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Ko e motu‘alea Tongá The Tongan alphabet
Aa a like a in father or like the Spanish a
Ee e like e in end or like the Spanish e
Ff fā like in English
Hh hā like h in horse but more deep in the throat, something between ح and خ in Arabic
Ii i like ee in beep or like the Spanish i
Kk kā like in English
Ll lā like in English but sometimes like r
Mm mā like in English
Nn nā like in english
Ng ng ngā like ng in singer, not like in finger (see notes)
Oo o like o in odd or like the Spanish o
Pp pā like in french or in Spanish, unaspirated
Ss sā like in English
Tt tā like in French or in Spanish, unaspirated
Uu u like oo in boot, or like the Spanish u
Vv vā like in English
‘ fakau‘a glottal stop (see notes)
So the Tongan alphabet has seventeen letters. It seems small but it is still the biggest Polynesian alphabet. For instance the Sāmoan has fifteen and the Hawai‘ian only thirteen letters!
Don’t ever forget to count the fakau‘a as a letter. For example the word “fakau‘a” has 7 letters, while when we say “the first letter of the word ‘io” we mean the fakau‘a and not the “i”
1. In Tongan there are no consonants’ clusters. That means we will never see two clusters together not separated by a vowel. The letter “ng” is concidered one single letter in Tongan, so it is not an exception. Also, all words end with a vowel
2. The vowels’ clusters: In Tongan there are no diphthongs. That means that in a vowels’ cluster each vowel maintains its original pronounciation. Clusters like “ee” are pronounced eh-eh, “oo” is pronounced oh-oh etc: tatau (ta-ta-oo), toutou (to-oo-to-oo), sai
(sa-ee), faingofua (fa-ee-ngo-foo-a), engeenga (e-nge-e-nga)
3. The vowels can all be lengthened. When they are lengthened they are written with a macron (“macron” = long in Greek) over them: ā, ē, ī, ō, ū. Thus their duration, the time they are pronounced, is doubled. Attention: The macron is not a stress. That means that a vowel with a macron is doubled in duration but it is not stressed as well.
The macron never exists at the penultimate, unless if there is a macron on the ultimate too. When there is a word ending in a vowel with a macron, and it has to take a suffix which will has as a result the vowel with the macron to be the penultimate, it is doubled and the macron is lifted: fakahā + suffix ‘i --> fakahaa‘i and not fakahā‘i.
4. All Tongan words are stressed on the penultimate. The only exception is if there is a macron on the ultimate. Then the stress falls on the ultimate (ex. fenetā, muikū, pehē, pongatō…). When the words are preceded by some specific articles, adjectives and tense signs their intonation changes and the stress falls on the ultimate. Then this is noted by a stress: Tongá, vaká, tohí, onongó etc. We will mention that when we will talk about these words. If they precede a word with a macron on the utimate, the vowel with the macron is doubled and the stress falls on the second of the two same vowels: fenetaá, muikuú, peheé, pongatoó etc. We will say more about these later also
5. When we have macrons on both the penultimate and the ultimate syllables, the stress falls on the ultimate. Examples mālō, mālōlō: the stress falls on the last “ō”
6. The letter “ng” is pronounced like in “sing”, “singer” and not like in “finger”. Thus there is only one single sound produced, not a compound one (n-g). The sound comes from deep in the throat. It was written as “G” formerly and it still is in other Polynesian languages like Sāmoan, Tuvaluan, Futunan, and recently in Māori, but it is the same sound. Its pronounciation can be difficult in some words, but it’s all a matter of practice
7. The glottal stop (fakau‘a) is a weird sound for the Hindoeuropeans but it is not so exotic since it exists also in Arabic, Hebrew and many other languages. It’s a stoppage of the breath by the closure of the glottis, that is to say, the opening between the vocal hords. It is not a totally new sound though. We all execute a glottal stop when we exclaim Uh uh! (ICT p. xviii). The grunting sensation that comes between those two words is the glottal stop. It’s very important not to ommit it when talking because the meaning of the word can change
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lea language, speech, to speak, to talk
‘io yes, answer to all greetings, compliments and farewells
nofo to stay, to remain
‘alu to go
mou you (plural)
hai who, which
Greetings, farewells etc
These are some of the most common greeting, goodwill, farewell etc expressions in Tongan:
Mālō e lelei hello (lit. congrat. on being well, the being in good health is worthy of gratitude)
Fēfē hake? how are you? (fēfē means how, hake is idiomatic with fēfē)
Sai pē just fine
Sai to be good, to be alright, to be well
Mālō e lava mai welcome (lit. thanks for coming)
‘Io, mālō e tau mo eni response to mālō e lava mai
Ko hai ho hingoá? What’s your name? (ko is an equivalent of the verb to be, hai means which and ho your. We’ll talk about these later)
Ko _____ au I am _______
Ko hoku hingoá ko _____ My name is _______
‘Alu ā ē Goodbye (to the person leaving) (lit. go on)
Nofo ā ē goodbye (to the person staying) (lit. stay there)
Mou ō ā ē goodbye (to the persons leaving, plural form of ‘alu ā ē)
Mou nofo ā ē goodbye (to the persons staying, plural form of nofo ā ē)
Faka‘au ā ē goodbye (to one person leaving, formal)
Mou faka‘au ā ē goodbye (to many persons leaving, formal)
Kātaki please, excuse me (lit. have patience)
Mālō thank you, congratulations
Mālō ‘aupito thanks a lot
‘Aupito a lot, much
Fakamolemole please, excuse me (lit. to apologize)
‘Ofa atu best wishes (lit. love to you. ‘Ofa means love. It’s much used at the end of letters)
Note: The expressions ending in ā ē are read as one word, the stress falls on ā but there is a rising of the voice on ē. It’s like the rising of the intonation of the word “man” in the English “Go away man!” The ē can be ommited. Those ā and ē are just interjections with no specific meaning.
Don’t care about learning the meaning of each single word in the above expressions because we shall learn them in the next lesson
That is all for the first lesson. It was a bit long because we had to mention everything about pronunciation. I hope it is not too much. If you think of something like that, please let me know. You don’t have to memorize all notes about pronunciation; I just want them to be here so that you can look after them anytime you need to in the future. The next lessons will be much shorter though. I would like you to help me draw the lessons better for you. I will be waiting for questions, remarks, suggestions etc. No drills for this time since your vocabulary doesn’t allow them. You can just memorize the greetings.
I want to mention some books I am always adviced to draw these lessons. For anyone interested on further reading I suggest them undoubtly:
“Tongan Grammar” by C.M. Churchward, Vava‘u Press Ltd, the first (as far as I know) Tongan grammar published. It is the basis for all studying Tongan.
“Intensive Course in Tongan” by Eric Shumway, Bringham Young University, Hawai‘i, a great book with 130 lessons, dialogs, rare texts and many more. Also accompanied by audio tapes. Eric Shumway is concidered an expert in the Tongan language.
All grammar notes and rules given in these courses are based upon these two books. Notes wich I found from the “Tongan Grammar” will be mentioned in a parenthese with the mark “Gr” and the number of the session and paragraph given right after. Notes from the “Intensive Course in Tongan” book will be given with the mark “ICT” and the number of the lesson or the page.
“Dictionary Tongan – English, English – Tongan” by C.M. Churchward, Government Printing Department, Nuku‘alofa.
Also some websites like www.planet-tonga.com, www.tongatapu.net, www.tonga-star.com www.nomoa.com and others where you can find texts in Tongan.
I am now on the making of some Tongan pages at the UniLang Wiki. Many are already done. You can find them at this address: http://home.unilang.org/main/wiki2/index.php/Tongan For the moment only the alphabet page would be useful for you, but in the future you can consult it for other information as well.