Young Pioneer Tours

Language of Tuvalu

What is the Language of Tuvalu?

The language of Tuvalu is Tuvaluan, a Polynesian language. Given that Tuvalu only has a population of 10,000 this is not a language you are going to bump into often.

Tuvalu might have a small population, but its 8 main inhabited islands spread over a huge area in the Pacific Ocean, so there are various dialects and on the island of Nui the language spoken is a dialect of Kiribati, another island country that Tuvalu used to be part of as a colony of the United Kingdom.

As a Polynesian language, Tuvaluan is related to languages such as Hawaiian, Maori, Samoan and Tongan for example, but mutually unintelligible. It is more closely related to the languages of Micronesia and Melanesia.

In Tuvalu itself you’ll also hear Samoan, Kiribati and Gilbertese spoken, if you can tell the difference!

How to say hello in Tuvalu?

In Tuvalu you will hear the greeting Tālofa all the time, meaning hello, and also Tōfā meaning goodbye. By the end of your stay you will be very into saying Tālofa, sometimes transliterated as Ta’alofa. This greeting is also used in Samoa, and is the same meaning as aloha in Hawaii.

Check this list for useful words and phrases, including one we have never had to use thus far: Taku hovercraft kō fonu i pusi – my hovercraft is full of eels!

What is the writing system in Tuvalu?

Like many languages around the world, Tuvaluan was basically an oral language without written record until the 19th century with transliteration systems done by European linguists and missionaries. There is currently still no standard system of writing, but rather a few options.

Tuvaluan has a 16 letter alphabet with the letters A, E, I, O, U, F, G, H, K, L, M, N, P, S, T and V.

Is English widely spoken in Tuvalu?

Absolutely. First it was a former UK colony, second Tuvalu has a very close relationship with Australia and New Zealand. English is an official language, taught in schools and used in government and business settings, and in Funafuti you’ll find many people able to converse in English.

One word you might also notice around the country is ‘palagi’, meaning foreigner, especially tourists, but which refers to anything foreign to such as a (non-traditional) palagi house.

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