and compiled by Danko Taborosi, with assistance of
Sonsorolese is one of two indigenous languages spoken in remote southwestern islands of the Republic of Palau. It is the language of Sonsorol, Pulo Anna, and Merir islands. The language spoken on Tobi island, 200 km further away, is closely related to Sonsorolese but distinct. Despite geographic proximity and political association with Palau, both Sonsorolese and Tobian are not at all related to Palauan language. Instead, they are the westernmost parts of the so-called Trukic continuum of dialects/languages, and are related to and partly intelligible with Woleaian, and to a lesser extent other languages spoken in Yap State (Outer Islands) and Chuuk State of the Federated States of Micronesia.
In its now much depopulated home islands, Sonsorolese is spoken by about 60 people (~30 on Sonsorol, ~10 on Pulo Anna, ~3 on Merir). In Palau's main town, Koror, where many islanders have migrated for economic reasons, at least 300 people speak the language. Most of them live in Echang village, not far from downtown Koror. It appears that most speakers are completely bilingual in Palauan, or English, which is preferred by young people. In fact, young Sonsorolese are reported to speak their native language with much English admixtures. Consequently, their speech is very different from Sonsorolese of the elder generation, in which there are currently less than 20 speakers over 60 years old.
Thanks to the federal organization of Palau, Sonsorolese language has an official language status in the state of Sonsorol. It is occasionally used in that state's internal communications (e.g., announcements, invitations), although official documents are written in English.
The language is spoken differently on Sonsorol, Pulo Anna and Merir, and the three represent distinct dialects. There is very little information regarding the specific differences, but it appears that they are more apparent in phonology (pronunciation) than in syntax. For example, Sonsorolese sounds 'f', 'v' and 'd' are all merged into 'd' (pronounced as 'th' in 'this') in Pulo Annian dialect. This slower-paced Pulo Annian dialect can still be heard on occasion, whereas Merir speech has all but disappeared. The quite distinct language of Tobi island is sometimes treated as a dialect of Sonsorolese, with which it is rapidly merging. Because most of Sonsorolese and less-numerous Tobian community members co-reside, mix and intermarry in Echang village in Koror, Tobian language has come to resemble Sonsorolese. People report that Tobian used to be not clearly intelligible to Sonsorolese speakers in the past, but has become perfectly clear.
3. Orthography and Pronunciation
Sonsorolese is mostly a spoken language. People do occasionally write it, but they do so according to their own personal preferences. The sounds of the language are probably most similar to Tobian and Woleaian. Some idiosyncrasies include the pronunciation of 'd', which is standard at the beginning of words but more like English 'th' within words; 'r' is pronounced as in Spanish, not English; and most importantly, 'l' is always pronounced with tongue touching the back roof of the mouth and sounds something like a mixture of 'g' and 'l'. For that reason, some Sonsorolese prefer to spell their 'l's as 'gl'. As in Woleaian, silent vowels are common at the end of Sonsorolese words. For example, in 'Dongosaro', the native name for Sonsorol island, the final 'o' is not pronounced. In order to pronounce Sonsorolese words and phrases listed in this book it would be the best to consult native speakers.
So far, the only documents written in Sonsorolese are the Constitution of Sonsorol State and certain parts of the Bible. The former can be considered as standard for writing of Sonsorolese, although no clear rules exist. This may change in the future, as a dictionary is currently being prepared by Sonsorolese community leaders. They are in need of a trained linguist to assist with their efforts.
4. Words and phrases
Greetings, goodbyes and civilities
Feelings and opinions
Orientation, transportation, sleep
Nature and weather
Sea and land animals
Dress and tools
with Ms. Laura Ierago, former governor of
Sonsorol State; March, 2007.
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