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Ethnology of Tokelau Islands



The Tokelau dialect contains more consonantal sounds than any other Polynesian dialect. It also has the unique combination of h, wh, f, s, v, and w. No evidence exists in any other Polynesian dialect to suggest that the Tokelau alphabet is a single or an original form. Even the hypothetical proto-Samoan alphabet, postulated by Churchill (39) as one of the original Polynesian forms, lacks wh and w. Our present knowledge of Polynesian linguistics limits us to the explanations that the Tokelau dialect is either a single one containing the consonantal sounds, h, wh, and w, which are passing to s, f, and v, or the combination of two dialects, one containing s, f, and v which is slowly absorbing an earlier dialect containing h, wh, and w. No philologist has yet shown that the wh has become f or the h, s in any Polynesian dialect as a purely local and uninfluenced transition. Hiroa (30) believes page 160 that f is a later intrusive element for which wh has been interchanged in the greater part of the eastern area. S is a consonantal sound limited to the dialects of the western area, except Tongareva just beyond the eastern borders. In Tonga and Rotuma h and s are both in the dialect but they are not interchangeable. Words containing s are of Samoan origin. The dialects of Futuna (38) and the Ellice Islands contain f and s but not h and are considered to have a Samoan derivation. The Samoan language, containing the f and v, but no wh or w, appears to be the center of the s-using dialects. This leads to the belief that in western Polynesia there is a dialect containing f, s, v, and k, which was introduced into the Tokelau Islands and is now becoming the popular form. Lately impetus has been given to this form by Samoan pastors and school teachers. An eastern Polynesian dialect containing h, wh, and w, was probably spoken by the earliest settlers, as is evidenced by a few surviving words and place names of the early people in Tokelau.