Saturday, November 30, 2013

O-Class vs. A-Class Samoan Nouns

Talking chief Lauaki Namulauulu Mamoe implores you to learn Samoan

If you take another look at the table of Samoan possessive pronouns I recently posted, you'll see that the fourth column from the left classifies possessive pronouns as either being o-class or a-class. The concept of noun class is a bit confusing for an English speaker, since English doesn't have an equivalent concept—so far as I am aware, at least.

There are many places that explain this concept as it relates specifically to Samoan—for instance, here, here, here, here, and here—but for the sake of this post, I'll draw from explanations of a cognate language, Hawaiian, that I have found particularly useful when applied to—and in some cases adapted for—Samoan.

Hawaiian language scholar Albert J. Schütz, in All About Hawaiian, observes on page 26 that, like Samoan,
Hawaiian also has two ways of saying 'my' (or any of the other possessives), depending on the kind of relationship between the possessor and the possessed. In one type, called INALIENABLE, the possessor has no control over the relationship, in the sense that he or she can neither begin it or end it. Inalienable relationships (marked within the possessive word by o) often involve body parts, innate qualities, parts of a whole, and kin at your own level (brother, sister, etc.) or above (parents, grandparents, etc.) . . .
Other than a few items of cultural importance (such as land, house, or canoe) or those that you have a spatial relationship with or close connection to (such as boats, vehicles, houses, or clothing) the relationship one has with most objects is ALIENABLE. Children, spouse, and grandchildren are also alienable, all marked by a or ā. [In Samoan we just use a.]
In Ka Lei Haʻaheo: Beginning Hawaiian, Alberta Pualani Hopkins further elaborates on page 74 that,
'O-category' things
1. If you have no control over possessing something, it is an 'o' thing: for example, older relatives, siblings, emotions, body parts. Note that nonliving things have no choice about owning things so they usually possess everything with 'o'-possessives.
2. If you can get in, on, under, behind, or wear something, it is an 'o' thing: for example, buildings, means of transportation, chairs, clothes.
'A-category' things
Anything that does not fall into 1 or 2 above is an 'a' thing. We talk about possessing 'a' things by substituting ā for o in the possessives you have learned . . .
There are many 'a' things: for example, husband, wife, children, grandchildren, teacher, student, book, food.
So, to take a few of the specific examples that Schütz and Hopkins give we can construct the following list of o-class and a-class nouns:

O-class NounsA-Class Nouns
my arm - ʻo loʻu lima
my brother - ʻo loʻu uso
my mom - ʻo loʻu tinā
my house - ʻo loʻu fale
my car - ʻo loʻu taʻavale
my shirt - ʻo loʻu mitiafu
my wife - ʻo laʻu āvā
my book - ʻo laʻu tusi
my pencil - ʻo laʻu penitala
my dog - ʻo laʻu maile
my friend - ʻo laʻu uō
my cell phone - ʻo laʻu selefoni

There are some few notable exceptions to the above rules. For instance, in Samoan a man's children are all o-class, whereas a woman's children are all a-class. A man's beard is also a-class, presumably because it's easily removed, though, curiously, the same isn't true for hair on the head, which is o-class.

The last exception that I'll point out is that the Samoan word for spouse, toʻalua, is o-class, possibly because the early missionaries were trying to teach the Samoans that spouses should be permanent or inalienable. The native Samoan words for husband, tāne, and wife, āvā, are both a-class.

And there you have it, a not so brief explanation of the different noun classes in Samoan. Of course, as always, you may leave questions in the comments if you need additional examples or clarification.

(Does anyone know how to center the above column headings using simple HTML?)

Monday, November 25, 2013

Samoa in the News

The new double-five-star destination

If only I spoke Chinese in addition to Samoan, I'd move my family to ʻUpolu—the main island in what was once called Western Samoa—and become a tour guide for all the new Chinese tourists that are expected to descend upon the small island nation in the near future.

China has long had an influence on Samoa and its people. Many Samoans have Chinese ancestry through the immigrant laborers to Samoa many years ago. And no Samoan meal would be complete without some sapasui, the Samoan version of chop sui that often includes either canned corned beef (pisupo) or chopped turkey tail (muli pīpī), and which happens to be one of my wife's favorites.

A little known fact is that the land near Apia that the Mormon temple is built on, as well as the mission and other church offices, and the Church College of Western Samoa, once belonged to a Chinese man named Ah Mu. After he joined The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Ah Mu sold the land to the Church for $1.

In the recent past, however, China has pumped a lot of money into the Samoan infrastructure, such that at least Samoa's prime minister favors his nation's relationship with China over the same with the United States, New Zealand, or Australia.

Samoan Possessive Pronouns

Looks complicated, but is actually easy, and more descriptive, once mastered
When I was teaching university-level Samoan language, my students seemed to have a hard time wrapping their heads around the concept of Samoan possessive pronouns. It's probably because when all are listed out it ends up as a table like the one above (though even I have simplified things a bit in the table, having excluded the abbreviated forms of some).

But take a closer look at the four right columns and a pattern should emerge: every singular definite possessive pronoun begins with an l, but the l is dropped for every plural definite possessive pronoun; every singular indefinite possessive pronoun begins with an s, but every plural indefinite possessive pronoun begins with ni.

Wow, the above sentence is probably one of the worst ever written!

But what's really going on here? The beginning of our possessive pronouns, whether singular or plural, definite or indefinite, exactly correspond to the way we use the Samoan articles, as I'll show below.

In English we use the articles a, an, and the. In Samoan it's just a wee bit more complicated because the articles can be singular or plural, definite or indefinite. I said complicated, but I think nuanced is a better term for what's going on.

See, in English a and an are without a doubt singular, but what about the? It goes either way; it can be both singular and plural. That's because we don't depend on the the to tell us when a word is plural, we just tag an s (or es) on at the end. So the plural for dog is dogs.

In Samoan, however, every word ends in a vowel, so we can't just add an s or es at the end of the word to make it plural. Maile (dog) can't ever be mailes (dogs) unless you're joking. Samoan depends on its articles to show whether a word is plural.

And here they are: le, --, se, and ni. And here's how to use them:

ʻO le maile means a dog or the dog, depending on the situation,

ʻO maile means dogs or the dogs (the lack of an article I indicated above with the --),

ʻO se maile means a dog,

And ʻo ni maile means some dogs.

"But," you protest, "le and se are being used to both mean a or an!"

Yes, and that's where it gets fuzzier still for us English speakers (who aren't linguists, including me), because we don't spend a lot of time thinking about whether something needs a definite or indefinite article. Sadly, in the years since the early 1800s, when Samoan and English first came into contact, the English way of thinking and using the Samoan articles has all but shoved aside the old Samoan way of doing things; or at least, that's what it looks like to me.

The indefinite articles (and, by extension, the indefinite possessive pronouns) are to be used when the existence of something can be called into question (Is there a dog?), or when the specific identity of something isn't important, as when I ask you for a dog—I don't care which dog you give me, I just want a dog, any dog. In these cases I'd use se maile for a dog, or ni maile for some dogs.

Pretty much in all other cases the definite articles should be used to express the dog or the dogs, le maile and maile (no article for the plural definite), respectively.

So even when I'm referring to a single dog, and in English I'd say a dog, which we normally think of as being indefinite, in Samoan I can use le because I have a specific, existing dog in mind.

There you have it, possessive pronouns with a bonus discussion of the Samoan articles.

Still confused? Leave a question in the comments.

Samoa in the News

Not a real Samoan tattoo
This is a bit belated, but Nike caused a big row earlier this year over its apparent use of traditional Samoan tattoo designs for a line of women's sportswear (see above). After Samoans worldwide complained via social media sites like Facebook, Nike issued an apology to "anyone who views this design as insensitive to any specific culture."

The real deal

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Samoa in the News

Modern Polynesians doing what the ancient Polynesians did best
It's fitting that a museum exhibit on ancient Polynesian navigation would feature the Navigator Islands, or, as they're better known today, Samoa.

Samoa in Church History

Early Mormon missionaries to Samoa
From this Fall 1977 BYU Studies article by historian R. Lanier Britsch on the founding of the Samoan mission:
It is noteworthy that by this time [in 1889, only one year since Mormon missionaries formally opened the Samoan islands for missionary work,] the missionaries had experienced almost every problem Samoa could offer them. They had endured war, famine, a hurricane, and other tropical storms. They had suffered sickness, apostasy, days in open boats, and storms at sea. Rumors had been circulated against them and Protestant ministers had used newspapers and their pulpits to republish all the old lies about Joseph Smith and the Latter-day Saints. (Although Elder Lee mentioned that the Roman Catholics were to be commended because they did not persecute the Mormons.) Their housing was inferior to their home in Zion, and living conditions resembled a perpetual camping trip. Nevertheless, through all this the elders were in excellent spirits and eager to spread the gospel throughout the islands.
Image courtesy of the Church History Library, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Samoa in the News

Professor Salesa

In what promises to be a very interesting and informative read, Oxford-educated, Auckland-based Samoan historian Damon Salesa is going to take a "bottom-up" approach to documenting 200 years in Samoa.

As reported in Scoop, Salesa's The Transformation of Everyday Life in Samoa (1800-2000) "will research and reconstruct a Samoan history 'from below', a history not just of chiefs, elites and extraordinary characters, but of what Samoans held in common, their shared experiences of 'everyday life.'"

For students of Samoan history, the same grant that is funding Salesa's work is also providing graduate scholarships for students to study with Salesa at the University of Auckland’s Centre for Pacific Studies.

Friday, November 22, 2013

C. S. Lewis, d. 22 November 1963

Clive Staples "Jack" Lewis

Three excellent articles in the National Review remind us why, on the 50th anniversary of his death, C. S. Lewis  is still so profoundly influential and increasingly relevant.

C. S. Lewis: Why All the Fuss?

C. S. Lewis: Jack the Giant Killer

That Hideous State

Bonus articles: one from the Washington Post, the other from The Telegraph.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Samoa in the News

The manumea or little dodo or Samoan pigeon or tooth-billed pigeon
A brief post on National Geographic informs us of conservation efforts underway to preserve the Samoan national bird so that it doesn't, as they say, go the way of the dodo, its cousin.

Journalist John Platt notes in his Scientific American article on the manumea that "there are far more 20 tālā bills in circulation than there are birds in the wild."

What Platt doesn't tell us when he writes "the bird’s name in the Samoan language, however, is much more colorful: manumea," is that the suffix -mea is used to denote a reddish or brownish color in plants, fish, birds, or other animals. Judging by the image above, it looks like the Samoans nailed it: the bird's name literally is colorful.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Samoa in Church History

From this April 1975 talk by Elder Loren C. Dunn:
I had the honor . . . of being assigned to visit the Samoa Apia Mission and attend some stake conferences in that country. I found the missionaries all well and the work progressing. One afternoon following our meeting, the mission president, Patrick Peters—who is a native Samoan—said, 'Elder Dunn, there is something I’d like to show you.' We drove a few miles from the mission home and climbed the brow of a small hill to a place that was isolated by palm trees and other tropical vegetation. I suddenly realized that we were in a very old graveyard. At the center of this graveyard was a plot that was surrounded by a cement wall low enough to step over. President and Sister Peters told me this was where some of the first missionaries in Samoa were buried. There were eight graves.
The thing that struck my interest was that out of the eight graves, four represented children under the age of two and one was a twenty-one-year-old wife and mother. What role could these have possibly played in missionary work in Samoa?
During the next two days, when time would permit, I searched the history of the mission for an answer. While I was unable to gather information on all of the eight, I did discover the following.
In the early days of the Church it was common for young married couples to be called on missions and some of these young couples were called to Samoa. The first person to be buried in that plot was Sister Katie Eliza Hale Merrill. She and her husband had only been on a mission for three months when she took sick and gave birth to a premature child. The child died the next day. The history says the following: “An hour after the death of the child, the mother called Sister Lee (wife of the mission president) to her bedside and, after thanking her for waiting on her during the sickness, said that she was ‘going to die’ that she ‘could not stay because they had come for her.’ She then talked with her husband, kissed him goodbye, and all was over. The mother and baby boy were buried in one coffin.” After his mission, Brother Merrill took the remains of his wife and infant son back to Utah for burial.
Elder Thomas H. Hilton and Sister Sarah M. Hilton were serving on a mission in Samoa, where they lost three of their children, between 1891 and 1894. Little Jeanette lived less than a year, George Emmett for only seven days, and Thomas Harold for a year and a half.
Of the death of Thomas Harold the record says: “On Sunday the 11th, he was not feeling very well. . . . For two days following he appeared to be improving, but on the morning of the 14th, his mother again became concerned about his welfare. From then until his death, on March 17, 1894, everything that loving hands could do was done for his recovery, but he grew rapidly worse. . . .
'Oh how loath we all were to believe that it was so! How sad to see our dear sister again bereft, and her so far from dear parents and friends who she has left for the gospel’s sake.
'Thomas Harold Hilton was about one and a half years old, a beautiful little boy and very dearly beloved by all the missionaries, as well as the natives who knew him. Much sympathy is felt for the bereaved parents and the blessings of the Lord are invoked upon them.'
At twenty-nine, Ransom Stevens was president of the Samoa Mission when stricken with typhoid fever, which was complicated by a heart problem. He died on April 23, 1894.
His widow, Sister Annie D. Stevens, started for home by steamer on May 23. She reached Ogden on Sunday, June 10, where she was met by President Joseph F. Smith and Elder Franklin D. Richards. On June 11, she had an interview with the First Presidency in Salt Lake City and then went on to her home in Fairview, Sanpete County, arriving at 6:00 P.M.
The history states, 'The greetings by her friends were necessarily brief for Sister Stevens was ill and had to retire to bed early, and at 11 P.M., five hours after her arrival home, she gave birth to a nice boy.' She had gone through the whole ordeal in the advance stages of pregnancy.
Another entry was Friday, March 2, 1900, 'Little Loi Roberts was given up to die by Dr. Stuttaford at the sanatorium [in Apia]. The patient little sufferer was administered to daily, and each time he would get relief. … His parents [Elder and Sister E. T. Roberts] were untiring in their efforts to allay pain and sufferings.'
Saturday, March 3, 'Little Loi died at the sanatorium in Apia in the morning, making another sad day in the history of the mission.' Small wonder that the tombstone contained the words, 'Rest sweet Loi, rest.' He was one and a half years old.
And that brings us to Elder William A. Moody and his bride, Adelia Moody. They were called on a mission from Thatcher, Graham County, Arizona, arriving in Samoa in November 1894. They must have had the same hopes and aspirations of any young couple just starting out. She gave birth to an eight-pound daughter on May 3, 1895. Three weeks later she passed away. The daughter, little Hazel Moody, was taken care of by local Saints while her father continued his mission. Finally, one year later we read the following about a steamer leaving for the United States, whose passengers included four returning elders and 'also Elder Moody’s daughter, Hazel, one-year-old, who will be delivered to loving relatives in Zion.'
A price has been paid for the establishment of the gospel of Jesus Christ in the land of Samoa. It is interesting to note that much of that price was paid by little children. I suspect that there are many obscure cemeteries in many of the nations of the world similar to that little plot in Samoa. They are a mute witness to the trials and suffering that went into the beginnings of missionary work in this dispensation.
Image credit:

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Samoa in Church History

Elder David O. McKay (right) with traveling companion, Hugh J. Cannon
In the early 1920s, Elder David O. McKay, of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, went on a world tour to visit the Saints. The following comes from an experience he had while on a ship at Apia, Samoa, in 1921.
I . . . fell asleep, and beheld in vision something infinitely sublime. In the distance I beheld a beautiful white city. Though it was far away, yet I seemed to realize that trees with luscious fruit, shrubbery with gorgeously tinted leaves, and flowers in perfect bloom abounded everywhere. The clear sky above seemed to reflect these beautiful shades of color. I then saw a great concourse of people approaching the city. Each one wore a white flowing robe and a white headdress. Instantly my attention seemed centered upon their leader, and though I could see only the profile of his features and his body, I recognized him at once as my Savior! The tint and radiance of his countenance were glorious to behold. There was a peace about him which seemed sublime—it was divine!
The city, I understood, was his. It was the City Eternal; and the people following him were to abide there in peace and eternal happiness.
But who were they?
As if the Savior read my thoughts, he answered by pointing to a semicircle that then appeared above them, and on which were written in gold the words:
These Are They Who Have Overcome the World—
Who Have Truly Been Born Again!
When I awoke, it was breaking day over Apia harbor.
(Source; image credit:

Friday, November 8, 2013

Samoa in the News

Pittsburg Steelers' strong safety Troy Polamalu writes to educate the citizens of Steel City on the economic plight of American Samoa, "America's southernmost territory."

There are no easy solutions to the problems American Samoans face, but, as Polamalu notes, it will be their values of "community, hard work, perseverance, [and] respect" that will ultimately carry them through.

Image credit:

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Star Wars Cabbage

Won bok is another word for napa cabbage

My son asked me the other day for some Star Wars cabbage.

Puzzled as to how I was going to satisfy his request, I told him we were having some Obi Won Bok Kimchee for dinner, then in progress.

That seemed to work.

And he ate it!

Image credit:

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Samoa in Church History

From this April 2010 talk by Elder Quentin L. Cook, an Apostle:
I [was] able to meet with the Saints who had lost family members as a result of the tsunami that hit the eastern side of Samoa last September [2009]. The chapel was full, and it was an emotional meeting. [I was] able to assure these choice members that because of the Atonement of Jesus Christ, they can be reunited with the loved ones they have lost.
The stake president, Sonny Purcell, was driving his car when he saw the enormous wave coming far out at sea. He honked his horn and stopped children on the road walking to school and warned them to run for higher ground and safety as fast as they could. The children followed his instruction. He frantically drove, reached his four-year-old daughter, put her in the car, and then tried to get to his mother. Before he could reach his mother, the wall of water picked up his car and swept it over 100 yards (91 m), where it lodged in a tree. He scrambled to secure his daughter on top of the car and then swam to rescue his mother, who was clinging to a branch of another tree near their house. With great effort he swam with her to the car and safety. Many were not as fortunate. They did not have time to get to higher ground and safety. Many lost their lives, particularly the young and the elderly.
[I] told the Samoan families that members all over the world expressed love and concern and had prayed for them and contributed fast offerings and humanitarian aid for both the members and their neighbors. . . . We do this because we follow Jesus Christ.
As [I] met with the families in Samoa, the significance of spiritually going to the higher ground, living a better life, and clinging to saving ordinances was abundantly clear. The Savior’s example and life teach us to spiritually avoid the low pathway, where the things of this world dominate. As I shook hands with the members after our meeting, one sister told me her family had not been to the temple and they had lost a daughter. She tearfully said their goal now was to prepare themselves for the sacred ordinances of the temple so they can be together eternally.
As I have pondered what this sister said and the current condition of the world, I have felt an urgency to counsel each of us to seek the higher ground—the refuge and eternal protection of the temple.