Volume 31 1922 > Volume 31, No. 124 > The speech of Niua Fo'ou, by E. E. V. Collocott, p 185-189
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NIUA Fo'ou, sometimes marked Hope Island on European maps, lies midway between Suva and Apia, and about 200 miles N.N.W. of Vavau. It forms part of the Tongan Group, and so far as I have been able to learn there is no remembrance of any period when its people were not in close association with the main body of the Tongans to the south. Traditions, however, there may be, though I have not heard them. The scanty traditionary history which I heard during a recent short visit to the island related almost entirely to the family of the chief, Fotofili. The first Fotofilis—there were two of them, brothers—went to Niua Fo'ou from Tongatabu either six or seven generations ago, and the people they found there were probably ethnically and politically one with the Tongans, as are their descendants to-day.

The people of Niua Fo'ou have apparently been less affected by Fijian influence than have their kindred to the south, and in their isolation have preserved words and forms which seem to be older than those of common Tongan speech. The influence of the Bible, Church and School is fast obliterating these differences. The Niuans profess themselves ashamed to use their characteristic forms of speech before those who speak ordinary Tongan, and even in private intercourse amongst themselves are more and more neglecting their own dialect.

Although I think that in the main the speech of Niua Fo'ou exhibits forms once common to the whole Tongan area, but which have been modified in the southern parts of the group partly by Fijian influence, and partly by natural internal phonetic change, yet the possibility, perhaps the probability, of Niua Fo'ou having been affected by Samoa and Uvea must not be overlooked. Intercourse with Uvea seems to have been considerable, but on the other hand it might be well to include Uvea within the language area embracing Tonga and Niua Fo'ou.

The language of Niua Tobutabu (Keppel's Island), 110 miles east by south of Niua Fo'ou, and 130 miles north of Vavau, whose people are probably less affected by Melanesian influence than the more southerly Tongans, presents practically no variations from ordinary Tongan. There are said to be a few words in use which are not found in the southern parts of the group, but there is nothing corresponding - 186 to the phonetic peculiarities of Niua Fo'ou. On the voyage to Niua Fo'ou we had as fellow-passenger a native of that island, who propounded a little piece of popular etymology. He knew that the island is sometimes called Hope Island. The landing is notoriously difficult. The island is volcanic, and the coast everywhere steep and rocky. It is impossible to bring any but small rowing boats along-side the shore, and a landing is effected by watching one's opportunity as the boat rises on the crest of a wave and jumping on to a little rock platform. The Tongan word for jump is hopo, and the etymologist explained the name Hope Island by saying that early navigators attempting to land were exhorted by the natives to hopo, which word the foreigners miscalled Hope, and hence the name. That, however, by the way.

Of the more interesting differences between the speech of Niua Fo'ou and current Tongan the following may be noticed:—

PRONOUNS. In the 2nd personal pronoun dual and plural, Tongan, unlike most Polynesian tongues, has lost the forms built on the singular ko, and agrees with many Melanesian languages in exhibiting forms whose root is mo or mu. Niua Fo'ou has what are possibly true old Tongan forms, kolua, you two, and kotou (doubtless at one time kotolu), you (three or more). When considering the likelihood of Tongan having once possessed these pronouns, however, sight must not be lost of the fact that many Melanesian languages show the same variation as Tongan from ko or go roots in the singular to mo or mu roots in the dual and plural.

In the remaining pronominal forms the differences between current Tongan and Niuan are not radical, though Niua Fo'ou seems not to prefix ki to the root in certain forms as Tongan does; Niua Fo'ou, ki-amaua, Tongan, ki-a-te ki-maua, to us two (exclusive). This example illustrates also another difference, the suffixing of te to the preposition in certain positions in Tongan and the omission of this suffix in Niua Fo'ou. (Is te to be considered a suffix to the preposition, a prefix to the following word, or neither?)

THE ARTICLE. The common Polynesian article te, which has survived in Tongan only in composition, and in the proverb, Kuhu te elo, pato te emo, signifying one who makes a wry face at his food, but nevertheless licks the platter very clean, is in full vigour in Niua Fo'ou. In Tongan the case-word ko, used before pronouns, nouns and noun clauses which are neither the subject nor object of verbs nor governed by prepositions, together with the article e (or he) gives rise to koe. In Niua Fo'ou, instead of koe, is found ko te. In Tongan ko-e with the pronoun ha form ko-e-ha, what? The corresponding word in Niua Fo'ou is ko-te-a?

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In coalescences of the article with possessive pronouns Niua Fo'ou naturally shows forms beginning with t-, whereas the corresponding Tongan words commence with h-.

TENSE PARTICLES. There are minor differences of form, but the only striking variation between Tongan and Niua Fo'ouan which came to my notice was what seemed to be the use of e in Niua Fo'ou as a sign of the present tense. This is found in Samoan, but not in Tongan.

PHONOLOGY. Several phonetic changes which have occurred in Tongan have not taken place in Niua Fo'ou.

In Tongan ai unaccented tends to pass into ei. A short time ago I was sitting with some Tongans amongst whom was a girl named Vai-ogo. She was called indifferently Vai-ogo or Vei-ogo. The names of the islands Nomuka-iki (Little Nomuka) and Eua-iki (Little Eua) have become Nomukeiki (this is not quite correct as there is an indistinct vowel between k and e where the final a of Nomuka once was), and Eueiki.

Very interesting is the Tongan word 'eiki, chief, which has obviously descended from the form 'aliki (cf. Samoan ali'i, Maori ariki, etc.). The l was first lost from 'aliki (numerous cases of elision of l in Tongan can be seen by comparing Tongan with Samoan, to go no further afield), and then 'aiki passed by an ordinary phonetic change into 'eiki. In Niua Fo'ou, however, the word aliki is in actual use.

Other words illustrating this difference between Tongan and Niua Fo'ouan are T. beito, N.F. baito, kitchen, cook-house; T. -eitu (only in composition), N.F. aitu, god, spirit; T. tefito, N.F. tafito, root, show unaccented a passing into e in Tongan when the following vowel is i although a consonant intervenes.

In Tongan a unaccented becomes o when the next vowel is u, though a consonant may intervene. (I first saw this rule formulated by A. M. Hocart, “Man,” Vol. XV., p. 149 note). This change is still going on: tanu, bury, has a passive tanu-mia, which is frequently pronounced tonu-mia. Niua Fo'ou retains a in this position. Tongan, hou-'eiki, Niua Fo'ou, hau-aliki, chiefs.

otu fonua atu fenua, chain of islands.

H; in Tongan there are two series of h, one represented by Samoan s, and the other unrepresented in Samoan or other Polynesian dialects by any sound. Niua Fo'ou agrees with Tonga in the occurrences of h which correspond to Samoan s, but agrees with Samoan in the cases where the consonant has been lost altogether. These variations of course do not support the supposition that Niua Fo'ou has preserved old Tongan forms.

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Tongan hala Niua Fo'ou hala Samoan sala error
  ha'u   hau   sau come
  1 hala   ala   ala road
  hake   ake   a'e up
  hifo   ifo   ifo down
  tahi   tai   tai sea
  ha?   a?   a? what?
1   I am indebted to Mr. Sidney H. Ray for explanation of this Tongan H by comparison with Indonesian. Tregear's Maori Comparative Dictionary also adduces Indonesian cognates.

L; the elision of l in Tongan in certain instances has already been mentioned. There are cases where l lost in ordinary usages of words has been retained in composition. Examples of Niua Foouan words make one suspect that before the modern influence of Tongan on Niua Fo'ouan l was retained by the latter speech in many positions where it had already been lost by Tongan; cf. Tongan, tamaiki, N.F. tamaliki, children.

GLOTTAL STOP. The stop, which is so pronounced a feature of Tongan is less marked in Niua Fo'ou, and there is also a greater tendency in the latter island for a double vowel to pass into a long vowel.

ACCENTUATION. The general effect of the speech of Niua Fo'ou on the ear is different from that of Tongan. The Niua Fo'ouans raise the voice on final words and syllables, giving the language a cadence not unlike that of Samoan. Messrs. Tregear and Smith note the same peculiarity in the speech of Niue (Savage Island), “In speaking, the emphasis should fall upon the last word in the sentence, and the voice be raised at the same time.” (Edward Tregear and S. Percy Smith, “A Vocabulary and Grammar of the Niue Dialect of the Polynesian Language, Wellington, 1907.)

Connected with the accentuation of final syllables in Niua Fo'ou, whereas the accent in Tongan normally falls on the penultimate, is the fuller form in Niua Fo'ou of nei, this, which in Tongan has become an enclitic ni. Tongan, ko e falé ni (ni enclitic), N.F. ko te fale néi, this house. Compare also Tongan fe, with N.F. fea, where? Tongan, ko ho'o alu ki fe? N.F. ko tau alu ki fea? Where are you going to? (Lit. Your going to where?)

I regret that I omitted to make inquiries in Niua Fo'ou about the syllable si (Tongan), which has passed into si in quite recent times from tchi, and corresponds to Samoan ti. On returning from Niua Fo'ou I was asked in Vavau by Mr. McGregor what the usage was in the northern island, and only then remembered that I had overlooked this important point. In a story that was given me the word osi was - 189 pronounced as in Tongan, but this may be due to late Tongan influence, and cannot be accepted as proof that ti or tchi did not survive longer in Niua Fo'ou than in Tonga. (On the general passage of ti into tchi in Tongan, Mr. A. R. Brown suggested in conversation that the change arose through palatalisation of the syllable in Tongan, which seems to be indubitably the correct explanation.)

There are also slight variations in vocabulary between Tongan and Niua Fo'ou, but the number of words differing from current Tongan which I was able to collect during a short stay on the island was very small. The dialectal peculiarities of Niua Fo'ou are fast disappearing before the political and cultural authority of Tonga, but the interest of these remains lies in the fact that in so many instances they present forms which prima facie one would expect to have been used at one time over the whole Tongan-speaking area.