Palauan

Language

The languages of Palau are diverse and reflect the importance of communication with surrounding countries in Micronesia. Main languages include Palauan, Filipino, English, Chinese, and other languages. Languages (not including Palau and English which are taught in school) are maintained through trading, immigration, and individual family’s culture.

The Palauan language is part of the Austronesian language family, specifically the Malayo-Polynesian subgroup. Word structure, phonemes, and lexicon are derived from the Pacific Island language family. Palauan uses reduplication in its word structure, relying on a consonant-vowel pattern. The language has limited phonemes, with 10 consonants and 6 vowels. Each phoneme contains at least 2 allophones, resulting in various phonological processes 9). Another aspect of the Austronesian language family that is found in Palauan are the cognate sets. Through the linguistic comparative method, words with different cognates descend from the same ancestral word.


Cognate Examples  

English     Austrinesian     Malayo-Polunesian
Mother                t-ina                      t-ina
Child                  aNak                      anak
Father                 t-ama                    t-ama
Person                cau                         tau
Fish                    Sikan                      hikan
Woman               bahi                        bahi

 

Phonology

Vowels

   Front 

Central

    Back

High
i
 
u
Mid
ɛ       
ə   
o
Low
 
a
 

 

Consonants    

Consonants
Labial
Alveolar
Velar
Glottal
Voiceless Stops
 
t
k
ʔ
Voiced Stops
b
d
   
Voiceless Fricatives
 
s
   
Nasals
m
 
  ŋ  
 
Liquids
 
l,r
   


Allophone Examples    

Palauan Consonants
Allophone
b  
b, p, pʰ
m
m
t
t, tʰ
d
d, t, ð, θ
s
s
l
l, lː
r
r
k
k, kʰ, g
ŋ 
   ŋ, n
ʔ  
  ʔ


Diphthongs

IPA
 Example
     English Translation
IPA
Example
English Translation
babier
  “paper” 
  ɛo
Oreor
“Koror”
ɛi 
  mei
“come”
  oɛ
   beroel
“spear”
iu
chiukl
“voice ” (singing)
  ɛa 
beached
“tin”
ui
tiuch
“torch”
baeb
“pipe”
io
kikiongel
“dirty”
   uo
uos
“horse”
oi
tekoi
   “language” 
ou
merous
“distribute”
ia
   diall
“ship”
ua
tuangel
“door”
ai
  chais
“news”
au
  mesaul
“tired”
ɛu
tɛu
“width”
oa
omoachel
“reiver”
suɛleb
“afternoon”
ao
taod 
“fork”

                             
Syntax

It is generally accepted that syntax for the Palauan language follows a verb-object-subject order. Pronouns are often dropped because it is implied in the preverbal subject agreement morphemes. Also final pronomial subjects are deleted because it is also already implied with the agreement morphemes.

Ak milenga er a ringngo pro. (means: “I ate the apple.”). “Pro” is the subject “I,” and can be omitted because “Ak” is the first person singular subject agreement morpheme.

Although linguists accept verb-object-subject word order, there is some debate among linguistic literature regarding Palauan syntax. Other linguists state that Palau follows a subject-verb-object order because of morpheme agreement. Some linguists argue that the subject agreement morphemes (“ak” for example) act as subject pronouns, therefore changing the word order. This theory is not supported by all linguists because in sentences with third person, the subject is included at the end of the sentence, although the “subject pronoun” remains before the verb.

Ng milenga er a ringngo a Olilai. (means: “Olilai ate the apple.”). “Ng” is the third person singular subject agreement morpheme. “Olilai” remains in the sentence to better define who the third person is.


Written Language

Unlike English, the language of Palau has not been taught as a written language. It is only now becoming a written language through the use of English characters in an attempt to facilitate communication with English-speaking populations. In July of 2005, the Palau Senate passed a bill to “recognize and formalize Palauan Orthography and to require educational institutions in Palau to teach Palauan Orthography in the classrooms and for other related purposes”. This would allow the people to maintain their own culture and traditions while having the ability to accept new words, thus being able to communicate with the international community and securing Palauan language. The Palauan written language was developed in the 1970s in cooperation with the University of Hawaii and is based on a one-phoneme, one syllable system.

Education

The island’s education system is closely based on the American education system model. In school, both the indigenous language Palauan and English are used and taught. However once in high school, English gradually becomes the medium of instruction. From ages 6 to 16 enrollment in a school is mandated by law. The island nation has around 18 government-run elementary schools and one high school. There are also two elementary schools and five high schools that are privately run.

Palau has a national literacy rate of 92% and children ages 15 years and older are expected to read and write fluently. On the island of Palau there is a primary two-year community college that offers an associates degree and certificates in criminal justice, liberal arts, nursing, agricultural science, and business. In order to obtain higher education, citizens must travel to nearby countries. The Palauan government spends at least 10% of its national budget on education although most, if not all, of the funding of the public schools come from the United State’s Department of the Interior and Office of Education as part of the Compact of Free Association.

There has been substantial progress made in providing education for children with disabilities in the past 15 years. In 1994, the Interagency Team for Children with Special Needs was established to assist in providing necessary health, social, and environmental assistance to ensure success in education. In 1997, schools began to provide access in schools for physically impaired children through fully accessible walkways, bathrooms, and classrooms. Designated special education schools are being established, however, mainstreaming of capable students with disabilities into general education schools is encouraged under the Education for All (EFA) Act. The percentage of children with a disability attending any form of school is 95%  Early intervention programs are being aggressively promoted throughout the nation. Palau is providing in-service and preparatory teacher-training programmes to prepare teachers to work with children with a range of disabilities. In addition, specialist teacher-training programmes in special education have been implemented.

The Disabled Persons' Antidiscrimination Act and the Programs and Services for Handicapped Children Act cover both persons with mental disabilities and persons with physical disabilities, and the government enforced the provisions of these acts. Acording to national statistics, no discrimination was reported against persons with disabilities in employment, education, access to health care, or the provision of other state services. The government provides a monthly stipend of $50 for persons with disabilities. The law mandates access to buildings for persons with disabilities, and the government generally enforced these provisions in practice. The public schools had special education programs to address problems encountered by persons with disabilities. The government agency Ngak Mak Tang (Everyone Matters) has responsibility for protecting the rights of persons with disabilities.

Implications for Speech-Language Pathologists

  • In the Palauan culture, a high priority is placed on experiential learning. Many Palauan students learn best through experiential learning because of the values of the culture and generational history of valuing labor.
  • Palauan individuals respects informal contact related to the collectivism of the culture. For example, it is not considered inappropriate for the student to stand close to the teacher.Direct questions could be perceived as an attempt to shame the student, particularly if the student doesn't know the answer.  
  • Misconduct may often be dealt with severely at home in order to preserve the family’s honor. The culture indicates that an individual acts on behalf of the family and it is necessary to conduct oneself in an honorable manner. 
  • Palauan individuals will avoid direct eye contact, because it is a sign of respect to avoid eye contact with an authority figure.Linguistic variations such as dropping of pronouns may be important during a language assessment.
  • In Palauan, every phoneme has 2 allophones that surface as a result from various phonological processes. Speech-language pathologists should be aware that typical development includes phonological processes. Special consideration should be taken for the difference in syntactic structure such as the verb-object-subject order; bilingual individuals may present with word order errors because of this difference.
  • The perception of a disability may vary based on culture. “An inability to read because of processing problems may pose no handicap to someone from Palau, while the inability to accurately cast your fishing line or maintain your footing on rough terrain may create a very real handicap to someone from Palau in fulfilling traditional roles and expectations”.  
  • Since Palau was an oral language until recently, assessment of written skills would be necessary. A speech-language pathologist should include an oral and written narrative as part of the assessment plan for the school-aged individual. Discrepancy may be noted between oral and written language.

 

Original contributors: Jessica Ashford and Ellen Ratigan

References and Resources