Tikopia language

Last updated
Native to Solomon Islands
Region Tikopia
Native speakers
3,300 (1999) [1]
Language codes
ISO 639-3 tkp
Glottolog tiko1237

The Tikopia language is a Polynesian Outlier language from the island of Tikopia in the Solomon Islands. It is closely related to the Anuta language of the neighboring island of Anuta. Tikopian is also spoken by the Polynesian minority on Vanikoro, who long ago migrated from Tikopia.




Because of its remote and isolated location, Tikopia had few contacts with outside groups until well into the twentieth century. Tikopians occasionally visited other islands, but these trips were limited by the large distances and great hazards involved in canoe ocean voyages. Contacts by Westerners began sporadically around the beginning of the nineteenth century, but in 1927, when Firth did his initial fieldwork in Tikopia, the indigenous culture was largely intact. The major contact agents were, first, missionaries and, later, labor recruiters. By the 1950s, all the Tikopians had become Christianized, and most of the native ritual practices had ceased. Much of the Tikopian life style has remained intact, but the forces of Westernization have been making inroads throughout the twentieth century. [2]


Tikopia is a small remote volcanic island that has a population of 1,200 people. It is the southwest of the Solomon Islands. There are about seventy-five different languages that are spoken on the Solomon Islands. Out of these languages seventy-one are living and four are extinct. Out of the living languages five are institutional, twenty-four are developing, twenty-six are vigorous, eight are in trouble, and eight are dying. Linguists refer this language as a Samoic or a Polynesian Outlier language. Polynesian Outlier languages are a number of Polynesian societies that lie outside the main region of the Polynesian Triangle. Some linguists also believe that Tikopia and Anuta are the dialects of the same language. There are approximately 3320 speakers that speak the Tikopian language. The Tikopian language, Tikopia-Anuta, is part of the Austronesian language family. [3]



Labial Dental/
Nasal m n ŋ
Plosive p k
Fricative f v s
Trill r

/ v / has a glide allophone of [ w ] when preceding / u /. [4]

There are eleven consonant phonemes that this language uses. They use the letters /f, k, l, m, n, p, r, s, t, v, w, ng/ and the glottal stop. [3] There have been debates from different linguists on whether or not Tikopia uses l or r. Elbert claims that Tikopia is a language that uses l but not r and he strongly believes this because he believed Tikopia was a colony of Samoa. Raymond Firth said, “Dumont DʻUrville published a small dictionary in 1834 where 235 words were collected.” R was the most dominant in that dictionary because it appeared in 50 words while l appeared in only 15. The language changed in over a century and modernly more words are used with l. Raymond Firths own work shows that both l and r phonemes are used. Not too many words use the letter l and are actually rarely heard in native speakers. [5]


The vowel phonemes are /i, e, a, o, u/. The vowel length is similar to the consonant lengths. Linguists do not interpret long vowels in writing so they use shortcuts like macrons (a line over the vowel indicating a longer length), but in Tikopia writing they use two identical juxtaposed vowels. According to the Tikopia dictionary, “This has typographical simplicity, but may present a problem of interpretation as to where long vowel and rearticulation actually occur.


Basic Word Order

The basic word order in Tikopia is Subject-Verb-Object, but sometimes they use the Verb-Subject-Object Typology. [3]


Tikopia uses partial reduplication and it usually intensifies a verb to make it plural. [3] The suffix “nofo” is added to a verb and it makes the verb that is being acted upon by a subject plural, so it is acted upon by subjects.



Throughout the history of the Tikopian language they made contact with the outside world. During these times, there is a high chance that many words from other languages were borrowed and used in the language known as “loanwords”. Some of these words are known as native to Tikopia, but the main sources of the borrowing words are from Anuta, Mota, Hawaiian, and most definitely English. Words derived from English:



Most of the recorded documents on this language come from the linguist Raymond Firth. Tikopia did not have much documented until the twentieth century where Firth spent three trips to Tikopia. In 1928 Firth spent a whole year on his first time to Tikopia; he revisited in 1952 for five more months and again in 1966. Only one person had recorded documents before Firth in 1910, Reverend W. J. Durrad, and he stayed for a duration of 2 months. With this valuable documentation, Raymond Firth was able to create a dictionary for the Tikopian language, Taranga Fakatikopia Ma Taranga Fakainglisi. They also have a bible, limited YouTube videos and some song books.


Tikopia is spoken throughout the Solomon Islands and is very well documented. Raymond Firth spent a lot of his time making sure that Tikopia did not fall close to being extinct. He created the dictionary with all his information and it was highly useful. With his help Tikopia is nowhere near being extinct, therefore, according to ethnologue, Tikiopia is categorized as a developing language.

Further reading

Related Research Articles

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Tuvaluan language</span> Polynesian language spoken in Tuvalu

Tuvaluan, often called Tuvalu, is a Polynesian language closely related to the Ellicean group spoken in Tuvalu. It is more or less distantly related to all other Polynesian languages, such as Hawaiian, Māori, Tahitian, Samoan, Tokelauan and Tongan, and most closely related to the languages spoken on the Polynesian Outliers in Micronesia and Northern and Central Melanesia. Tuvaluan has borrowed considerably from Samoan, the language of Christian missionaries in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Polynesian languages</span> Language family

The Polynesian languages form a genealogical group of languages, itself part of the Oceanic branch of the Austronesian family.

The Samoic–Outlier languages, also known as Samoic languages, are a purported group of Polynesian languages, encompassing the Polynesian languages of Samoa, Tuvalu, American Samoa, Tokelau, Wallis and Futuna, and Polynesian outlier languages in New Caledonia, the Solomon Islands, Vanuatu, Papua New Guinea, and the Federated States of Micronesia. The name "Samoic-Outlier" recognizes Sāmoan.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Polynesian outlier</span> Polynesian societies outside the main region

Polynesian outliers are a number of culturally Polynesian societies that geographically lie outside the main region of Polynesian influence, known as the Polynesian Triangle; instead, Polynesian outliers are scattered in the two other Pacific subregions: Melanesia and Micronesia. Based on archaeological and linguistic analysis, these islands are considered to have been colonized by seafaring Polynesians, mostly from the area of Tonga, Samoa and Tuvalu.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Fatutaka</span>

Fatutaka, Fatu Taka or Patu Taka is a small high island in the Solomon Islands province of Temotu in the south-west Pacific Ocean. The easternmost of the Solomon Islands, Fatutaka is located c. 32 km (20 mi) southeast of Anuta and can be seen from there in clear weather. Fatutaka and Anuta were discovered by Admiral Edward Edwards in 1791.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Anuta</span>

Anuta is a small high island in the southeastern part of the Solomon Islands province of Temotu, one of the smallest permanently inhabited Polynesian islands. It is one of the Polynesian Outlier communities in Melanesia.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Tikopia</span>

Tikopia is a high island in the southwestern Pacific Ocean. It forms a part of the Melanesian nation state of Solomon Islands but is culturally Polynesian. The first Europeans arrived on 22 April 1606 as part of the Spanish expedition of Pedro Fernandes de Queirós.

Kapingamarangi is a Polynesian language spoken in the Federated States of Micronesia. It had 3,000 native speakers in 1995. The language is closely related to the Nukuoro language.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Raymond Firth</span> Economic anthropologist

Sir Raymond William Firth was an ethnologist from New Zealand. As a result of Firth's ethnographic work, actual behaviour of societies is separated from the idealized rules of behaviour within the particular society. He was a long serving Professor of Anthropology at London School of Economics, and is considered to have singlehandedly created a form of British economic anthropology.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Temotu Province</span> Province in Lata, Solomon Islands

Temotu is the easternmost province of Solomon Islands. The province was formerly known as Santa Cruz Islands Province. It consists, essentially, of two chains of islands which run parallel to each other from the northwest to the southeast. Its area is 895 square kilometres.

The Nukuoro language is a Polynesian Outlier language, spoken by about 1,200 people on Nukuoro Atoll and on Pohnpei, two islands of Pohnpei State within the Federated States of Micronesia. Nukuoro is a remote coral atoll with a population of about 150, where the primary language is Nukuoro. An additional several hundred Nukuoro speakers live in Kolonia, Pohnpei, with smaller diaspora communities elsewhere in Micronesia and in the United States. Most Nukuoro speakers, particularly those that live away from Nukuoro Atoll, are multilingual in Pohnpeian and/or English; some older Nukuoro speakers also know German or Japanese.

Rennell-Bellona, or Rennellese, is a Polynesian language spoken in the Rennell and Bellona Province of the Solomon Islands. A dictionary of the language has been published.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Vanikoro</span> One of the Solomon Islands of the south-west Pacific

Vanikoro is an island in the Santa Cruz group, located 118 kilometres to the Southeast of the main Santa Cruz group. It is part of the Temotu Province of the Solomon Islands.

The Anuta language is a Polynesian Outlier language from the island of Anuta in the Solomon Islands. It is closely related to the Tikopia language of the neighboring island of Tikopia, and it bears significant cultural influence from the island. The two languages have a high degree of mutual intelligibility, although Anutans can understand Tikopians better than the reverse.

Teanu is the main language spoken on the island of Vanikoro, in the easternmost province of the Solomon Islands.

Mele-Fila (Ifira-Mele) is a Polynesian language spoken in Mele and Ifira on the island of Efate in Vanuatu. In spite of their differences, Mele and Fila are two dialects of the same language and are mutually intelligible. French and English are also fairly common among the residents of Efate.

Emae, or Fakamae, is a Polynesian outlier language of Vanuatu.

Satawalese is a Micronesian language of the Federated States of Micronesia. It is nearly intelligible with Mortlockese.

Nuguria (Nukuria) was a Polynesian language, spoken by approximately 550 people on Nuguria in the eastern islands of Papua New Guinea. The language was taught in primary schools in Nuguria and was used for daily communications between adults and children. Nuguria is one of the eighteen small islands to the east of Papua New Guinea, which are known as the Polynesian Outliers. The Nukuria language has been concluded to be closely related to other nearby languages such as Nukumanu, Takuu, Nukuoro, and Luangiua. Research on the Nuguria Atoll and the language itself is scarce; past research demonstrated that this language was at risk of potential endangerment. The language was only then classified as at risk of endangerment because it was still used between generations and was passed on to the children. However, recent research indicates that Nukuria is now most likely an extinct language.

Sikaiana is a Polynesian language, spoken by about 730 people on Sikaiana in the Solomon Islands.


  1. Tikopia at Ethnologue (18th ed., 2015) (subscription required)
  2. Lagace, Robert O.; Swanson, Eleanor C. "Society-TIKOPIA". Archived from the original on 3 March 2016.
  3. 1 2 3 4 Firth, Raymond (1985). Tikopia-English Dictionary. Auckland: University of Auckland Press.
  4. Dodenhoff, Daniel D. (1982). A Tikopia phonology. Canberra: Research School of Pacific and Asian Studies, Australian National University.
  5. Firth, Raymond (1963). "L and R in Tikopia Language". Oceanic Linguistics. 2 (2): 49–61. JSTOR   20172291.

Coordinates: 12°18′S168°50′E / 12.3°S 168.83°E / -12.3; 168.83