Bender, Byron W. 1973. Parallelisms in the Morphophonemics of Several Micronesian Languages. Oceanic Linguistics 12(1/2), Papers of the First International Conference on Comparative Austronesian Linguistics, 1974: Oceanic (Summer – Winter, 1973). 455-477.

This paper examines several phonological patterns involving vowels found across a number of Micronesian languages, including processes of assimilation, dissimilation and length alternations. Bender highlights Nathan’s (1973) suggestion of a synchronic phonological process of assimilatory vowel raising in Nauruan with the example itugá ‘above’, itugé-i-o ‘above me’. He also cites Nathan’s account of low vowel dissimilation as a historical process in the development of Nauruan. Bender’s last mention of Nauruan occurs within his discussion on length alternations, again citing Nathan. While a number of Micronesian languages exhibit vowel lengthening, Nathan states that this only happens sporadically in Nauruan. Bender’s discussion of the vowel lengthening phenomenon suggests that it is unclear whether the vowel lengthening processes arose independently in several Micronesian languages or if vowel-lengthening has a common origin within Micronesian. If the later is the case, Bender states that Nauruan cannot be ruled out as having inherited it as well, though if it did, he suggests that the development of Nauruan nominal prefixes has blocked the conditions for compensatory lengthening of the kind observed elsewhere within Micronesian, hence its sporadic nature.


Bender, Byron W. (ed.) 1984. Studies in Micronesian Linguistics. Canberra: Department of Linguistics, Research School of Pacific Studies, Australian National University.

This work is a collection of writings from several authors, with sections covering a wide range of topics relating to lexicography, orthography, language contact, phonetics, phonology, morphosyntax, and others. The book presents studies surrounding languages spoken in Micronesia, though it does not limit itself to the nuclear Micronesian group. It discusses Yapese and Palauan, for example, which are Oceanic languages not subgrouped as Micronesian (see Crowley, Lynch and Ross 2011: 6). Nauruan is only mentioned a few times in this volume. It is mentioned in the preface where the author expresses hope that support can be found for better describing the language. It is also mentioned in three separate footnotes (p. 75 footnote 1; p. 274 footnote 5; and p. 334 footnote 3). In the first footnote Nauruan is only mentioned to say that the authors (Harrison and Jackson) include it within nuclear Micronesian, and also that no relevant data on the language was available to them. The other two footnotes (from other authors) mention Nauruan in stating that it may or may not be part of the core Micronesian group. These comments highlight the difficulty that researchers have had in placing Nauruan solidly within the Micronesian family. Its status within the family remains unclear.


Blust, Robert. 2009. The Austronesian Languages. Canberra: Pacific Linguistics, Research School of Pacific and Asian Studies, Australian National University.

This large volume covers an impressively wide range of information on the Austronesian language family, of which Micronesian is one subgroup. Nauruan is mentioned in several places, but unfortunately there is no discussion of substantial length. The uncertain status of Nauruan within the Micronesian family is highlighted, though Blust is somewhat inconsistent in discussing it. In one place he states that Nauruan is “almost certainly” part of nuclear Micronesian, though it is the “most divergent and least well-described of these” languages (200). Yet, in another place he states that Nauruan is “clearly Oceanic”, but that it subgroups with the nuclear Micronesian group, as a primary branch separate from the rest (720). In that same section he seems to suggest that Banaban is a “geographically disconnected dialect” of Nauruan, though Ethnologue lists Banaban as a dialect of Kiribati (Gilbertese). Nauruan no longer has distinct dialects (Kayser 1993 [1936]: iv), a fact Blust mentions elsewhere (46). There is one section dedicated to Nauru in particular (46), which is a single paragraph that briefly recounts the history of the Island since European contact. Blust also mentions that Nauruan is the official language of Nauru, though English is widely used and understood. Blust offers some limited information on Nauruan phonology, including the presence of two rhotics, one being an alveolar flap and the other a trill, their alternation being conditioned by stress. He also mentions that the phoneme inventory is still not fully understood, but cites Nathan (1973) and Kayser (1993 [1936]) for what has been written on the subject so far. Lastly, Blust mentions the Kiribati-Nauru region as the area where Proto-Micronesian speakers likely first entered Micronesia, perhaps from the south-east Solomons (746).


Comrie, Bernard. 1995. Review of Nauru Grammar by Alois Kayser; Karl H. Rensch. Language 21(4). 267-270.

This is a review of the 1993 reprinting of Kayser’s 1936 grammar. Comrie notes in particular the value of Kayser’s noun class tables, which in his estimation comprise over half of the book, and which illustrate agreement patterns that are no longer used in the modern language. He also highlights the grammar’s shortcomings, for example, in its account of the phonology and Kayser’s use of “quaint” terminology. Comrie’s conclusion is that Kasyer helped to lay the groundwork for research on Nauruan, but that building upon this research should be considered an urgent task.


Hough, David. 1974. Summary of Nauruan phonology. University of Hawaii, ms.

This unpublished manuscript from The University of Hawaii appears to be from the period of research surrounding Nathan’s (1973) publication, Nauruan in the Austronesian Language Family. The introduction presents the paper as a light summary of a preceding period of research that lasted six months. The introduction reveals another intention of the research, which was to develop a new orthography for Nauruan. Hough discusses underlying length contrasts in both consonants and vowels, a tense/lax distinction, neutralization of voice and release features in word-final consonants, phonemic secondary articulations (velarization and palatalization), place of articulation (bilabial, dental, velar, palatal and post-velar), voicing and gemination, and some particular phonological processes. He reports aspiration in initial /p/, intervocalic gemination of stop consonants, neutralization of voicing and release in word-final position, palatalization of dentals before high front vowels, absence of velarized dentals and palatalized velars, and some level of free variation between post-velar stops and velar stops. Hough discusses the underlying length contrast among consonants in some detail. Regarding the orthography, Hough suggests using symbols associated with the voiced/voiceless contrast, even though the phonological difference may be length, with voicing distinction as a secondary consequence. Hough suggests that the liquids have a long/short contrast, but the glides do not. The short /r/ is realized as a flap, voiceless and unreleased in final position, and the long /rː/ as the ‘barred r’. The ‘barred r’, [r], is likened to English “dr”, and is claimed to only occur in borrowed words (which Nathan (1973) does not suggest overtly). Hough suggests 12 underlying vowels, divided into long/short counterpart pairs, though his choice of representation for them suggests more than just long/short contrasts: /a aː/, /æ æː/, /i iː/, /ɨ u/, /ɛ e/, /ʌ ɔ/. He also provides some Nauruan words which contain each of these sounds, but without transcriptions. The last pages of the paper give a list of phonetic representations along with their proposed phonemes, and also the characters from a “1st orthography” and “2nd orthography”. It seems that Hough and his colleges were working on the “2nd orthography” as a replacement for the first.


Jackson, Frederick H. 1986. On determining the external relationships of the Micronesian languages. In FOCAL II: Papers from the fourth International Conference on Austronesian Linguistics. Paul A. Geraghty, Lois Carrington and S. A. Wurm. 201-238. Canberra: Pacific Linguistics, Research School of Pacific and Asian Studies, Australian National University.

This article is divided into three sections, the second of which is dedicated to a discussion of Nauruan and its genetic relation to Micronesian languages. The first section summarizes some reconstructed aspects of Proto-Micronesian, and includes subsections on sentence structure, personal pronouns, directionals, demonstratives, possessives, numerals, count classes, and interrogatives. The section also contains some useful tables, including one showing phonological correspondences between the Micronesian languages and the reconstructed Proto-Micronesian, and tables comparing personal pronouns, directionals, possessive classifiers, and interrogatives. The final section discusses proposed evidence for linking Micronesian with languages of Northern Vanuatu, San Cristobal, Malaita and the Admirality Islands, arguing that none of the claims are sufficiently supported. Readers researching Nauruan will find the second section most useful. It argues that Nauruan is best classified as separate from but related to Micronesian, forming a higher-order group together with it which Jackson calls Greater Micronesian. Jackson notes that the availability of Nauruan data is quite limited, but hopes to clarify the relationship between Nauruan and Micronesian based on what is known about the family and Proto-Micronesian reconstructions. A chart can be found at the beginning of this section comparing Proto-Oceanic phonemes with those of Proto-Micronesian and Nauruan. Jackson summarizes some aspects of Nauruan liquids here, citing Nathan: the phoneme /r/ has flapped and trilled allophones, and the phoneme /r/ is trilled, slightly long, and has a buzzing sound that can be approximated by partially devoicing in medial position. As evidence that Nauruan is not a member of the Micronesian subgroup, Jackson states that the merger of Proto-Oceanic *nt and *nd into Proto-Micronesian *c is not reflected in Nauruan. According to Jackson, Nauruan reflects Proto-Oceanic *nt as /t/, *nd as /r/, and *d as /r/. Jackson also provides three additional pices of support for his position: Proto-Oceanic *qaRus(a), ‘current’, became aar in Nauruan (*R > r), but *R is deleted in this word in all Micronesian languages; Proto-Micronesian *f corresponds to both ∅ and /p/ in different Nauruan words, and Jackson suggests this might be explained by linking Nauruan directly to Proto-Oceanic, where *mp corresponds to Nauruan /p/ and *p was lost; Nauruan does not reflect two particular Proto-Micronesian innovations, the replacement of Proto-Oceanic *R by a velar nasal, and the replacement of final Proto-Oceanic *i by *a. Jackson believes that Nauruan is not a member of the Micronesian group, but also believes that Nauruan is related to that group. He cites twelve phonological correspondences in support of the latter, which come in the form of proposed cognates between Proto-Micronesian and Nauruan. At the end of the section Jackson provides a tree diagram with Proto-Greater Micronesian at the top, Proto-Micronesian and Nauruan diverging from it, and Proto-Micronesian further diverging into the rest of the Micronesian family, in binary fashion.


Johnson, Lisa. 1999. New perspectives in Nauruan phonology. Deseret Language and Linguistics Society Symposium, vol. 25, 55-65.

This article aims to more precisely define the Nauruan phoneme inventory through analysis of written Nauruan, discussion of earlier research and the author’s own work with Nauruan language consultants. Johnson cites six sources of written Nauruan material: Deleporte’s dictionary (Trussel), a Nauruan Swadesh list (Trussel), a word list compiled from Petit-Skinner’s The Nauruans (Trussel), New Testament stories published by the Bible Society of the South Pacific (Imwinen omo bew dogum), a translation of the Bible into Nauruan by Philip Deleporte, and a report from the Nauruan Language Committee (from Kayser 1993 [1936]). Johnson agrees with comments from Nathan (1973) that Nauruan speech sounds are difficult to analyze, stating that many issues remain unresolved and that she views the work presented here as a springboard for further research. Johnson discusses the following aspects of Nauruan phonology: place of articulation; lack of aspiration; unrelease in final positions; lenition of stops; voicing status of stops; gemination; phonemic secondary articulations (palatalization and labialization); nasals; the two r sounds in Nauruan and their variants; glides, their fortition in final positions, and the spread of fortis glides to other positions; contrastive vowel length; vowel reduction and syncope; assimilatory processes; nasalization; and stress. Readers will find Johnson’s comparisons between earlier work by Nathan (1973) and Kayser (1993 [1936]) useful.


Johnson, Lisa. 2000. Firstness and secondness in Nauruan morphology. Deseret Language and Linguistics Society Symposium, vol. 26, 129-136.

This paper attempts to find a general meaning for the Nauruan morpheme -(V)n (a suffix -n sometimes preceded by a vowel) by examining its contextual uses. The paper lists seven different types of constructions where the morpheme is regularly used: completive verb, inchoative verb, partitival noun phrase, possessive noun phrase, article, relative pronoun, and noun phrase of characterization. The firstness of secondness in the paper’s title is in reference to Johnson’s appeal to the semiotic philosophy of Charles Sanders Pierce. In Johnson’s interpretation, Piercian firstness can relate to a sign (the form), secondness to its object (the thing it refers to), and thirdness to the interpretation made available by linking the form and meaning. “Firstness of secondness” is a specific Piercian category that Johnson suggests is encoded by the Nauruan morpheme -(V)n. Johnson interprets firstness of secondness as a unified concept that covers three kinds of meanings: ‘one thing in two states’, a ‘part-whole relationship’, or ‘quality [as in a characteristic] of object’. Johnson discusses how she sees these firstness of secondness meanings in each of the seven usages of the morpheme, thereby explaining their apparent homophony.


Johnson, Lisa. 2002. Nauruan classifiers. Brigham Young University, MA.

This lengthy work is Lisa Johnson’s 2002 master’s thesis. Johnson attempts to make Kayser’s characterization of the complex Nauruan noun class system more accessible to modern scholars, and details the substantial reduction that the system has undergone since Kayser’s work in the 1930s. The thesis covers a range of topics: typology of nominal classification; morphosyntax, including structural aspects of classifiers, numeral stems, various affixes, interrogatives, deictics, and nominalizers; numerals and related constructions; non-numeral classifiers; the semantics of classifier categories; the diachronic development of the noun class system; quantifiers; cultural and human-experience influences on the development of nominal categories; and the simplification of the noun class system since Kayser (1936). Johnson goes into substantial detail on most of these topics. Although this work is primarily oriented around the noun class system and related constructions, it is a useful resource for discovering what is known about a range of topics surrounding Nauruan grammar, and orienting oneself in preparing to pursue further research. This is especially true regarding Nauruan morphology and syntax, and the influence that Nauruan history, culture and experience has had on the language.


Kayser, Alois. 1993 [1936]. Karl H. Rensch (ed.). Nauru Grammar. Canberra ACT, Australia: Embassy of the Federal Republic of Germany.

This volume is reprint of a grammar produced by Alois Kayser, a Catholic missionary who spent much of his life on Nauru. Originally written in 1936, a surviving copy of this work was donated to the German embassy in Canberra, who republished it in the present volume in 1993. The introductory pages were written by Karl Rensch, and outline the history of Christian missions to Nauru, the resultant religious publications which represent the earliest examples of written Nauruan, details of the lives and interpersonal relations of missionaries and researchers who lived and worked on Nauru, work surrounding attempts to develop a satisfactory writing system for Nauruan, the history of occupation during World War II, and subsequent government, up to the achievement of Nauruan independence. The remainder of the book is a reprint of Kayser’s original text, which was typed up by the administrator of Nauru in 1936 and subsequently duplicated. Only a handful of original copies of the typed manuscript remain, housed in rare book collections in Australia and England. The grammar itself feels archaic from the perspective of modern linguistics, and relies on categories of traditional European grammars in attempting to describe the language. It is well noted that Kayser had a good working knowledge of Nauruan, but he was not an academically trained linguist, which probably contributed to the lack of clarity in his descriptions. This work is also somewhat limited in scope, focusing largely on describing the noun classification system, which at the time employed 39 nominal categories. Discussion of Nauruan speech sounds is limited mostly to the first 10 pages of the grammar, and relies on comparisons between Nauruan speech sounds and those found in European languages such as English, German and French. These pages also contain brief discussions of stress and some phonological processes. The middle section of the grammar comprises the bulk of the book, and discusses Nauruan analogues to traditional linguistic categories, describes their form and function in prose, and places example forms in tables demonstrating how they change when operating in different noun classes. These lengthy tables are found on many pages of the text, and are quite valuable since they have preserved noun classification patterns that have been reduced or have fallen out of use in the modern language. The volume finishes with a section on the syntax, discussing which categories of words go in which positions and general types of structures; a story written in Nauruan orthography with English interlineralized translation (though with no morpheme boundaries or proper gloss); a sketched map of Nauru with relevant deictic terminology used in the language; and finally a report from the Nauruan language committee recommending a standardized alphabet.


Lynch, John. 2003. Low Vowel Dissimilation in Vanuatu Languages. Oceanic Linguistics 42(2). 359-406.

This article covers the phenomenon of low vowel dissimilation within languages of Vanuatu. Low vowel dissimilation is described as the raising of the first of two low vowels where there is an intervening consonant: aCa > əCa (and subsequent shifts of /ə/ to other non-low vowels). The process has been observed in disparate languages across the Oceanic family, and is especially prevalent in Vanuatu. Similar phoenomena have been identified within Micronsian, though Lynch states that based on the data available, a common origin of low vowel dissimilation cannot be established between Micronesian and other Oceanic language groups. Nauruan is discussed in the context of Micronesian languages, based on comments from Nathan (1973), where a historical process of low vowel dissimilation is illustrated. Reproducing some examples from Nathan, Lynch states that the reflex of Proto-Micronesian *a is æ, but that before *Ca, *a became e. How the process of low vowel dissimilation has interacted with with processs of final vowel loss and stress has not been immediately clear to researchers, but in the case of Nauruan, Lynch asserts that low vowel dissimilation preceded final vowel loss, and that stress was not a factor in the process.


Lynch, John, Malcolm Ross and Terry Crowley. 2011. The Oceanic Languages (second edition). New York: Routledge.

This large volume covers a wide range of information on the Oceanic language family. Micronesian is one subgroup of Oceanic, and Nauruan is believed to either be part of this group, or to share an immediate common ancestor with the group. Nauruan is included in a language map (118), which places Nauruan adjacent to but not within nuclear Micronesian. It is also mentioned, along with Kiribati and Kosrae, as part of the region where Proto-Micronesian was likely spoken, suggesting a roughly east to west settlement of Micronesia. The only other place Nauruan is mentioned is within Micronesian family trees, which again illustrates Nauruan as a sister to Nuclear Micronesian, but not within it.


Nathan, Geoffrey S. 1973. A grammatical sketch of Nauruan. University of Hawaii, ms.

This unpublished manuscript sketches several aspects of Nauruan grammar. There are sections dedicated to phonology, nouns, pronouns, verbs and adjectives, determiners, prepositions, and syntax. Nathan is careful to emphasize the tentative nature of his sketch. Nathan makes certain observations about Nauruan phonology in this manuscript that are not discussed in his 1973 publication, such as intervocalic lenition of bilabial stops; aspiration of initial /p/; final devoicing and unrelease in stop consonants; velarized bilabials described specifically as non-labialized; prothetic vowels before word-initial geminate nasals; “prestopped” nasals in final positions; the allophone [r] specifically described as a trill; syllables described as having associated high and low tones; more detailed discussion of stress; morphophonemic alternations in the prefix /e-/; shifts in syllabicity; assimilatory processes in vowels; and epenthetic schwa in some consonant clusters across word boundaries. The section on nouns briefly discusses the use of the absolute prefix /e-/, noun classification, and possession. A complex system of pronouns is described, with fifteen possible forms based on person/number encoding, and seven different types with different morphological patterns. Nathan’s discussion of verbs and adjectives notes that the verbs behave similarly to English verbs, with the exception that intransitive verbs and adjectives are not syntactically distinct, and that the “unmarked” tense is non-future. The remaining discussion covers several affixes and auxiliaries that encode traisitivity, tense, and aspect, as well as some derivational morphology. The section on determiners covers demonstratives, which can function like articles and agree for noun class, as well as proximity markers. The section on numerals gives an overview of number words for generic counting, for counting objects (all of which have noun classes), and ordinals. The section on prepositions describes them as being either nouns or verbs, and so appear to be defined based on syntactic position. The section on syntax describes Nauruan as having SVO order for transitive constructions and a VS order for intransitive constructions. Other points of discussion include the use of a repeated pronoun phrase-finally for emphasizing subjects; the structure of relative clauses and topicalization processes; and interrogative phrases. This document is a useful resource, though it is unclear what kinds of changes Nathan would have made if it went to publication. It is clear that many points of discussion here did not make it into the discussion in Nathan’s (1973) article. Also to note is the presence of quite a few example sentences, which will be useful for setting up questions about Nauruan morphology and syntax. In the version of this manuscript that is circulating among interested scholars, page 1 is missing.


Nathan, Geoffrey S. 1973. The History of Nauruan – a first approximation. University of Hawaii, ms.

This appears to be an earlier draft of what was to be Nathan’s (1973) article Nauruan in the Austronesian Language Family. Although much of the wording in this manuscript and the published article is exactly the same, reading the latter reveals editing for clarity, format and changes in examples. The content is not further summarized here. For more details see the entry for Nathan (1973).


Nathan, Geoffrey S. 1973. Nauruan in the Austronesian language family. Oceanic Linguistics 12(1/2), Papers of the First International Conference on Comparative Austronesian Linguistics, 1974: Oceanic (Summer – Winter, 1973). 479-501.

This article provides some of the only detailed work on Nauruan phonology currently available. The paper was written after extensive work with a native speaker of Nauruan, yet Nathan stresses the tentativeness of his conclusions. Nathan describes work on Nauruan as particularly challenging . The article provides a description of preceding comparative work, a synchronic description of Nauruan phonology, an account of the development of phonemes from Proto-Oceanic to Nauruan, and a brief section on morphosyntax. Nathan discusses the following topics in regard to the synchronic phonology: place of articulation (labial, dental, and velar/post-velar); velarized and palatalized labial phonemes; post-velar plain stops and labialized velar stops; loss of velarization before long back vowels; loss of palatalization before non-low front vowels; underlying length contrasts for both consonants and vowels; absence of phonemic fricatives; palatalization of dental stops before high front vowels; nasals; the presence of two r phonemes, one realized as [ɾ] or [r] depending on stress, and the other as the “barred r”, [r] – a sound “whose exact nature is unknown”, but may be palatalized, and is fortis; frication in glides; the influence of surrounding consonants on vowel quality; neutralization of short high vowels when adjacent to rounded consonants; length and stress; vowel reduction in unstressed positions; syllable structure and stress; and morphophonemic alternations. Nathan also discusses developments from Proto-Oceanic to Nauruan, with some reference to Micronesian more generally. This discussion is a good resource for beginning research on diachronic developments within Nauruan phonology. Some topics of particular interest include: consonant weakening and loss; *k > w; *-wa > o; reduction of nasal+consonant sequences, *mp > p; origins of secondary articulations; gemination of intervocalic *n; the origin of the liquids; and low vowel dissimilation. There are also accounts of the development of specific phonemes, some of which are presented with more confidence than others. Nathan’s discussion of morphosyntax focuses on possessives and alienability and the development of the “construct suffix” which is used when the possessor is a “lexical noun”. Overall this article is a valuable resource for locating starting points for research, in particular for phonology. As Nathan emphasizes, there is still much work to be done, and this work is far from conclusive. 


Trussel, Steven (trans.). Delaporte’s Nauruan dictionary (1907). Online. (17 October, 2014).

This online resource is a reproduction of entries from Philip Delaporte’s German-Nauruan pocket dictionary, published in 1907 (Taschenworterbuch Deutsch-Nauru). On the website’s main page, Trussel provides a very brief summary of Delaporte’s background and work on Nauru as a Protestant missionary, and lists the 32 characters used in Delaporte’s dictionary. Trussel notes that Delaporte did not include any phonetic descriptions to accompany these characters, and that representations are further complicated by unexplained variations in markings on vowels observed across tokens of the same word. Trussel also provides a useful table at the bottom of the main page, listing the number of times each character appears in the dictionary, and whether it was alone, word-initial, word-medial, or word-final. Even though we cannot tell precisely what speech sound each character was intended to represent, this can at least reveal the frequency with which each character appeared, and in what positions. Assuming that Delaporte was using these characters to represent sounds at least somewhat similar to those used in his own English or German speech, such that p in the dictionary represents a sound somewhat like [p] in German or English, this might provide clues to phonological processes in late 19th and early 20th century Nauruan. There are roughly 2,500 English-Nauruan-German word entries reproduced on the website, with the English translations being Trussel’s.


Trussel, Steven. Nauruan Swadesh List, Tri-Institutional Pacific Program, Yale University. Online. (19 December, 2014).

This is an online reproduction of a Swadesh list for the Nauruan language. Information on the webpage states that the original came from the Tri-Institutional Pacific Program at Yale University, and was recorded by Tamaiti Willie Star in March of 1954. This list contains roughly 590 items, though in a handful of cases no Nauruan word is given. There is no phonetic or phonological information provided regarding how to interpret the orthography used for Nauruan words.


Trussel, Steven. Nauruan-English Vocabulary from Solange Petit-Skinner’s “The Nauruans” [1981, San Francisco: MacDuff Press]. Online. (19 December, 2014).

This is an online collection of Nauruan words from Petit-Skinner’s 1981 book The Nauruans, an anthropological work which does not discuss Nauruan language structure specifically. Trussel compiled the list himself, and provides definitions based on analysis of context in Petit-Skinner’s book. No phonological or phonetic information is available regarding how to interpret the orthography used. There are 433 items in the list.


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