Thursday, October 24, 2013

Samoa in the News

His Highness Tuiatua Tupua Tamasese Efi

"Samoa’s Head of State Tuiatua Tupua Tamasese Efi is advocating for a return of glottal marks for the Samoan language," is the report today from Radio New Zealand International. Since I haven't seen his actual remarks, I can only hope he's also advocating for a return of the macron on vowels, too.

Traditionally, when we relied on printing presses employing moveable type, inserting all the glottal marks (ʻ) and macrons (ā, ē, ī, ō, ū) in a Samoan text was time consuming and costly. The standard in the original Bible was to only include those marks that were absolutely necessary to avoid confusion.

But as anyone learning Samoan as a second language can tell you, without the glottal marks and macrons, everything is confusing. For a while, at least. Then, as fluency increases, context reveals which word is likely the right one, and so on till the perfect day.

At the university where I teach Samoan, we teach these marks as necessary parts of the language, the glottal mark being given equal status with any of the other consonants. We'd never think of leaving out a p, or t, since it would radically change a word's meaning. Then why leave out the glottal mark?

I applaud Tuiatua's advocacy and hope it will catch on in all the Samoan communities worldwide.

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