Languages of Palau

Native to Palau, Guam Northern Mariana Islands
Native speakers [1]  (2000)
Language family
Writing system Latin, katakana[2]
Official status
Official language in  Palau
Language codes
ISO 639-2 pau
ISO 639-3 pau
Linguist List
This article contains IPA phonetic symbols. Without proper rendering support, you may see question marks, boxes, or other symbols instead of Unicode characters.

Palauan (also spelled Belauan) is one of the two official languages of the Republic of Palau, the other being English. It is a member of the Austronesian family of languages, and is one of only two indigenous languages in Micronesia that is not part of the Oceanic branch of that family, the other being Chamorro.


Palauan is not a Micronesian or Polynesian language like most of its neighbors; rather, like Chamorro, it constitutes a possibly independent branch of the Malayo-Polynesian languages. Its origins are thus somewhat obscure.


The phonemic inventory of Palauan consists of 10 consonants and 6 vowels.[3] Phonetic charts of the vowel and consonant phonemes are provided below, utilizing the International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA).

Vowel Phonemes
  Front Central Back
High i   u
Mid ɛ ə o
Low   a  
Consonant Phonemes
  Labial Alveolar Velar Glottal
  t k ʔ
b d    
Nasals m   ŋ  
Liquids   l, ɾ    

While the phonemic inventory of Palauan is relatively small, comparatively, many phonemes contain at least two allophones that surface as the result of various phonological processes within the language. The full phonetic inventory of consonants is given below in IPA (the phonemic inventory of vowels, above, is complete).

Surface Consonants
  Labial Interdental Alveolar Post-Alveolar Velar Glottal
b   d   ɡ  
  θ s      
Nasals m   n   ŋ  
Liquids     l, ɾ, r      
Approximants w     j    


Palauan contains several diphthongs (sequences of vowels within a single syllable). A list of diphthongs and corresponding Palauan words containing them are given below, adapted from (Zuraw 2003).

IPA Example English Translation
/iɛ/ babier "paper" (German loan)
/ɛi/ mei "come"
/iu/ chiukl "(singing) voice"
/ui/ tuich "torch"
/io/ kikiongel "dirty"
/oi/ tekoi "word"
/ia/ diall "ship"
/ai/ chais "news"
/ɛu/ teu "width"
/uɛ/ sueleb "afternoon"
/ɛo/ Oreor "Koror" (former capital of Palau)
/oɛ/ beroel "spear"
/ɛa/ beached "tin"
/aɛ/ baeb "pipe" (English loan)
/uo/ uos "horse"
/ou/ merous "distribute"
/ua/ tuangel "door"
/au/ mesaul "tired"
/oa/ omoachel "river"
/ao/ taod "fork"

The extent to which it is accurate to characterize each of these vowel sequences as diphthongs has been a matter of debate, as in (Wilson 1972), (Flora 1974), (Josephs 1975), (Zuraw 2003). Nevertheless, a number of the sequences above, such as /ui/, clearly behave as diphthongs given their interaction with other aspects of Palauan phonology like stress shift and vowel reduction. Others do not behave as clearly like monosyllabic diphthongs.

Writing system

In the early 1970s, the Palau Orthography Committee worked with linguists from the University of Hawaii to devise an alphabet based on the Latin script.[4] The resulting orthography was largely based on the "one phoneme/one symbol" notion, producing an alphabet of twelve native consonants, six consonants for use in loan words, and ten vowels. The 20 vowel sequences listed above under the heading Diphthongs are also all officially recognized in the orthography.

On May 10, 2007, the Josephs 1999). The bill also establishes an Orthography Commission to maintain the language as it develops as well as to oversee and regulate any additions or modifications to the current official orthography.

Native consonants
Palauan letter IPA Example word
b [b], [p], [pʰ] bai "community house"
ch [ʔ] charm "animal"
d [d], [t], [ð], [θ] diall "ship"
k [k], [ɡ], [kʰ] ker "question"
l [l] lius "coconut"
ll [lː] llel "leaf"
m [m] martiliong "hammer (Span. Martillo)"
ng [ŋ], [n] ngau "fire"
r [ɾ] rekas "mosquito"
rr [r] rrom "liquor"
s [s] sechelei "friend"
t [t], [tʰ] tuu "banana"
Foreign consonants
Palauan letter IPA Example word
f [f] fenda "fender (Eng.)"
h [h] haibio "tuberculosis (Jpn. haibyoo 肺病)"
n [n] sensei "teacher (Jpn. sensei 先生)"
p [p] Papa "the Pope (Span. Papa)"
ts [ts] tsuingam "chewing gum (Eng.)"
z [z] miuzium "museum (Eng.)"
Palauan letter IPA Example word
a [a] chad "person"
e [ɛ], [ə] sers "garden"
ę [ə] ngalęk "child"
ee [ɛː] kmeed "near"
i [i] sils "sun"
ii [iː], [ji], [ij] iis "nose"
o [o] ngor "mouth"
oo [oː] sekool "playful"
u [u] bung "flower"
uu [uː], [wu], [uw] ngduul "mangrove clam"


Word order

The word order of Palauan is usually thought to be verb–object–subject (VOS), but this has been a matter of some debate in the linguistic literature.[5] Those who accept the VOS analysis of Palauan word order generally treat Palauan as a pro-drop language with preverbal subject agreement morphemes, final pronominal subjects are deleted (or null).

Example 1: Ak milenga er a ringngo pro. (means: "I ate the apple.")

In the preceding example, the null pronoun pro is the subject "I," while the clause-initial ak is the first person singular subject agreement morpheme.

On the other hand, those who have analyzed Palauan as SVO necessarily reject the pro-drop analysis, instead analyzing the subject agreement morphemes as subject pronouns. In the preceding example, SVO-advocates assume that there is no pro and that the morpheme ak is simply an overt subject pronoun meaning "I." One potential problem with this analysis is that it fails to explain why overt (3rd person) subjects occur clause-finally in the presence of a co-referring 3rd person "subject pronoun" --- treating the subject pronouns as agreement morphemes circumvents this weakness. Consider the following example.

Example 2: Ng milenga er a ringngo a Olilai. (means: "Olilai ate the apple.")

Proponents of the SVO analysis must assume a shifting of the subject a Alan "Alan" from clause-initial to clause-final position, a movement operation that has not received acceptance cross-linguistically, but see (Josephs 1975) for discussion.

Palauan phrases

Some common and useful words and phrases in Palauan are listed below, with their English translations.[6]

Palauan English Palauan English
Alii! Hello! Ak mlechell ęr a ___. I was born in ___.
Ungil tutau. Good morning. Ng tela rekim? How old are you?
Ungil sueleb. Good afternoon. Ng ___ a rekik. I am ___ years old.
Ungil kebesengei. Good evening. Ng tela a dengua ęr kau? What's your phone number?
A ngklek a ___. My name is ___. A dengua ęr ngak a ___. My phone number is ___.
Ng techa ngklem? What's your name? Kę kiei ęr kęr? Where do you live?
Kę ua ngerang? How are you? Ak kiei er a ___. I live ___.
Ak mesisiich. I'm fine. Chochoi. Yes
Ak chad ęr a ___. I'm from ___. Ng diak. No
Belau Palau Adang. Please.
Merikel U.S.A. Sulang. Thank you.
Ingklis England Kę mo ęr kęr? Where are you going?
Siabal Japan Mechikung. Goodbye.
Sina China Meral ma sulang! Thank you very much!
Kę chad ęr kęr ęl beluu? Where are you from? Ungilbung pretty flower.
Kę mlechell ęr kęr ęl beluu? Where were you born?

Palauan numerals

1 through 10

  1. Tang
  2. erung
  3. edei
  4. euang
  5. eim
  6. elolm
  7. euid
  8. eai
  9. etiu
  10. tacher

Palauans have different numbers for different reasons. For example, to count people it is: Chimong, Teblong, kldei, kleuang, kleim.

Palauan Dictionary


External links

  • Online Palauan-English Dictionary Database
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