The Alphabet

The alphabet consists of sixteen letters:

  • Five vowels: a, e, i, o, u
  • Eleven consonants (including the diagraph ng): f, h, k, l, m, n, ng, p, s, t, v

Vowels

Each vowel has a long and a short duration and each consonant may be held or dwelt on in such a way as to give the succeeding vowel a slight explosive sound.

Every word ends in a vowel.

Short Sounds

  • a: mata (eye, face)    both vowels sounded as "u" in "butter"
  • e: pepe (butterfly, moth)    both vowels sounded as "e" in "bet"
  • i: titi (woman’s kilt)    both vowels sounded as "i" in "tin"
  • o: popo (copra )    both vowels sounded as "o" in "pot"
  • u: tuku (put, give)    both vowels sounded as "u" in "pull"

Long Sounds

  • a: fanau (offspring)    a sounded as "a" in "father"
  • e: pefea (how)    e sounded as "c" in "send"
  • i: sili (to ask)    i sounded as "i" in "liter"
  • o: po (night)    o sounded as "o" in "north"
  • u: pula (shine)    u sounded as "u" in "rule"

When vowels occur together each must be sounded separately, and distinctly.

There are no diphthongs. For example, taeao (tomorrow) is sounded ta-eh-ah-o(r), almost as if the word consisted of four different syllables.

Consonants

  • f    fricative sound obtained by holding the lower lip almost against the upper lip, and not against the upper teeth as in English "f"
  • h    as in English
  • k    as in English, but with the tongue further back on the palate
  • l    as in English
  • m    as in English, but slightly heavier and more prolonged
  • n    as in English, but heavier
  • ng    as the "ng" in English "singing," never like the "ng" in "finger." The initial sound "ng" should be practiced. For example, ngongo (the black noddy ), ngalu (a wave), ngatala (rock cod ), ngali (pretty).
  • p    as in English, but heavier
  • s    as in English, but much heavier and with a suspicion of the English "sh"
  • t    sounded as in English, but thicker, with the flat rather than the tip, of the tongue against the hard palate
  • v    lower lip is held against the upper lip, as for Tuvaluan f, and not against the upper teeth

Sometimes a reduplicative syllable is elided; in such cases the preceding consonant is held so as to create a time gap, giving the succeeding syllable a slightly explosive sound. For example, fakakai (a village).

On Niutao Island, the three syllables of the word are pronounced distinctly. On other islands in the Tuvalu group, the second syllable is elided and the word becomes fakai, with the k held for the time it takes to pronounce the other syllable. It should be noticed that the pause is in the middle of the consonant itself, not after the preceding vowel.

In this manner, o pepelo (to lie) becomes o pelo (pronounced "o ppello"). O sosolo (to wipe) becomes o solo (pronounced "o ssolo"). O totolo (to creep) becomes o tolo (pronounced "o ttolo"). Te ngangana (the sound, the language [hence the name of this website]) becomes te ngana (pronounced "te ngngana").

In normal spelling it is not necessary to employ doubled consonants as above to denote these lengthened consonants, but the student is advised to use them in their own vocabulary lists.

Throughout this handbook they are rarely used to denote the length of either vowels or consonants. No student can hope to learn from the book alone. The help of a native is necessary and the student should note carefully the exact value given by their native mentor to both vowels and consonants, and so mark them in their vocabulary lists.

Formatter's note: I realize, however, that not everyone has access to the knowledge of native Tuvaluan speakers, but I wanted to include this.


Please email me if you have any corrections, suggestions, questions, ideas, or content to add. I'd love to hear from you!

changed May 16, 2010