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Te taetae ni Kiribati

The language of Kiribati

Grammar Handbook


Lesson 2


(Note to teachers: This lesson is optional. See manual.)

Although little difficulty is encountered in understanding the speakers from all areas, there are two main dialects, the Northern and Southern.

The Northern dialect extends from Butaritari/Makin south to Nonouti, and includes Tarawa, the capital island. The southern dialect encompasses the remainder of the group, extending from Tabiteuea south to Arorae.

The principal difference in pronunciation is in the sound of the t when it occurs before u.

In the North, t is pronounced as an s before u, just as it is before i in both areas.

In the South, t is pronounced as a t before u, just as it is before all the vowels except i.

Some differences may also be encountered in the pronunciation of some common words or phrases, such as

North   South   gloss
ngke   ngkoe   you
itua   itiua   seven
wanua   waniua   eight
na   naba   also
kunuu   kuniu   my skin

There are also some dialect distinctions between the language as spoken in the Butaritari/Makin area and the rest of the group:

naakataakamyou people
nakomaikuriko/nakomaikoacome here
kawaetatakokuria waemhurry up
tebaeitelkaeithis thing
naakaitaakaithese people
naakekeitaakekeathose people
enga (e nga)anga (a nga)where is?
te atamate nonogravel
kareakabakabaka (kabakaa)throw
te moimotote nidrinking coconut
moi moimotokaatoadrink moimoto
wirebwerebwewi n tokorogossip
tekatekatakatakato sit

Another characteristic difference between the speech of Butaritari/Makin and the rest of the group is in the pronunciation of the article te.

In Butaritari/Makin it is pronounced ta before nouns beginning with ka and nga:

te kaita kaithe stick
te ngata nga(the) fathom
te ngabingabita ngabingabikind of mat
te katam'ata katam'athe cat


Practice pronouncing the words in the following list, first with a Northern pronunciation, then with a Southern:

matua   to sleep
tuai   not yet
itiua   seven
Tuun   June
tua   law
Turai   July
katuka   leave behind
katua   kind of game
butubutu   to crowd
rotu   dull
tituaraoi   generous
tu   needle
tuka   lower (as a sail)

In addition, if you will be spending time in Butaritari/Makin, it will be useful to study the list of expressions shown in the lesson as special to that area.

Kiribati page

© 1979, 2003 Stephen Trussel, ACTION / Peace Corps, The Experiment in International Living. The Experiment in International Living, Inc., prepared this handbook for the U. S. Government under ACTION Contract number 78-043-1037. The reproduction of any part of this handbook other than for such purposes as criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching, scholarship, research, or other "fair use" is subject to the prior written permission of ACTION.