What is language and Vagahau Niue?
Language is used to communicate, to express ideas and feelings, to give instructions, to know and learn about our environment and to be able to live in the home, the village, the school and society as a whole. Vagahau Niue is our treasured gift, passed down through succeeding generations to the present day. There are sixteen letters in the Niue alphabet: five vowels – a, e, i, o, u – and eleven consonants – f, g, h, k, l, m, n, p, t, v, s, r. There are some differences in the spoken language that are not always easy to identify in the written form. Every language has developed its own conventions, and these unique differences have to be taken into consideration when writing the language. One of those in Vagahau Niue is the use of the short and long vowels. Long vowels are always written with a macron, or with double vowels. Although many people are not in favour of written conventions, these are constructed to maintain accuracy and consistency and to assure the quality of the written language. There are many other guiding principles of Vagahau Niue and these can be found under user notes of the Bilingual Vagahau Niue Dictionary. These principles are written in Vagahau Niue in the Monolingual Dictionary.
Development of Vagahau Niue
Vagahau Niue is a spoken language that has been passed down from generation to generation by word of mouth. This was the practice used to maintain language, traditions, knowledge and way of life. Unfortunately, it is not always a reliable method, as some important factors are forgotten or lost completely with the passage of time.
Early missionaries brought with them the technical skills and knowledge of how to read and write Vagahau Niue. They were Samoan and English missionaries, who quickly learned to speak the language as well as teaching some local pastors to read and write. These were the first people to translate the Bible into Vagahau Niue, and they introduced formal education. Church (Lotu)) schools were set up primarily to teach Niuean’s to read and write.
Linguistic origin of Vagahau Niue
All languages in the world belong to a language family. Vagahau Niue belongs to the most diverse language family, the Austronesian, comprising thousands of different languages. One of the known subgroups of the Austronesian family is the Polynesian language which is subdivided into Western and Eastern Polynesian.
The desire to receive formal education increased on the arrival of the New Zealand Administration in 1901. At a much later date, in the 1950s, the New Zealand Government actively promoted and established government schools using Vagahau Niue as the major language of instruction. A Teachers’ College was set up to train Niue teachers and using Vagahau Niue during school hours was a punishable offence. But as time passed, there was a shift of focus from Vagahau Niue to the English language as more New Zealand expatriate teachers came to teach in Niue. Niue teachers were also taught to use English as a medium of instruction. In addition, Niue people were beginning to see the English language as the means to obtain employment and wanted to follow the New Zealand education system. As local teachers acquired a better command of the English language, some school journals were translated into Vagahau Niue. Furthermore, schools quickly mirrored the learning programme, with emphasis on the English language. The desire to gain an external qualification reflects status. This led to the introduction of the New Zealand School Certificate examination, in the English language, for all subjects of the curriculum. While Mr. McEwen was Resident Commissioner representing the Government of New Zealand in Niue, some in-depth research was done by him on Vagahau Niue. He learned Vagahau Niue and was able to write the first dictionary of Vagahau Niue. The Niue Dictionary was published at a much later date, after he left Niue.
Tufukia School Accelerate class 1953. (Photo credit Peter Church Collection, Tāoga Niue)
In accordance with Article 23 of the Niue Constitution and the Niue Education Act 1989, Vagahau Niue has equal status with the English language. While that sounds good in principle, in reality the English language is dominant in everyday business and social life. The language of instruction in the primary school was originally Vagahau Niue, but this gradually shifted to the English language and particularly in the secondary school, since all curriculum subjects are taught and assessed in English. A survey was conducted in 1994 with primary and secondary school students to determine the usage and status of Vagahau Niue in everyday life. The results of the survey confirmed the desire of the young generation to use and learn Vagahau Niue, which was contrary to public perception.
The former Premier of Niue, Hon. Mititaiagimene Y Vivian at the opening of the Taoga Niue Fono, 2004.
‘Let’s not dwell on the past, but let’s start this new beginning – Ua haga a tautolu ki tua, ka e kamata e kamataaga foou’. (photo credit – Niuaviu Tauevihi)
EVERYDAY WORDS AND PHRASES IN VAGAHAU NIUE AND ENGLISH
‘Please read through the following source to learn Vagahau Niue vowels, pronunciation, double vowels and consonants . We will continue to update this space with many other everyday words and phrases so you are able to converse in Vagahau Niue with your family and friends’.
(Source: ‘Everyday Words and Phrases in English and Niuean (Niue USP Centre, 1981); Tohi Vagahau Niue (Government of Niue, 1997)
Guide to Pronunciation
Vowels There are five basic vowels in Vagahau Niue
a, e, i, o, u.
Pronounced a – as in far
e – as in get
i – as in bit
o – as in on
u – as in Ursula
Two vowels the same in a word (e.g. maama) are each pronounced but run together to form almost one sound. Two different vowels (e.g. as in ko e) are each pronounced but also run smoothly together.
Consonants These are f,g,h, k ,l m, n, p, t, v, s, and r.
which are pronounced as in English.
The g in a word is pronounced as ng (as in sing)
A t followed by the vowel i or e is usually pronounced as an s sound (small = tote: pronounced tose)
Syllables Normally each vowel indicates a syllable begun by its preceding consonant. (go = fano: 2 syllables).
A vowel standing alone, with another vowel, at the beginning of a word or within a word, are each regarded as a separate syllable. Eg:
e – 1 syllable
ae – 2 syllables
ai – 2 syllables
atu – 2 syllables
monuina – 4 syllables
fakaalofa – 5 syllables
Stress The “voice weight” comes on a short word in the first syllable, but in a longer word it comes mostly on the second to last syllable.
|Greetings and Farewell||Tau kupu Fakafeleveia mo e Fakamavehe|
|Good morning||Fakaalofa atu|
|Good afternoon||Fakalofa atu|
|Good night||Monuina e po|
|Good-bye (to the person departing)||Fano a koe (ki a ia ne fano)|
|Good-bye (to the person staying)||Nofo a koe (ki a ia ne nofo)|
|Informal||Pule he loto.|
|Cheerio||Fano a koe/ Nofo a koe.|
|See you||To feleveia|
|So long||To feleveia|
|Everyday Words||Tau Kupu Fakaaoga Tūmau|
|Yes, Yeah, O.K.,||E, Mafola, Hako, Mitaki,|
|How are you?||Fēfē a koe?/ Malolō nākai a koe?|
|Excuse me||Fakamolemole la a koe|
|I beg your pardon||Talahau foki la|
|My name is …..||Ko e higoa haaku ko …..|
|My address is …..||Ko e kaina nofo haaku ko …..|
|Questions||Tau Kupu Hūhū|
|how? why? when?||fēfē? ko e hā? I ne fē?|
|Answers to the Questions , where||Ko e tali ke he tau hūhū, ha e fē?|
|here; there||hanai, ha e , hā i kuna, hā i kō|
|everywhere:||tafola fano, hā hā he tau mena oti:|
|- up, down||- luga, lalo|
|- below, on top||- i lalo, i luga|
|- near, far||- tata, mamao|
|- in||- i loto|
|man, men||tagata taane, tau tagata taane|
|woman||fifine, tau Fifine|
|gentleman, gentlemen||Iki taane, tau iki taane|
|lady, ladies||iki fifine, tau iki fifine|
|guy or bloke||tagata|