I want to paint a picture of a place where most phonological processes don’t exist. Where if you were to teach a course in speech sound disorders the way you were taught… it might be pretty short. I happened to stumble upon this place on a volunteer assignment and as a huge Phonology fan was quite blown away that almost everything I knew was null and void!
The Samoan language is beautiful and intriguing. When you hear it, you immediately pick up that it is vowel-heavy with lots of reduplicated syllables. Their intonation pattern is different so that you feel like you can listen and just get carried away on the hibiscus laden breeze. I did what any SLP would do if they were thrown in a foreign country, and analysed things with my speechie brain to make sense of this language. This is what I found:
Bye Bye Cluster Reduction: The Samoan language has a pretty simple syllable structure rule: CV, V and VV… and then if you put an apostrophe in, you make even longer VV combinations. It’s actually pretty cool how many vowels you can actually put next to each other. What this means is that you will never have a consonant cluster (hooray!). What I love about Samoan is that if they want to adopt an English word or name that contains a consonant cluster, you just stick a vowel in between the two, or omit one of the consonants. My favourite word was Christmas which was ‘kerisimasi’… go ahead and say it, it just rolls off the tongue.
CHALLENGE: How do you think Australia would be pronounced? *Answers at bottom
Deleted! Final Consonant Deletion: If you have already put two and two together with the above syllable structures having to be in CV, V or VV form, then you would have made the leap that there is no such thing as final consonant deletion. Every consonant IS just left open and deleted! When it came to borrowed English words, the general rule of thumb I found was just to stick an ‘i’ or ‘o’ on the end. This made reading words really easy: telephone = telefoni, soup = supo, pancake = panikeke and so forth.
CHALLENGE: How do you think ‘pen’ would be pronounced?
Backing is Cool: The biggest surprise that I discovered was not that Samoa had a colloquial ‘language’, but what made it colloquial was backing all ‘t’ sounds to ‘k’. Yes, it was considered cool to ‘back’. Now how cool is that!?! Whenever I bought food at the markets or hopped in a taxi I made sure to use the ‘k’ language so that the Samoan’s new I was a local and wasn’t going to pay the tourist price.
CHALLENGE: Tasi tala means ‘one dollar’. How would you pronounce it using the colloquial language?
Say ‘No’ to Voicing: With no voiced plosives, only their voiceless partners are utilised in Samoan. I loved the voiceless rule when it came to translating people’s names into the Samoan version. If you ever introduced yourself to a Samoan “G’day, I’m David”, they would respond with your Samoan name “Hello Tavita”. Yes, it was hilarious to find out that you had a cool new name and I would often sit on my little verandah translating people’s names on a humid thunderstormy evening. The one name that made me giggle the most was my roommate, Brett, whose name translation of ‘Peti’ was the result of the voicing/cluster reduction/final consonant deletion rules. By the way, my name ‘Rebecca’ was translated to ‘Lepeka’ as all borrowed ‘r’ sounds were translated to ‘l’. This means that if you are a girl who goes by ‘Chris’, your name would be ‘Kilisi’ which sounds a lot like ‘Khaleesi’ from the Game of Thrones and wow… wouldn’t it be cool to be called that?!
CHALLENGE: How do you think December would be pronounced?
Like any foreigner in another country, I had a collection of favourite words. I had a particular love for reduplicated syllables which run rampant in this language. The name of my school was such a mouthful that I always had to stop and count the number of syllables to see if I had to add an extra ‘ma’ or ‘la’ (my school was Aoga Fiamalamalama).
- Mogamoga = cockroach (note the ‘g’ is pronounced as ‘ng’)
- Solosolo = handkerchief
- Lavalava = cloth worn as a skirt
- Tautalatala = talkative
- Apogalevelve = spider (which is so much nicer to say than ‘spider’).
- Malolo = to rest, chill, relax…
- Savalivali = walking
Answers: 1. Ausetalia 2. peni 3. kasi kala 4. Tesema
If you are considering taking your SLP career and heading overseas on a volunteer assignment and want some honesty, then please read The (hard) Truths of Volunteering as an SLP.