Fakaalofa lahi atu! 12-19 October 2014 is Vagahau Niue (= Niuean language) week, and this year, the Niuean community also celebrates the 40th anniversary of Niue Constitution Day.
In 2012, the Niuean language was the focus of the LING407 Field Methods honours class taught by Dr Heidi Quinn and Dr Vica Papp, with special input on semantic fieldwork from Professor Lisa Matthewson (University of British Columbia), who was visiting the UC Linguistics Department on an Erskine Fellowship.
Our Niuean language consultant Lynsey Talagi grew up on Niue and now works as a scholarships advisor at UC. Lynsey’s work with us was funded by a Pacific Language Consultant Award set up by the College of Arts in 2009 to support research on Pacific languages in LING407 and strengthen links between the university and local Pacific communities. Lynsey is pictured here with Professor Diane Massam (University of Toronto), who is an expert on Niuean sentence structure and visited our department in January 2013 to discuss Niuean data with Lynsey and provide advice to postgraduate students.
It is an important part of linguistic fieldwork to give something back to the community, so once everybody has finished their LING407 research projects, we always try to set up a meeting with the community, where we share food and our findings. The 2012 Field Methods class presented their honours projects to the Christchurch Niuean community at a picnic on 29 January 2013.
“I talked about the sounds that are used to make words in Niuean. I used a diagram of the mouth to show how different sounds are made by putting the tongue in different places. I compared some interesting sound patterns in Niuean today to some similar patterns from 100 years ago. I enjoyed thinking about how to explain my findings in an easy-to-understand way, and I’m glad I had the opportunity to share what I’ve learnt with the community.” – Mark Darbyshire
“I presented about vowel epenthesis in Niuean. Vowel epenthesis is a sound process which often occurs when adopting a word from another language. E.g. ‘ice’ becomes ‘aisa’ in Niuean with ‘a’ insertion at the end of the word since Niuean does not allow a sound structure like English. I have studied which vowels are more or less likely to be inserted in which environment. The result showed that most epenthetic vowels are copied from neighbouring vowels, but /u/ and /o/ were hardly inserted. Other epenthetic vowels showed similar tongue position to the neighbouring consonants.” – Yuki Sawada (pictured with Vica Papp)
Alia Hope-Wilson’s project looked at ways in which Niuean speakers talk about events that involve one participant (1), two participants (2), and three participants (3).
(2) Ne moto e ia e kaupā
‘He punched the wall’
(3) Ne fagai talo e tagata taane ke he kuli
‘The man fed the taro to the dog’
“For my field methods assignment I chose to look at the modal system in Niuean. Obviously I wasn’t able to cover all the different parts of the system, but during my elicitation I found some interesting data for expressing obligation and permission as well as some interesting findings for situations of probability. For example, the word liga – ‘likely’ is used to mean ‘might’ as well as ‘probably’ depending on the context, which was interesting, but also very confusing early on in the elicitation.” – Mike Peek
“My research involved applying the finer structures proposed for noun and prepositional phrases to Niuean case marking and adposition systems. These structures include projections for Path, Place and Axial Part, categories which are attested in English. For example, in the prepositional phrase below, ‘from’ is Path, ‘on’ is Place, and ‘top’ is Axial Part (prepositional particles derived from nouns originally but which no longer behave as nouns):
‘from on top of the house’
The Niuean data supports proposals for these categories, not only for containing Paths, Places and Axial Parts, but also for maintaining the hierarchical order proposed:
‘mai i luga he fale’
from LOC top LOC house
Here the first form of the locative ‘i’ corresponds to the Place projection ‘on’ in English. From this example and many others, it appeared that the Niuean data fitted these proposals very nicely!” – Kirsty Thompson
Lynsey and Heidi discussed their ongoing collaborative research with Lisa Matthewson on the Niuean markers kua and tei, which share some properties with the English perfect (4), but can also be used in contexts such as (5).
(4) Kua oti tei e vahega
‘The class has finished.’
(5) Kua teitei mate tei au
‘I’m nearly dying.’