Hiw Language
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Hiw Language

Hiw (sometimes spelled Hiu) is an Oceanic language spoken on the island of Hiw, in the Torres Islands of Vanuatu.[2] With about 280 speakers, Hiw is considered endangered.[3][4] Most Hiw speakers also speak Lo-Toga and all speak Bislama.[5]

Hiw is distinct from Lo-Toga, the other language of the Torres group.


The language is named after the island.



Hiw has 9 phonemic vowels. These are all short monophthongs /i ? e ? ? ? o ? a/:[6]

Hiw vowels
Front Central
Close i ⟨i⟩ ? ⟨u⟩
Near-close ? ⟨?⟩
Close-mid e ⟨ë⟩ ? ⟨ö⟩ o ⟨?⟩
Mid ? ⟨e⟩
Open-mid ? ⟨o⟩
Open a ⟨a⟩

/i/ becomes a glide whenever it's followed by another vowel.[7]

The high back rounded vowel occurs, but only as an allophone of /?/ and /?/ after labio-velar consonants. /?/ always becomes [u] after a labio-velar, while /?/ only becomes [u] in pre-tonic syllables, and then only optionally.[8]


Hiw has 14 consonants.[6]

Hiw consonants
Bilabial Alveolar Dorsal Labialized
Nasal m ⟨m⟩ n ⟨n⟩ ? ⟨n?⟩ ⟨n?w⟩
Plosive p ⟨p⟩ t ⟨t⟩ k ⟨k⟩ k? ⟨q⟩
Fricative ? ⟨v⟩ s ⟨s⟩ ? ⟨g⟩
Glide j ⟨y⟩ w ⟨w⟩

All plosives are voiceless. Hiw is the only Austronesian language whose consonant inventory includes a prestopped velar lateral approximant //; this complex segment is Hiw's only liquid.[9] Historically, this complex segment was a voiced alveolar trill /r/ (which is why it is written as r?). The voiced alveolar trill, spelt as r, appears in recent loanwords. In some other, perhaps older, loanwords, alveolar trills have been borrowed as velar laterals.

Although /w/ is always pronounced as an approximant, it can be seen as filling in the space of the missing labio-velar fricative //.[10]


The syllable structure of Hiw is CCVC, where the only obligatory element is V:[9] e.g. /tg?/ 'throw (PL)'; /?ti/ 'star'; /k?g/ 'dolphin'; /gt/ 'tie'.

Hiw allows consonant gemination, word-medially and initially. These geminated consonants can be analyzed as C1C2 consonant clusters in which both consonants happen to be identical. An example of gemination is in /tin/ 'buy' vs /ttin/ 'hot'. Consonants and vowels may also be lengthened for expressive purposes, for example: /ne ma/ 'it's heavy' becomes [ne m:a] 'it's so heavy!'.[11]

Hiw's phonology follows the Sonority Sequencing Principle, with the following language-specific sonority hierarchy:

vowels > glides > liquids > nasals > obstruents[12]

In syllable onsets, C1 may not be more sonorous than C2. Fricatives and plosives are not distinguished with regard to sonority.

Even though /w/ is always pronounced as an approximant, it is best treated as an obstruent with regards to sonority: this interpretation accounts for words like /wte/ 'small', which would otherwise constitute a sonority reversal.[10]

Phonological evidence shows that // patterns as a liquid, more sonorous than nasals but less sonorous than the glide /j/. Unlike the obstruents, // cannot be followed by a nasal. However, it can come after a nasal, as in /me/ 'wrath'. The only consonant found after // is /j/ - ie /je/ 'sweep'.[9]


Hiw has a similar grammatical structure to the other living Torres-Banks languages.[13]

In terms of lexical flexibility, Hiw has been assessed to be "grammatically flexible", but "lexically rigid".[14] The vast majority of the language's lexemes belongs to just one word class (noun, adjective, verb, adverb...); yet each of those word classes is compatible with a large number of syntactic functions.

The language presents various forms of verb serialization.[15]

Its system of personal pronouns contrasts clusivity, and distinguishes three numbers (singular, dual, plural).[16]

Together with its neighbour Lo-Toga, Hiw has developed a rich system of verbal number, whereby certain verbs alternate their root depending on the number of their main participant.[17] Hiw has 33 such pairs of verbs, which is the highest number recorded so far among the world's languages.[17]

Spatial reference in Hiw is based on a system of geocentric (absolute) directionals. That space system is largely reminiscent of the one widespread among Oceanic languages, yet also shows some innovations that make it unique.[18]



External links

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