Language of the Week: Rotokas

We’re back to Bougainville for this week’s language. Rotokas is a Papuan language spoken by about 4300 people.

Rotokas has a very small phoneme inventory: one of the smallest in the world in fact. However, this fact seems to have morphed into “the world’s smallest alphabet” in online sources. this is because there seems to be a contrast in vowel length and a number of diphthongs. Stuart Robinson discusses dialectal variation and the absence of nasals here. There is a set of organised phonology data from SIL here, although just on the basis of this data there would seem to be a phonemic distinction between [s] and [t] (e.g. [s] is said to be the realisation of /t/ before [i], with [t] occurring elsewhere, but there is osa in the data too, which would seem to imply that the distinction is a bit more complex. The language name is also an exception it would appear.

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2 responses to “Language of the Week: Rotokas

  1. Judging from the Wikipedia article (“T and S both represent the phoneme /t/, such that /t/ is written as S before an I and in the name ‘Rotokas’, and as T elsewhere”), the name is pronounced RO-to-kat. (The article also says stress is nonphonemic and is on the first syllable in 2- and 3-syllable words.)

  2. might be what happens in Kiribati… well, i’m guessing anyway… I was very surprised when I learned that Kiribati is pronounced Kiribas.

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