Tobian language

Last updated
Ramarih Hatohobei
Native to Palau
Region Hatohobei, Koror, Sonsorol
Native speakers
150 (2017) [1]
Latin script [1]
Official status
Official language in
Flag of Palau.svg  Palau
Language codes
ISO 639-3 tox
Glottolog tobi1238
ELP Tobian
Southeast Asia location map.svg
Red pog.svg
Coordinates: 3°00′N131°10′E / 3.00°N 131.17°E / 3.00; 131.17
Pidgin Tobi
Native speakers
Tobi-based pidgin
Language codes
ISO 639-3 None (mis)
Glottolog hora1238
ELP Tobian

Tobian (ramarih Hatohobei, literally "the language of Tobi") is the language of Tobi, one of the Southwest Islands of Palau, and the main island of Hatohobei state. Tobian is a Micronesian language spoken by approximately 150 people, about 22 are native speakers. The speakers are located in either the island of Tobi or in Echang, a hamlet of Koror, the former capital of Palau. Tobian and Sonsorolese are very close, and appear to be gradually merging towards a new dialect called "Echangese". [2] [3] Earlier in the 20th century, about 1000 people lived on the island. Shortly before and during the First World War, those numbers dropped severely due to an abundance of disease.



Tobian and the dialects of Sonsorol, Merir, and Pulo Ana, the other inhabited Southwest Islands, are closely related to the languages spoken in the Federated States of Micronesia outer islands of Yap and Chuuk Lagoon. These include Ulithi and the Central Carolines. Altogether, these languages form a sub-group within the Micronesian languages. The names of these dialects are the terms that are commonly used in European terms. Below are the native names as compared to the common names:

Common NameNative Name
Pul, Pulo AnaPu:r

Tobi is the basis of a local pidgin. [4]



This is only base counting. There are different numerals for a lot of different objects. [5]



Table of Vowel Sounds [3]
High close



ɨ ʉ

Mid close






Low close




"œ" is used rarely and sounds similar to the French "eu" but the lips do not round out at the end of the sound and has critical meaning in words. There is a central low vowel that sounds like the "u" in "but", but it does not have semantic value and it has very rare occurrence. [3]


There are a lot of diphthongs in Tobian and according to Capell, "several of them are difficult for Europeans". [3]

äe as in mäe: breadfruit

äi fäivi: woman

aḛ wa′ŋaḛt: then

ai maik: swordfish

a:i ms:il, forehead decoration

ao̯ wao̯: top

au jau: needle, sauruai: my friend

a:u sa:u: piece

ei lei: agent of action

oʉ woʉ: rather of house

øi røi: coconut oil

øʉ Pannøʉ: Palau

Homonyms and Near Homonyms

Like most other languages, Tobian has examples of homonyms but they are not as abundant. Meanings can vary solely on vowel length. Also small differences in sounds can produce major differences in meanings. [3] For example, the difference between voiceless (f) and voiced (v) consonants are important but there are many exceptions where it does not affect the meaning.

ŋøŋa 1. to chew betelnut 2. a stick used in weaving

ʉl 1. a lobster 2. to pull, drag

taitai 1. to excel, precede 2. to shave

Differences In Sounds

mäk: tatooing as compared with ma: kind of garnish

′pannʉ: coconut leaf Pannøʉ: Palau

i′te: my name i′tøʉ?: who?

teiføʉ: thirsty taivøʉ: new

ŋøs: tired ŋo̯s: glans penis

Accents Of Words And Sentences

Tobian utilizes both stress and pitch accents or tones. Compared to the other dialects, it uses less musical tone. It is not a tonal language because the tone does not change the meaning of the word. Although it is not tonal, the speech has a wide variety of tone variations that appear to be emotional rather than linguistic and either show emphasis or other semantic components. Stress accents are used but not as much as English or Russian. In the past, the stress marks would normally be placed on the last syllable of the words. In the present, the stress marks can be placed either on the last syllable or the second to last syllable.

  1. Accent on the Penultimate (Second to last)
  2. Accent on the Final Syllable
  3. Accent on the Antepenultimate (Third to last)
  4. Sentence Stress
  5. Vowel Harmony
  6. Vowel Length
  7. Furtive Vowels (Slightly heard or silent vowels)


Table of Consonant Sounds
Plosivesp, bt, dck, g
Fricativesf, vs (z), o (ɵ)jx, ɣ

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  1. 1 2 Simons, Gary F; Fennig, Charles D, eds. (2018). Ethnologue: Languages of the World (21st ed.). Dallas, Texas: SIL International.
  2. White & Kirkpatrick, Geoffrey & John (1985). Person, Self, and Experience: Exploring Pacific Ethnopsychologies. Berkeley & Los Angeles, California: The Regents of the University of California. p. 266. ISBN   0-520-05280-3.
  3. 1 2 3 4 5 CAPELL, ARTHUR (1951). Grammar & Vocabulary of the Language of Sonsorol - Tobi. Washington: Washington Pacific Science Office, National Research Council.
  4. Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin, eds. (2017). "Horace Holden's Pidgin Tobi". Glottolog 3.0 . Jena, Germany: Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History.
  5. Base Counting Words by Isauro Andrew Isauro Andrew