Skip to main content Accessibility help


  • Marc Garellek (a1) and Marija Tabain (a2)


Tongan (lea fakatonga, ISO 639-3 code ton) is a Polynesian language spoken mainly in Tonga, where it is one of two official languages (with English). There are about 104,000 speakers of the language in Tonga, with nearly 80,000 additional speakers elsewhere (Simons & Fennig 2017). It is most closely related to Niuean, and more distantly related to West Polynesian languages (such as Tokelauan and Samoan) and East Polynesian languages (such as Hawaiian, Māori, and Tahitian). Previous work on the phonetics and phonology of Tongan includes a general grammar (Churchward 1953), a dissertation with a grammatical overview (Taumoefolau 1998), a phonological sketch of the language (Feldman 1978), two dictionaries (Churchward 1959, Tu‘inukuafe 1992), journal and working papers on stress (Taumoefolau 2002, Garellek & White 2015), intonation (Kuo & Vicenik 2012), as well as the ‘definitive accent’ (discussed below) and the phonological status of identical vowel sequences (Poser 1985; Condax 1989; Schütz 2001; Anderson & Otsuka 2003, 2006; Garellek & White 2010; Ahn 2016; Zuraw 2018). This illustration is meant to provide an overview of the phonetic structures of the language, and includes novel acoustic data on its three-way word-initial laryngeal contrasts, which are cross-linguistically rare. The recordings accompanying this illustration come from Veiongo Hehepoto, a native speaker of Tongan currently living in Melbourne, Australia. Ms. Veiongo was born in 1950 on the island of Vava‘u (northern Tonga), but grew up and was educated in the capital city Nuku‘alofa on Tongatapu (see Figure 1). She moved to Vanuatu when she was 16 years old, and when she was 21 moved to Australia where she trained as a nurse. She continues to speak Tongan every day with family members (including children, who were born in Australia) and friends.



Hide All
Ahn, Byron. 2016. Syntax–phonology mapping and the Tongan DP. Glossa 1, 4.1–36.
Anderson, Victoria & Otsuka, Yuko. 2003. Phonetic correlates of length, stress, and definitive accent in Tongan. Proceedings of the Fifteenth International Congress of Phonetic Sciences (ICPhS XV), Barcelona, 20472050.
Anderson, Victoria & Otsuka, Yuko. 2006. The phonetics and phonology of ‘Definitive Accent’ in Tongan. Oceanic Linguistics 45, 2542.
Brown, Jason & Tukuitonga, Kara. 2018. Niuean. Journal of the International Phonetic Association 48, 117128.
Churchward, Clerk Maxwell. 1953. Tongan grammar. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Churchward, Clerk Maxwell. 1959. Tongan dictionary: Tongan–English and English–Tongan. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Clark, Ross. 1974. On the origin of the Tongan definitive accent. The Journal of the Polynesian Society 83, 103108.
Condax, Iovanna D. 1989. Tongan definitive accent. The Journal of the Polynesian Society 98, 425450.
Feldman, Harry. 1978. Some notes on Tongan phonology. Oceanic Linguistics 17, 133139.
Garellek, Marc. 2012. The timing and sequencing of coarticulated non-modal phonation in English and White Hmong. Journal of Phonetics 40, 152161.
Garellek, Marc. 2013. Production and perception of glottal stops. Ph.D. dissertation, UCLA.
Garellek, Marc & White, James. 2010. Acoustic correlates of stress and their use in diagnosing syllable fusion in Tongan. UCLA Working Papers in Phonetics 108, 3565.
Garellek, Marc & White, James. 2015. Phonetics of Tongan stress. Journal of the International Phonetic Association 45, 1334.
Gordon, Matthew & Ladefoged, Peter. 2001. Phonation types: A cross-linguistic overview. Journal of Phonetics 29, 383406.
Kahle, David & Wickham, Hadley. 2018. ggmap: Spatial visualization with ggplot2. The R Journal 5(1), 144161. (accessed 13 August 2018).
Keating, Patricia, Garellek, Marc & Kreiman, Jody. 2015. Acoustic properties of different kinds of creaky voice. Proceedings of the Eighteenth International Congress of Phonetic Sciences (ICPhS XVIII), Glasgow.
Kuo, Grace & Vicenik, Chad. 2012. The intonation of Tongan. UCLA Working Papers in Phonetics 111, 6391.
Ladd, D. Robert. 2008. Intonational phonology. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Morton, Ermel J. 1962. A descriptive grammar of Tongan (Polynesian). Ph.D. thesis, Indiana University.
Poser, William J. 1985. Cliticization to NP and Lexical Phonology. In Goldberg, Jeffrey, MacKaye, Susannah & Wescoat, Michael (eds.), West Coast Conference in Formal Linguistics 4 (WCCFL 4), 262272. Stanford, CA: Stanford Linguistics Association & CSLI.
Schütz, Albert J. 2001. Tongan accent. Oceanic Linguistics 40, 307323.
Shue, Yen-Liang, Keating, Patricia, Vicenik, Chad & Yu, Kristine. 2011. Voicesauce: A program for voice analysis. Proceedings of the Seventeenth International Congress of Phonetic Sciences (ICPhS XVII), Hong Kong, 18461849.
Simons, Gary F. & Fennig, Charles D. (eds.). 2017. Ethnologue: Languages of the world, 20th edn. Dallas, TX: SIL International. (accessed 27 November 2017).
Taumoefolau, Melenaite L. 1998. Problems in Tongan lexicography. Ph.D. dissertation, University of Auckland.
Taumoefolau, Melenaite L. 2002. Stress in Tongan (MIT Working Papers in Linguistics 44). Cambridge, MA: MIT.
Tu‘inukuafe, Edgar. 1992. A simplified dictionary of modern Tongan. Auckland: Polynesian Press.
Zuraw, Kie. 2018. Beyond trochaic shortening: A survey of Central Pacific languages. Language: Phonological Data and Analysis 94, e1e42.
Zuraw, Kie, O’Flynn, Chase & Ward, Kaeli. 2010. Marginal prosodic contrasts in Tongan loans. Presented at UCLA Phonology Seminar, 2 June 2010.
Recommend this journal

Email your librarian or administrator to recommend adding this journal to your organisation's collection.

Journal of the International Phonetic Association
  • ISSN: 0025-1003
  • EISSN: 1475-3502
  • URL: /core/journals/journal-of-the-international-phonetic-association
Please enter your name
Please enter a valid email address
Who would you like to send this to? *
Type Description Title
Supplementary materials

Garellek and Tabain supplementary material
Garellek and Tabain supplementary material 1

 Unknown (20.6 MB)
20.6 MB
Supplementary materials

Garellek and Tabain supplementary material
Garellek and Tabain supplementary material 2

 Unknown (20.6 MB)
20.6 MB


Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between <date>. This data will be updated every 24 hours.

Usage data cannot currently be displayed