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.
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