st person inclusive

1st person inclusive

2nd person

3rd person

(a/o) ta

(a/o) ma

(a/o) lu

(a/o) la

Plural 1st person inclusive

1st person exclusive

2nd person

3rd person

(a/o) tatu

(a/o) matu

(a/o) koto, (a/o) tu

(a/o) latu

Postnominal possessive pronouns

The postnominal possessive pronoun succeeds the possessed noun, and are used to mark alienable relationships, such as owned items. They make no distinction between singular and plural of the possessed item, instead the distinction is usually made through the choice of article preceding the possessed noun. Like with prenominal possessive pronouns, the postnominal possessives are based on the possessive prepositions a and o, plus a pronominal form indicating person and number of the possessor. In the singular form, this is the same set of suffixes found on the prenominal possessives, whereas in the dual and plural form, a distinct set of person and number forms are found. In the third and first person, these forms are identical to the independent personal pronouns, except for the lack of aspiration on the initial consonant.[GVT 13]

Singular Dual Plural
1st person inclusive taua tatou
1st person exclusive aku, oku maua matou
2nd person au, ou aulua, oulua autou, outou
3rd person ana, ona laua latou

Possessive Suffixes

The possessive suffixes -ku (1st person), -u (2nd person) and -na (3rd person) apply to a restricted set of kinship nouns: tama/mha ‘father’, hina ‘mother’, thoka ‘same-sex sibling’, thupu ‘grandparent’, and mokupu ‘grandchild’. These nouns cannot occur without possessive marking, they require either a possessive suffix or, in the dual and plural, a postnominal possessive pronoun.[GVT 14] An alternative construction is for these nouns to take the 3rd person possessive suffix -na in combination with a prenominal possessive pronoun or possessive prepositional phrase. The form in -na must in such cases be understood as a neutral or unmarked form, since it may combine with a pronoun of any person and number; but a form in -na without any further possessive marking is unambiguously 3rd person.[GVT 15] Nouns other than those previously mentioned do not take possessive suffixes, but instead combine with possessive pronouns.[GVT 16]


  1. 1 2 p.28
  2. p.34-35
  3. p.36
  4. p.98
  5. p.99-100
  6. p.103-104
  7. p.105
  8. p.106
  9. p.106-107
  10. 1 2 3 p.109
  11. 1 2 p.111
  12. p.112
  13. p.115
  14. p.147
  15. p.148
  16. p.149.
  1. Vaeakau-Taumako at Ethnologue (18th ed., 2015)
  2. Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin; Bank, Sebastian, eds. (2016). "Pileni". Glottolog 2.7. Jena: Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History.
  3. Austronesian Basic Vocabulary Database
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