Introduction and Brief Grammar


The following discussion is primarily intended as an expla­nation of the codes and usage notes used in the lexicon, it is not meant to be a complete grammatical description of the Sik­aiana language.  There are seven sections: (1) a general intro­duction to Sikaiana Language, Culture and Society; (2) Phonology; (3) Nouns (including pronouns, possessive pronouns, nominalized verbs, adjectives, demonstratives); (4) Verbs and the Verbal Phrase (including tense-aspect markers, verb affixes, direction particles, verb classes, and plural and repeated action); (5) Prepositions and Case Relations; (6) Conjunctions and interroga­tives; (7) Numbers.

1. Sikaiana Language, Culture and Society

Sikaiana is a Polynesian Outlier located about 100 miles east of Malaita Island in the Solomon Islands.  Its culture and language share many affinities with other northern Polynesian Outliers including Luaniua (Hogbin 1934/61, Salmond 1974), Takuu (Irwin Howard personal communication), and others. Pawley (1966, 1967) classified it with the Samoic‑Outlier subgroup of Poly­nesian languages. The Sikaiana grammar was first described by Capell (1935‑37).  His informants were Solomon Islander mission­aries who had lived on Sikaiana.  Later linguistic work was done in the late 1960s by Peter Sharples.

According to Sikaiana legend, the island was founded by Tehui Atahu who came from a place named Luahatu that is not identified with any specific island (some Sikaiana speculate that it is Tokelau; others claim Tonga).  Tehui Atahu left his home and travelled to various nearby islands including Santa Cruz, Luaniua, Takuu, and Nukumanu taking aboard people from these islands as members of his crew.  He originally found Sikaiana submerged and journeyed on to Luaniua.  Upon returning to Sik­aiana, he found the island occupied by a people named the Hetuna.  He annihilated the Hetuna, and established himself and his descendants as the chiefly line of Sikaiana.

Traditional history records an invasion by a group of ‘Tongans’ under a leader named Vaeoma.  This occurred about 10‑12 generations ago in most genealogies.  (Most Sikaiana people agree that before this invasion genealogies are not precise.)  After killing much of the island’s population, the Tongans left for Taumako where they themselves were killed when a Sikaiana hostage reported their behavior on Sikaiana.

According to traditional history, at about the same time as this invasion of Tongans, people from Nukumanu, Tuvalu (Ellice), and Samoa came to Sikaiana.  These people intermarried with the Sikaiana people and became the recognized founders of patrilines (hale akina).  There was intermittent but continuous contact with nearby Polynesian islands, including Luaniua, Taumako, Pileni, Pelau, and Nukumanu.  There are some legends of contact with Malaita.

The first reported sighting of the island by Europeans was in 1791 and there followed relatively frequent contact with traders and whalers through the 19th century.  Several Europeans who visited Sikaiana in the mid 19th century reported that some of the local people could speak ‘broken’ English.  In the late 19th century, a group of Kiribati (Gilbertese) refugees were taken to the island by a trader where they intermarried with the local population.  By the early 20th century, some Sikaiana men worked on ships and for traders.

In the late 1920s, the islands’ ritual houses were burned at the instigation of an European trader.  Shortly after, in 1929, the Melanesian Mission (the present-day Church of Melanesia) established a missionary base on Sikaiana, and there followed a rapid and almost complete conversion to Christianity.  The original conversion was conducted by Melanesians from the Melane­sian Brotherhood or Tasiu.  After 1929, many of the island’s younger men and women were sent away to mission schools where they were instructed in Mota (the original language used by the Melanesian Mission) and later English.  During this period, emigration increased as men sought work in other parts of the Solomons, especially on the government vessels or for the Melane­sian Mission.

After the Second World War, emigration to other areas of the Solomon Islands accelerated.  At present, the population living on Sikaiana itself fluctuates at about 200-250 people. About 450-500 other Sikaiana people have emigrated away from the island for education or employment.  These people are mostly concentrated in the Honiara area of Guadalcanal, the Lever’s Plantation at Yandina, and several small settlements in Isabel Province.  Many Sikaiana people, both young and old, have spent much of their lives away from the island.

Every male and most females, both living on Sikaiana and elsewhere, are fluent in the lingua franca of the Solomon Is­lands, Pijin English.  Most children learn Pijin English by the time they start school, if not earlier.  Many younger men, born after the Second World War prefer to converse with each other in Pijin English rather than the Sikaiana language, claiming that they are more comfortable and better able to express themselves speaking Pijin.  Knowledge of English is variable, and there are some fluent speakers. The Sikaiana people say that their language has undergone many changes, and that many younger speakers born after the Second World War do not speak it properly.

As might be expected, the vocabulary for introduced techno­logy is largely borrowed from English.  Moreover, in the informal speech of many speakers, there is very heavy borrowing from English and Pijin English.  This borrowing occurs even when there are Sikaiana terms that are acceptable equivalents.

Social change, emigration, and changing language use form the context for contemporary language use on Sikaiana.  To conserve space, this book includes only the most commonly used English borrowings.  The reader should be aware that most of the technical terminology for Sikaiana’s present social institutions, such as the church, cooperative society, local  government, court, and school is borrowed from English.  Moreover, the technology of the island is increasingly oriented to imported manufactured products, and the terminology for these products is usually borrowed from English.

Some of the terms listed in this text describe traditional technology, ritual or practices that are no longer followed.  During my stay in 1980-1983, and again in 1987, there were no outrigger canoes on Sikaiana.  Many traditional net and deep sea fishing techniques are no longer practiced.  Most string is bought in stores rather than made from home fibre.  No living informant remembers any shell axe being used for clearing or cutting.  Before the cyclone in 1986, about half the dwellings on Sikaiana have a concrete foundation or iron roof. Most pre-Christian ritual is no longer practiced and largely forgotten.

The usage notes in this text provide the reader with some insight into language use on Sikaiana in the 1980s.  Many of the terms listed in this lexicon are unknown to younger and even many middle aged Sikaiana people.  Such terms are marked ‘archaic’.  Because many of these terms were collected from traditional songs (TS), a quote from the song is often included.  Christianity has had a profound influence on Sikaiana society and traditional ritual that is no longer practiced is listed as ‘PCR’ (pre­Christ­ian ritual).  Traditional practices that are still followed are unmarked.  Christian ritual terms are marked ‘CR’.

The Sikaiana people are rightly proud of their ability to use metaphor in speech.  Figurative meanings are listed as separate senses and labelled ‘figurative’ in the usage notes.  In order to give a glimpse of Sikaiana language use, examples in the vocabulary include quotes from many songs.  Songs often describe Sikaiana values and these quotations are included to give the reader some idea of how language is used to describe these values. However, verses that have a fairly complex metaphorical meaning are not included.  The songs are classified into two types:  ‘modern’ songs (MS) are usually written to Western or neo‑Polynesian tunes and have a Western verse style, while ‘traditional’ songs (TS) use a traditional composition style and tune even though they may have been written fairly recently.  In this text, the usage note ‘demeaning’ is used in a different sense than that used by Elbert in his dictionary of Rennellese.  In this lexicon, ‘demeaning’ refers to speech that is critical of the person about whom the word is spoken.  Terms marked ‘demean­ing’ are often used jokingly, although in some contexts they may be very insulting.

2. Phonology

There are five vowels all of which are reflexes of the Proto‑Polynesian vowel system:

Front   Central   Back

High     i                 u

Mid      e                 o

Low               a

u and i are pronounced as glides w and y, especially when they precede a, or u precedes i.  Glides are not marked in this lexicon because they are determined by their environment and reflect no phonemic contrasts.

There are 9 consonants which are reflexes of the Proto-Polynesian consonants reconstructed by Walsh and Biggs (1966):

PPN *p  *t  *k  *’  *f  *w  *s   *h   *m  *n  *ng  *l  *r

SIK     p   t   k        f/h   v   s   ‑/s   m   n      n    l   l

In some words f and h are in free variation, for example: hhati or ffati ‘break’, hhiti or ffiti ‘spark’, hhuti or ffuti ‘pull’.  But in many words only h is accept­able, for example: honu ‘turtle’, hili ‘choose’, hata ‘fence’, hetuu ‘star’.

Since h is the dominant form, being an acceptable alter­native for all words beginning with f, while f is not acceptable as an alternative for many words beginning with h, I have entered all these forms under ‘h’, listing as alternates those words in which f is acceptable. In a few words, s and h are in free variation: maasani or maahani ‘rise up’, hakaleelesi or hakaleelehi ‘to lie’, tahi or tasi ‘one’.  In singing, many other words normally spoken with h are sung with s: aho becomes aso ‘day’, heai becomes seai ‘no’, he(e) becomes se(e) ‘not’.

There is a length distinction in the vowels and between single and double (or geminate) consonants that is phonemic and important for proper pronunciation.  The Sikaiana people speak of such contrasts as ‘heavy’ versus ‘light’, or ‘slow’ versus ‘rapid’.  In the text, these distinctions are represented by doubling the consonant or the vowel.  The Sikaiana usually do not mark these distinctions in their own writing.  Most Sikaiana, however, stated that they think my orthography is preferable.

The following minimal pairs demonstrate the length dis­tinction for vowels:

aha  ‘shell tool for making a net’

ahaa ‘cyclone’

aaha ‘open up’

seesee ‘search for women’

sesee  ‘search’

toonu ‘resentment’

tonu  ‘correct’

tia   ‘tie a net’

tiia  ‘halo’

taku  ‘my’

takuu ‘axe’

These distinctions not only reflect vowel length, but also affect the stress patterns, since primary stress normally falls on the penultimate (second to last) vowel and secondary stress on every other preceding vowel (this corresponds with syllables).

Double or geminate consonants are frequent and have a phonemically distinct pronunciation from single consonants. Often the geminate consonants occur as the result of the loss in pronunciation of an unstressed vowel.  Minimal pairs are listed below with examples of the dropped or elided vowel.

Unstressed Syllable Elision      Minimal Pair Contrast

hahai,  hhai  ‘to strip leaves’    hai  ‘to have’

papale, ppale ‘to blame’           pale ‘to slide against’

lalana, llana ‘to weave’           lana ‘to swell, of a sore’

mamata, mmata ‘to examine’         mata ‘raw, of food’

nanau,  nnau  ‘tough to eat’       nau  ‘1st pers. sg., I’

sasau,  ssau  ‘to carry’           sau  ‘a song type’

totolo, ttolo ‘to crawl’           tolo ‘to plant’

vivisi, vvisi ‘to touch’            visi ‘to be crowded’

In normal speech, all the words in the left column are spoken in their elided or shortened form.  Some younger speakers, born after the Second World War, claim not to recognize many of the longer or unelided forms, although they hear the difference between words with double consonants and those with single consonants.  Double consonants also occur to mark agreement in verbs with plural subjects, or in some cases to mark repeated action.  This is probably a result of the same environment described above; the plural forms of the verb reduplicate the first syllable of the singular form, and then the initial un­stressed vowel is not pronounced (see section 4.6).

Double consonants also occur in some words with initial t that follow the definite article te.  The e in te is elided and the initial t of the following word given stronger articulation:

te tama  ‑‑‑‑‑‑>  ttama ‘person’

te tai   ‑‑‑‑‑‑>  ttai  ‘sea, as a location’

The transcription of English borrowings is difficult since there is considerable variation in pronunciation, depending upon the speaker’s familiarity with English.  This book uses a conser­vative transcription; the word is listed as older speakers pronounce the word.  However, the reader should be aware that most Sikaiana people are able to articulate [r], clusters of consonants with different articulation, and voiced consonants, and do so in pronouncing recent English borrowings.

The alphabetization of this dictionary was developed as a compromise between the conventions for writing currently used by the Sikaiana people and an orthography which represents the phonemic contrasts of the language.  All double vowels of the same articulation and geminate (or double) consonants are located in this book as if they were single vowels and consonants respec­tively.  (Thus ppili ‘to be stuck’ and pili ‘to be on top’ are found next to each other.)  This may cause some initial confusion to the non‑Sikaiana reader which hopefully will be mastered.  It should make this book easier to use for a Sikaiana reader.


Sentence order in Sikaiana is variable, but short, simple or direct statements often have the following pattern:

SUBJECT      VERB            OBJECT

Noun Phrase    Verbal Phrase   (preposition) Noun Phrase(s)

For present purposes the verbal environment or ‘verb phrase’ will be discussed separately from the noun phrases that follow it.  Sentence initial noun phrases usually do not lead with a preposition.  Noun phrases following the verb may or may not lead with a preposition depending upon the case relationships of the noun phrases to the verb, and qualities of the verb.  Several different noun phrases may follow the verb; the unmarked one must come first and in many ways such unmarked phrases resemble direct objects in English.  Subject initial word order is unusual for most Polynesian languages but seems to be typical of the Northern Polynesian Outliers.

Sentence initial verb phrases are not infrequent in extended discourse or narrative.  Often they are followed by the particles ai or ei.

3. Nouns

The Sikaiana noun occurs in the following environment:

article     noun  (nq) (q) (demonstrative)


possessive pronoun

An article always precedes the noun, except before nouns of place, proper names, and free pronouns; possessive pronouns may replace articles.  Most noun qualifiers (nq) or adjectives follow the noun and sometimes another qualifier (q) follows.   Demon­stratives and deictics occur last.

In most contexts, nouns can be distinguished from other parts of speech because they follow the articles te or na.  As will be discussed below, words that are commonly used as verbs can be identified as nouns when they (and their derivations) follow the article, teTe is often a singular marker, although it may also refer to a class of objects; na is a plural marker.

Like most Polynesian languages, Sikaiana marks two types of possession: ‘alienable’ and ‘inalienable’.  In some cases, the marking seems to be determined by qualities of the possessed noun, and in other cases it is determined by the relationship between the possessor and the possessed.  These types of posses­sion are marked by a (alienable) and o (inalienable) either as  possessive markers or as infixes in the possessive pronoun.  In the following example, hale ‘house’ is possessed by o class posses­sive pronouns, while kete ‘basket’ is a class:

Preposition           Possessive Pronoun

te  hale  o  Sina    ‑‑>   tona hale

the house of Sina         her  house

te  kete   a  Sina   ‑‑>   tana kete

the basket of Sina        her  basket

Inalienable (o) nouns include most kinship relationships, formal social relationships such as marriage and friendship, body parts, clothing and bedding, and certain other nouns such as kelekele ‘land’, kaaina ‘named territories’, hale ‘house’, vaka ‘canoe’, and motokaa ‘automobile’.  There are some exceptions to these generalizations; for example, tama ‘child’ is marked by a possession if referring to a biological child, but by o posses­sion if referring to a relative: tana tama ‘his biological child’, but tona tama ‘his relative’.  Clothing and bedding that are being made, and canoes and houses under construction, are mark­ed by a class possession in referring to their maker or builder; tana hale ‘his house, that he is building’.

In many cases, the marking of nouns refers to the relation­ship between possessor and possessed rather than any intrinsic quality of the noun. If an object is part of a larger whole, then it is inalienably (o) possessed by the whole of which it is part.  However, the same noun may be marked as a class, when possessed by a human.  For example, pola ‘roof mats’ are inalienable to the house of which they are a part, but they are alienable to the individual who owns them:

Te  hale  e   isi  ona pola.

the house T/A has  its roof mats

Te  tama   e   isi  ana pola.

the person T/A has  his roof mats

In the first sentence, ona marks inalienable possession; in the second sentence, ana marks alienable possession.  In the first example it seems more appropriate to describe the relation­ship between possessed and possessor as ‘partitive’.

Nouns describing ceremonies, events, and honors may be marked as either alienable or inalienable depending upon whether the sponsor or the benefactor is being described.  Thus if a man composes a song for or about a woman, the song is possessed alienably by the man, tana mako, ‘his song, that he composed’; but it is possessed inalienably by the woman, tona mako, ‘her song, that was composed about her’.  The same principle applies to other social events, such as a marriage exchange.  For the person(s) who arrange the exchanges in a marriage exchange it is tana penupenu, ‘his/her marriage that he/she sponsored’; but for the bride or groom it is tona penupenu, ‘his/her marriage ex­change’. In this lexicon, nouns are classified into four types to reflect these distinctions.  A fifth class refers to flora and fauna.  Personal names and place names are classified separately.  The following abbreviations are used to classify nouns:

[na]   alienable noun, normally taking a

[no]   inalienable noun, normally taking o

[nao]  a noun that is a for ‘sponsor’ and o for ‘benefactor’

[np]   a noun that is part of a whole; o for the whole of which           is part, but a or a human possessor

[nf]   a noun for flora or fauna

[psn]  personal name

[pln]  place name

Words for relative directions or locations are not pre­positions, but rather nouns of place, including: aluna ‘above’, loto ‘inside’, lalo ‘below’, anna ‘on top’, taha ‘outside’, uta ‘to land, inland’, tai ‘toward the sea’.  Like place names, they are not preceded by an article: i anna o te kaiana, ‘on (the) top of the table’.

3.1 Pronouns

The Sikaiana pronoun system marks a distinction between singular (one person), dual (two people), and plural (more than two people).  Moreover, there is an inclusive and exclusive distinction in first person pronouns that indicates whether the listener is included or excluded in the statement.  These dis­tinctions apply to both free pronouns and possessive pronouns.

All pronouns and personal names (including names of boats) are preceded by a personal name marker, a, which is optional in both sentence initial position and directly following the verb, but must be included following the prepositions i and ki (i a nau, ki a nau).  This marker is not used after the prepositions ma and e or following the particles ei and ai.

The following is the paradigm for free pronouns:

singular   dual       plural

1st person Incl.         nau       taaua     taatou

Excl.                                         maaua   maatou

2nd person               koe        koulua   koutou

3rd person                ia           laaua     laatou

Following the prepositions i, ki, ma, e, after the sentence particles ai and ei, and in verb initial sentences, dual and plural forms are prefixed with ki:

Laatou ni  kauake  na tana ki a kilaatou.

they   T/A brought pl bag  to   them

‘They brought the bags to them’.


3.2 Possessive Pronouns

Possessive pronouns follow the paradigm of pronouns in agreeing with the possessor.  They are marked for agreement with their possessed nouns depending upon: 1) whether it is “alien­able” or “inalienable” possession; (2) whether the item possessed is singular or plural.

The following paradigms describe the Sikaiana possessive pronouns for a and o class possessed objects.

Possessive pronouns for possessed singular alienable nouns:

singular   dual       plural


1st person Excl.  taku       te maaua   te maatou

Incl.                   te taaua   te taatou

2nd person       tau           (t)taulua    (t)tautou

3rd person        tana          te laaua   te laatou

Possessive pronouns for possessed plural alienable nouns:

1st person Excl.  (a)aku          a maaua    a maatou

Incl                          a taaua      a taatou

2nd person       (a)au              (a)aulua     (a)autou

3rd person       (a)ana              a laaua     a laatou


Possessive pronouns for possessed singular inalienable nouns:

1st person Excl.  toku        te maaua      te maatou

Incl                     te taaua      te taatou

2nd person           too           (t)toulua    (t)toutou

3rd person            tona        te laaua      te laatou


Possessive pronouns for possessed plural inalienable nouns:

1st person Excl.  (o)oku           o maaua      o maatou

Incl.                           o taaua      o taatou

2nd person        oo                    (o)oulua      (o)outou

3rd person       (o)ona                 o laaua      o laatou


Sikaiana also makes a distinction between objects that are in possession and objects that are being requested:

Too  mai    taku ika.

give hither my fish

Too  mai    maaku he      ika.

give hither my (request) fish

In the first sentence the person making the statement has already caught the fish and is asking that it be brought to him.  In the second sentence the person is requesting that somebody bring him a fish that is not yet in his possession (somebody else’s fish).

3.3 Nominalized Verbs

Verbs are converted into noun clauses in two ways.  First a suffix, -ana may be added to the root.  In this form, the no­minalized verb is usually an a class or alienable noun and often refers to past action or states.  Second, a verb can be nominal­ized without any affixa­tion by placing it after the definite article, te or a possessive pronoun.  In this latter case, the nominalized verb is an o class or inalienable noun and usually refers to present action or states. Occasionally, an entire verb phrase is nominal­ized:

tana ola   mai    muli‑ana

her  alive hither again‑nom. suffix

‘her coming alive again’

Nominalized verbs, especially in the unaffixed form, are very common.  They are not listed under separate senses in this book unless the word is used very frequently or the nominalized meaning is not obvious from the meaning of the verb.

3.4 Noun Qualifiers or Adjectives

Noun qualifiers (or as they are more commonly called, adjectives) usually follow the noun that they qualify and are often taken from class IV stative verbs.  They may also be taken from other classes of verbs, although rarely class I transitive verbs.

te vai maaliki           ‘cold water’

te talatala hakaleelesi  ‘untrue speech’

te tava leu              ‘ripe tava fruit’

te tama hakaaloha        ‘the pitiful man’

A few words function only as noun qualifiers, and some of these must be placed before the noun they modify, for example: ttahi ‘large’, ttahi te ika  ‘a large fish’, ttahi te tama ‘a large man’; tapaa  ‘very small, little’, tapaa tama ‘a baby’, tapaa ika  ‘a very small fish’; siaa ‘a few’: na siaa tama ‘a few people’.

In addition, there are some qualifiers that may modify a noun and its noun qualifiers.  Most of these appear after the noun or the noun qualifier and include: hoki ‘also’, koia ‘only’, katoa ‘all’.

In this lexicon, words that only appear as noun qualifiers or adjectives are abbreviated with [nq]; other qualifiers that can modify a noun qualifier are abbreviated with [q].  If a verb is used as a noun qualifier in a way that is slightly different from its meaning as a verb, or if it is used frequently, then an entry is made under a separate sense of the headword.  Otherwise, verbs that appear as noun qualifiers are not listed as noun qualifiers.  Many verbs that are listed as semi-transitive (vp) or stative (vs) also occur frequently as noun qualifiers or adjec­tives.

3.5 Demonstratives

Three particles serve as both demonstrative pronouns and deictic markers:  nei refers to something in the immediate presence of the speaker, or sometimes in conversation to the speech being spoken; naa refers to objects in sight but not in the immediate presence of the speaker, objects near or on the other side of the listener, and in discourse, naamay refer to speech that has been spoken by listener;  laa refers to objects that are far away from speaker, and in discourse may refer to topics or speech introduced previously to the conversation being held.

These demonstratives can also be used as nouns of place when prefixed with iki‑: ikinei  ‘here’; ikinaa  ‘there, near lis­tener, or place already mentioned in discourse’; ikilaa  ‘there, far from speaker and listener’.

4. Verbs

Verb roots and their derivations occur in the following environment:

T/A    (neg)           Verb        (direction particle) (vq) (q)

/ |  \                           |

kunaa  he(e)  (prefix) root (suffix)       mai

ni                    haka‑         ‑Cia           atu

kona                ma‑                           ake

kaihe               ta-                             iho

ku                   hii-








T/A represents tense‑aspect markers.  The negative marker, he(e), appears before the verb.  There are a few verb qualifiers that may appear before the verb, but normally they appear after the verb.  The position of the direction particles in the verb phrase is variable, although usually they appear after the root (and the ‑Cia derivative if suffixed).  Deictic markers appear at the end of the phrase.  In verb initial sentences, the tense­aspect markers are usually omitted.

4.1 Tense‑Aspect Markers

Verbs appear after tense‑aspect markers.  Other than verb prefix­es, the negative marker he(e), and a few verb qualifiers, there are very few forms that can appear between a verb and the tense‑aspect markers.  These tense aspect markers and their functions are: kunaa, past perfect ‘had been completed’; ni, perfect ‘have completed’; kona, past progressive ‘was doing’ kaihe, immediate ‘just completed’; ku, present immediate ‘is, being, etc.’; e, indefinite and future ‘is doing, will do, be’; koi present progressive ‘still doing’; ka, inceptive, future definite ‘will do’; heki, negative progressive ‘not yet done’; ki, obligative ‘must, should do’; poki, negative subjunctive ‘lest’.

There are three negative imperatives: he poi, he toi, and kau heHe poi is the most frequently used of these and means to cease from repeating the action described by the verb:

He poi talatala muli  i     te mea   nei.

not   speak    again about sg thing this

‘Don’t speak any more about this.’


4.2 Verb Affixes


4.2.1  haka‑

The ‘causative’ prefix, haka is very productive and serves a variety of functions.  With root verbs that are ‘intransitive’ [vi] or ‘stative’ [vs] it converts the root into a ‘transitive’ verb, often with the new meaning of ‘causing to do the action or be in the state described by the root verb’; for example: piko ‘crooked’, hakapiko ‘to make crooked’; mmau ‘firm’, hakammau ‘to make firm’; haele ‘to walk’, hakahaele ‘to make someone walk’. Prefixed to other verbs (usually class II ‘semi‑transitive’) it changes the meaning slightly from the root verb, as in lono ‘listen, hear’, hakalono ‘believe, obey’; anaana ‘to help’, hakaanaana ‘to be bothersome’.

4.2.2 ma‑, ta‑

A stative affix, ma- is prefixed to a comparatively small number of verb roots usually converting transitive roots into stative derivatives.  Most of the root verbs that can be prefixed with ma- share the semantic feature of referring to an action that changes the state of a non‑animate object (or patient) of the root.  Root verbs that accept a ma‑ prefix may be suffixed with ‑Cia in their root form (without the ma‑ prefix).  But -Cia is not affixed to the ma- prefixed derivative of the root.

Te tama maa   ni  seu     na hale  henua.

sg man  white T/A destroy pl house island

‘The white man destroyed the lineage houses.’


Na hale  henua   ku  ma‑sseu.

pl house island  T/A destroy (stative)

‘The lineage houses are destroyed.’

The following words are commonly used verbs that also occur with the ma‑ prefix:

seu ‘destroy’      maseu ‘destroyed’

oha ‘shred’        maoha ‘shredded’

uhu ‘pull out’      mauhu ‘pulled put’

haa ‘chop’         mahaa ‘chopped’

llemo ‘drown’      malemo ‘drowned’

ssolo ‘wash’       masolo ‘faded’

llini ‘pour’       malini ‘spilled’

ssae ‘tear’        masae ‘torn’

llana ‘pry up’      malana ‘pried up’

hhana ‘pull out’   mahana ‘pulled out’

kkolu ‘bend’       makolu ‘bent’

nneke ‘move’       maneke ‘moved’

hhola ‘spread out’ mahola ‘straightened, spread out’

The ta‑ prefixed forms are much rarer, but have similar derivation patterns: hakalli ‘to boil’, takalli ‘to be boiled’; keu ‘to turn’, takeu ‘to be twisted, turned’; huli ‘turn over’, tahuli ‘to be turned over’.


4.2.3  ‑Cia

This is a very productive suffix on Sikaiana that is common­ly found in Eastern Polynesian languages as a transitive suffix (see Pawley 1973, Clark 1974).  C represents a consonant that varies depending upon the word, and -Cia yields the forms: hia (laka, lakahia), -kia (somo, somokia), ‑lia (honu, honulia) ‑mia (anu, anumia), ‑nia (poo, poonia), ‑ina (talatala, talatalaina), ‑sia (kkolu, kolusia), -tia (aloha, alohatia), ‑ia (pakupaku, pakuia) and ‑a (haele, haelea).  Younger speakers have levelled most of these forms and often use ‑lia to replace many of the above suffixes (lakalia, somolia, anulia, etc.).  However, some older speakers take this as a sign of ‘lazy’ or ‘incorrect’ speech.  With the help of Dr. John Kilatu, I have attempted to include all the ‑Cia suffixed forms of the verbs in their older form which is still used by a some older speakers, and can be found in some of the traditional songs.

When ‑Cia is suffixed to the verb, there is a change of case marking and word order which closely resembles the change in case marking found in the English active and passive voices.  In active sentences with an unsuffixed verb, the subject/agent is unmarked and usually appears before the verb phrase.  The ob­ject/patient/goal/location usually follow the verb phrase.  In sentences with a ‑Cia suffixed verb, the object/patient/goal/­location often appears initially and the subject/agent, when it appears, occurs after the verb phrase following the agent marker, e.

A Sina ni  aloha ki a Telaupounini.

Sina T/A pity  to   T.

‘Sina pitied Telaupounini.’


A Telaupounini ni  aloha‑tia e  Sina.

T.           T/A pity‑Cia  by Sina

‘Telaupounini was pitied by Sina.’

There are a very few words in which the ‑Cia suffix is not used, although the e agent marker follows the verb, including: iloa ‘know’, lavaka ‘possible’, tiaki ‘leave’.

‑Cia has other functions.  It is used imperatively: He aloha‑lia mai! ‘Don’t pity me!’; Haki‑lia na niu! ‘Pluck the coconuts!’  It may also be suffixed to nouns of time and space with the meaning of being caught at that place or time, usually under unusual or unpleasant circumstances.  For example: poo ‘night’, poonia ‘to not arrive at one’s destination by night­fall’; maalama ‘dawn’, maalamatia ‘to be dawned upon (caught stealing in the early dawn or sleeping when one should be prepar­ing for the day’s activities)’.

Many verbs that are prefixed with haka‑ can then be suffixed with ‑Cia.  This is especially true of some intransitive and stative verbs to be discussed below.

root         haka‑root         haka‑root‑Cia

haele        hakahaele         hakahaelea

‘walk’       ‘to make walk’    ‘to be made to walk (as in
teaching a baby to walk)’

4.2.4  hii‑

This prefix marks desire to do the action of or to be in the state of the root verb: unu ‘drink’, hiiunu ‘to be thirsty’; moe ‘sleep’, hiimoe ‘to be sleepy’.

4.3  Verb Classes

In this book I have divided the verbs into four categories based upon both semantics (meaning) and grammar.  This class­ification is not without its problems and will probably need to be revised.  Nevertheless, I think it is a useful start.  This classification is based, in part, upon the grammatical relation­ships of verbs to noun phrases and how these case relation­ships are affected by the following derivatives: (1) the root, (2) the haka‑ prefix, and (3) the ‑Cia suffix.

Class I: Transitive [vt].  These are verbs that correspond to Fillmore’s ‘AO’ verbs, or Pawley’s (1973) ‘deliberate transi­tives’ reconstructed for Proto‑Oceanic.  All the verbs describe deliberate and usually physical action upon some part of the environment.  This includes such words as: ssau ‘carry’, tuki ‘pound’, penapena ‘make’, hhati ‘break’, kaiaa ‘steal’, sui ‘buy’.  The -Cia suffix is very productive with transitive verbs.

A Sina ni  ssau  na tana.

Sina T/A carry pl bags

‘Sina carried the bags.’


Na tana ni  saau‑a    e     Sina.

pl bags T/A carry‑Cia prep. Sina

‘The bags were carried by Sina.’

Haka‑ is rarely prefixed to this class of verbs, however there are a few exceptions including: sunu ‘smell’, hakasunu ‘to make smell, as when house training a pet’; holo ‘swallow’, hakaholo ‘to make swallow, as when making a child swallow medicine’; amo ‘carry on shoulder’, hakaamo ‘to lift up to the shoulder to carry’ (often used imperatively); ssau ‘carry’, hakassau ‘to lift to carry’, (often used imperatively).  The direction particles occur with these verbs indicating the direction of activity.

Many of the verbs in this class may occur as stative verbs in that they describe the condition or state of an initial noun phrase.  Verbs commonly used this way include: motu ‘snap, snapped’, ffati ‘break, broken’, ppui ‘prevent, forbidden’.  A common example is: te tootoka ku taalaki ‘the door is open’; te tama likiliki ni taalaki te tootoka ‘the child opened the door’.  In this book, verbs that are commonly both transitive and stative are represented as [vt, vs].

Class II: Semi‑Transitive [vp].  This class of words corresponds to  Pawley’s reconstructed ‘spontaneous transitives’.  This class includes verbs of manner, emotion, and attitude, such as: hiihai ‘love’, aloha ‘pity’, hailaoi ‘kind’, teke ‘dis­obed­ient’, matemate ‘pretend’, hakalono ‘believe’, maanatu ‘remem­ber’; some verbs of touch: lono ‘feel’, haahaa ‘touch lightly’, lakulaku ‘scratch another to draw attention’; some verbs of speech: talatala ‘speak’, hakaako ‘joke’, hakaleelehi ‘lie’.  When these verbs are directed to any animate object (goal or patient) they are followed by the prepositions i or ki.  Many, but not all, of the verbs in this category take the -Cia affix; the object/goal phrases following i and ki of the root form, becoming the ‘sub­ject’ of the derived form.

The following example was used earlier:

A Sina ni  aloha ki a Telaupounini.

Sina T/A pity  to   T.

‘Sina pitied Telaupounini.’


A Telaupounini ni  aloha‑tia e  Sina.

T.           T/A pity‑Cia  by Sina

‘Telaupounini was pitied by Sina.’


The use of i and ki after these verbs is variable and the distinctions of meaning subtle and sometimes difficult to deter­mine.  In general, i is less specific and refers to one class of objects as opposed to another; ki refers to a specific object to which the agent of the sentence is directed.  (In an apparently separate function, i may also describe the source or cause of the condition being described.)  When haka‑ is prefixed to these words, there is a change of meaning and the prefixed form is usually another semi‑transitive verb with a related but slightly different meaning, as in lono ‘hear’, hakalono ‘believe, obey’, memelaoi ‘to be good’, hakamemelaoi ‘to praise’, anaana ‘to care for’, hakaanaana ‘to be a pest’.

Class III: Intransitive [vi].  These include verbs describ­ing movement in which the agent is both the initiator and the undergoer, and correspond with Pawley’s reconstructed class of ‘intradirectives’. Some of the verbs in this class are suffixed with ‑Cia to describe the location of activity: moe ‘sleep’, moena ‘slept upon’; haele ‘walk’, haelea ‘walked upon’.

Laatou ni  mmoe  i     te vasa.

they   T/A sleep prep. sg mat

‘They slept on the mat.’


Te vasa  e   mooe‑na   e    kilaatou.

sg mat   T/A sleep‑Cia prep them

‘The mat was slept upon by them.’

Some intransitive verbs can be affixed with the causative prefix, haka-: hakamoe ‘to put to sleep (as a child at bedtime)’; haka­haele ‘to make walk (as a young child learning to walk)’.  Verbs of this class have affinities with class II verbs in the case marking of their object phrases in which i or ki mark location (sometimes source) and destination/goal.

Class IV: Stative  [vs].  These verbs describe the condition, state or appearance of a grammatical subject.  This includes verbs describing color, size, and other qualities, such as tonu ‘correct’, ppili ‘to be stuck’, maatua ‘old’, leu ‘ripe’, naniu ‘large’.  Many of these words are also used as noun quali­fiers or adjectives.  Haka‑ often converts the root stative verb into a causative verb that introduces an agent/­subject who causes the grammatical subject of the root to be in the condition described by the verb.  This derived form resembles a class I transitive verb and often can be suffixed with ‑Cia.


Te voea ku  piko.

sg wire T/A bent

‘The wire was bent (in shape).’


A Puna ni  haka‑piko te voea.

Puna T/A caus‑bend sg wire

‘Puna bent the wire.’


Te voea ni  haka‑piko‑lia  e     Puna.

sg wire T/A caus‑bent‑Cia  prep. Puna

‘The wire was bent by Puna.’


The root verbs of this category are sometimes suffixed with ‑Cia but without the change in case relationships found in other verb categories.  Usually, the haka‑ prefix is used to show human and deliberate causality, while ‑Cia occurs with non‑animate or accidental agents as in the following example: te haovae ku felo‑tia e te peeni ‘the pants were yellowed by the paint’.

The following abbreviations are used to describe these classes of verbs:

[vt] class I, transitive verb

[vp] class II, semi‑transitive verb

[vi] class III, intransitive verb

[vs] class IV, stative verb


4.4  Direction Particles

There are four direction markers that follow a verb and usually describe the direction of action. These particles appear frequently in Sikaiana speech and seem to be similar to the direction markers in Pijin kam and go.

mai  direction towards speaker

atu  direction towards listener, or between two people in a    narrative

iho  direction down towards speaker, or down

ake  direction away from speaker, or from speaker to others not  present in narrative, or from one person to many in  narrative

Ake is sometimes used to make a comparison:


Te tama   laa   e   iloa ake  ma   nau.

sg person there T/A know more than I

‘That person knows better than I do.’



4.5  Verbalized Nouns

Some nouns, especially those describing ritual or work roles are made into verbs simply by placing the noun after a tense-aspect marker: A Semalu ni aliki ‘Semalu was the chief’. Some­times, nouns are verbalized by prefixing haka: hahine ‘woman’, hakahahine ‘to show off as a woman (to attract men)’.  Hai may be prefixed to some nouns to form a verb; pohoulu ‘head’, haipohoulu ‘to be intelligent’.

4.6  Plural and Repeated Action

Many verbs are marked for agreement with a plural subject by reduplicating the first syllable of the root.  When the first syllable is reduplicated, the vowel is often unstressed and therefore dropped forming an initial geminate consonant cluster (see Section 2).  If the verb starts with a vowel, this vowel is lengthened. The basic patterns for reduplication are:

singular            plural         elided form

sopo ‘jump’      sosopo      ssopo

sepu ‘dive’        sesepu       ssepu

moe ‘sleep’       momoe      mmoe

anu ‘dance’       aanu

Occasionally, several syllables are reproduced in plural forms: aavana ‘marry’ (singular), aavanavana ‘marry’ (plural); laavea ‘drunk’, lavelavea (plural).  Plural agreement is marked in ma‑ prefixed verbs by doubling the initial consonant of the root: makolu ‘bent'(singular), makkolu (plural); mahana ‘separat­ed’ mahhana (plural).

Repeated action is often marked by reduplication of two syll­ables:

one time           repeated


sopo ‘jump’        soposopo

sepu ‘dive’         sepusepu

motu ‘snap’       motumotu

Repeated action for plural subjects is marked in both ways although the initial consonant is not reduplicated:

sopo ‘jump’        sopossopo

sepu ‘dive’          sepussepu

These forms are marked in the vocabulary under the derivative section using the following abbreviations:

ot:    one time action, the action is performed once

pl:    plural, the derivative showing plural agreement

rp:    repeated, the action of the headword repeated

sg:    singular, the derivative showing singular


5. Prepositions and Case Relationships

Prepositions normally follow verbs and precede noun phrases.  Sometimes the same preposition has functions that seem to be distinct.  The most common prepositions will be discussed: ki marks a goal, destination, instrument; i marks an object/goal, partitive relationship or topic of discussion, location, source or cause; ma marks accompaniment and separation; e marks an agent but only with ‑Cia affixed verbs;  In active (or non -Cia af­fixed) sentences subject/agent and object/patient are unmarked (or marked with 0).

The preposition ki marks destination or goal.  With semi-transitive verbs this is almost always an animate object; with

intransitive verbs it is usually a place or destination.


A Sina e   hiihai ki  a Puna.

Sina T/A love   prep. Puna

‘Sina loves Puna.’

Maatou  ni  ttae  ki   Luaniua.

we      T/A reach prep Luaniua

‘We reached Luaniua.’

In an apparently unrelated function, ki marks instrument.

Laatou ni  tia te kupena ki   te aha.

they   T/A tie sg net    prep sg shell tool

‘They tied the net with the shell tool.’


Laatou  ni  laakei   ki te hetau.

They    T/A decorate prep. flower species

‘They decorated (themselves) with the hetau flower.’


The preposition, i, also has a variety of functions which are not necessarily related.  It may mark an object/indefinite goal:

Maatou e kkai  i   te ika

we     T/A eat prep   fish

‘We eat fish.’

i is also used to describe a partitive relationship as in pos­sess­ing a special ability or competence.

Te tama   laa  e   atamai i    te  talatala.

sg person that T/A clever prep the speech

‘That person is clever at speaking.’


In a possibly related function, i may be used to describe objects of interest, competence or activity, usually with semi-transitive verbs.  Thus an earlier example also could be:


A Sina  e   hiihai i     a Puna.

Sina  T/A love   prep.   Puna

‘Sina loves Puna.’


With verbs of all classes, i can be used to describe location.


Laatou ni  mmoe  i     te vasa.

they   T/A sleep prep.  sg mat

‘They slept on the mat.’


Laatou ni  olo i    te vaka.

they   T/A go  prep the boat

They travelled in the (by) boat.

i also may be used to describe a variety of sources including the source of a condition, an activity, an object, or a journey.

Na  hale  ni  masseu    i     te tama   maa.

pl  house T/A destroy  prep. sg person white

‘The houses were destroyed on account of the white man.’


A Sina ni  sui na leuleu   i   te Sanamanu.

Sina T/A buy pl clothing prep sg Chinaman

‘Sina bought the clothing from the Chinaman.’


Te vaka ni  uhu    i     Luaniua.

sg ship T/A depart prep. Luaniua

‘The ship left from Luaniua.’


The preposition ma describes accompaniment.

A Sina ma    Puna ni  veisoni.

Sina prep. Puna T/A kiss

‘Sina and Puna kissed.’


In cases where Sina is already given information or known from the context, the dual form of the personal pronoun is substituted and Puna is introduced as new information.  For example, if the speaker is already talking about Sina, the following sentence occurs:

Laaua    ma   Puna ni  veisoni.

they (2) with Puna T/A kiss

‘Sina and Puna kissed.’

Ma also describes separation.

Te  tama   laa   ku  oti    ma   tana hekau.

sg  person there T/A finish with his  work

‘That person is finished or retired from  his work.’


Sikaiana  e   mmao  ma    Luaniua.

Sikaiana  T/A far   prep. Luaniua

‘Sikaiana is far away from Luaniua.’


The preposition e marks the subject/agent of -Cia affixed verbs.  Some examples are derivations of previously given examples.

A Puna e   hiihai‑lia  e    Sina.

Puna T/A love‑Cia    prep Sina

‘Puna is loved by Sina.’


Te vasa  e   mooe‑na   e    kilaatou.

sg mat   T/A sleep‑Cia prep them

‘The mat was slept upon by them.’


Luaniua ku  taae‑a    e    kimaatou.

Luaniua T/A reach‑Cia prep us

‘Luaniua has been reached (by us).’


6. Conjunctions and Interrogatives

The following are commonly used conjunctions for joining sen­tences.

pe laa    is a subordinate clause marker that links together two         phrases, often reporting discourse or desires:

Te tama   laa  ni  haimai pe laa a koe ka  hano.

sg person that T/A told   that        you T/A go

‘That person told me that you will go.’

te laa    is a relative clause marker that links a noun phrase to       a verb phrase:

te tama   te laa e   noho

sg person that   T/A sit

‘the person who is sitting’

mae ko    links two sentences to show causality like the English         ‘because’, often answering a question with aiia           (‘why’):

A nau ni  too   tama   laa   mae ko  tona tinna  ni  too a nau.

I     T/A adopt person there because his  mother T/A adopt me

‘I adopted that person because his mother adopted me.’

ka   a general conjunction that can mean ‘and’, ‘so’, ‘but’, and a request by listener to continue a discourse:

A nau e   noho  ka  toku soa    e   hano

I   T/A stay  but my   friend T/A go

‘I am staying, but my friend will go.’

The following are commonly used interrogatives.

koai, ai replace personal names in questions; koai occurs in sentence initial or subject position; ai occurs in other positions:

Koai tona male?

his  name

‘What (who) is his name?’


A koe e   noho  i    ai?

you T/A dwell prep

‘You are staying with whom?’

aa        replaces both nouns and verbs in questions:

A koe ku aa?

you T/A

‘What are you doing?’


A koe ka  tuki  haahaa ki   te aa?

you T/A pound taro   prep sg

‘You are going to pound the taro with what?’


pe hea    a request to describe manner:

Te mako nei  e   anumia pe hea?

sg song this T/A danced how

‘How is this song danced?’

hea      replaces locations in questions:

A koe ni  au   i    hea?

you T/A come from where

‘Where have you come from?’

mokoaa hea, tulana hea replace time in questions:

I te mokoaa hea?

‘At what specific time?’

I te tulana hea?

‘During what time period (expanse of time)?’

hia  replaces numbers or quantities in questions:

E   hia      i  te tama?

T/A how many of sg person

‘How many people?’

aiia an interrogative requesting a reason, should be answered with a sentence beginning with mae ko:

A koe ni  au   aiia?

you T/A come why

‘Why did you come?’


 7. Numbers

Sikaiana numbers are often followed by i and the object which is being counted: siaoa i te haahaa ‘two taro’. The count­ing system, especially in exponential powers of ten, varies depending upon the item being counted. The classes of items are: (1) birds, coconuts, taro, fruits, dollars; (2) puddings, mats, years; (3) fish; (4) fathoms; and (5) humans.  Most younger speakers do not follow these distinctions, instead using the counting system in the first column for all objects, or simply use English terms.

birds,          mats,       fish       length      humans

coconuts,   pudding,

money,      years


1   tahi           tahi           tahi        seloha     hokotahi

2   lua/siaoa   lua           lua         lohalua    tokalua

3   tolu        tolu             tolu       lohatolu   tokatolu

4   haa         haa            haa      lohahaa    tokahaa

5   lima        lima           lima     lohalima   tokalima

6   ono         ono           ono      lohaono    tokaono

7   hitu        hitu            hitu       lohahitu   tokahitu

8   valu        valu          valu       lohavalu   tokavalu

9   sivo        sivo          sivo       lohasivo   tokasivo

10   sehui    kaatoa      kaatoa   sekumi     kaatoa

20   luahui   kaulua     matalua   luakumi    tinolua

30   tonnuhui  kautolu  matatolu   tolukumi   tinotolu

40   hannahui  kauhaa  matahaa  haakumi    tinohaa

50   limanahui  kaulima matalima limakumi   tinolima

60   onnahui     kauono  mataono  onokumi    tinoono

70   hitunohui   kauhitu  matahitu hitukumi   tinohitu

80   vannahui    kauvalu matavalu valukumi   tinovalu

90   sivanahui   kausivo matasivo sivokumi   tinosivo

100   kaatoa      lau          lau          lau             lau

200   luakaatoa   lualau     lualau     lualau     lualau

1000   mano        simata     simata

10,000   ahe




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