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The Sāmoan or Samoan language is the traditional language of Samoamarker and American Samoamarker and is an official language—alongside English—in both jurisdictions. It is a member of the Austronesian family, and more specifically the Samoic branch of the Polynesian subphylum.

There are approximately 370,000 Samoan speakers worldwide, 69% of whom live in the Samoan Islands. Thereafter, the greatest concentration is in New Zealandmarker, where people of Samoan ethnicity comprise the fourth largest group after New Zealand European, Māori, New Zealander and Chinese: the 2006 New Zealand census recorded 95,428 speakers of the Samoan language, and 141,103 people of Samoan ethnicity. Among ethnic Samoans in New Zealand, 70.5 percent of the Samoan speakers (87,109 people) could speak Samoan. Samoan is the 4th most commonly spoken language in New Zealand after English, Maori and Chinese. The majority of Samoans in New Zealand (66.4 per cent) reside in the commercial capital, Aucklandmarker. Of those who speak Samoan, 67.4 percent live in Auckland and 70.4 percent of people who are both of Samoan ethnicity and Samoan speakers live in that city.

According to the 2006 census, there were 38,525 speakers of Samoan in Australia, and 39,992 people of Samoan ancestry.

Phonology and alphabet

The Samoan alphabet consists of 15 letters excluding three (H, K, R) that are used only in loanwords:

Aa, Āā Ee, Ēē Ii, Īī Oo, Ōō Uu, Ūū Ff Gg Ll Mm Nn Pp Ss Tt Vv (Hh) (Kk) (Rr)
, , , , ( ) ( ) ( )

In formal Samoan, with native words, [k] is found only in the interjection puke(ta)! 'gotcha!'. However, in colloquial speech, /t/ has come to be pronounced [k], and in /n/ has merged with /ŋ/ as [ŋ]. /l/ is pronounced following a back vowel (/a, o, u/) and preceding an /i/. /s/ is less sibilant than in English. /h/ and /r/ are found only in borrowings, and /s/ and /l/ are sometimes substituted for them.

Short /a/ is pronounced in only a few words, such as mate or maliu 'dead', vave 'be quick'. Diphthongs are /au ao ai ae ei ou ue/.

Stress is somewhat variable, but generally falls on the penultimate mora; that is, on the last syllable if that contains a long vowel or diphthong or on the second-last syllable otherwise.

Samoan syllable structure is (C)V, where V may be long or a diphthong. A sequence VV may occur only in derived forms and compound words; within roots, only the initial syllable may be of the form V. Metathesis of consonants is frequent, such as manu for namu 'scent', lava‘au for vala‘au 'to call', but vowels may not be mixed up in this way.

The letter G in the Samoan language is pronounced like ng at the end of the word thing. So the name Giovani would be pronounced Ngiovani.


Personal pronouns

Like many Austronesian languages, Samoan has separate words for inclusive and exclusive we, and distinguishes singular, dual, and plural. The root for the inclusive pronoun may occur in the singular, in which case it indicates emotional involvement on the part of the speaker.

singular dual plural
First person exclusive a‘u , ‘ou mā‘ua, mā mātou
First person inclusive tā‘ua, tā tātou
Second person ‘oe, ‘e ‘oulua ‘outou, tou
Third person ia / na lā‘ua lātou

In formal speech, fuller forms of the roots mā-, tā-, and lā- are ‘imā-, ‘itā-, and ‘ilā-.


Common phrases and words

English Samoan Approximate IPA
Yes ‘ioe
No Leai
Please Fa‘amolemole
Thank you Fa‘afetai
That's all right ‘Ua lelei
big - small tele - la‘itiiti
quick - slow vave/tope - gese -
early - late vave - tuai -
cheap - expensive taugōfie - taugatā -
near - far latalata - mamao -
hot - cold vevela - malulū -
full - empty tumu - gaogao -
easy - difficult faigōfie - faigatā -
heavy - light mamafa - māma -
open - shut tatala - tapuni -
right - wrong sa‘o - sesē -
old - new tuai - fou -
old - young matua - talavou -
beautiful - ugly 'aulelei / 'auleaga -
good - bad lelei - leaga -
better - worse feoloolo - leaga tele -
One Tasi
Two Lua
Three Tolu
Four Fa
Five Lima
Six Ono
Seven Fitu
Eight Valu
Nine Iva
Ten Sefulu


  • Milner, G.B. 1993, 1966. Samoan Dictionary. Polynesian Press. ISBN 0 908597 12 6
  • Mosel, Ulrike and Even Hovdhaugen, 1992. Samoan reference grammar. Oslo: Scandinavian University Press/Institute for Comparative Research in Human Culture.
  • Mosel, La'i Ulrike and Ainslie So'o. "Say it in Samoan." Pacific Linguistics D88. Canberra: ANU.
  • Payne, Thomas E. 1997. Describing morphosyntax: a guide for field linguists. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0-521-58224-5.

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