Yapese language

Thin nu Wa’ab
Native to Federated States of Micronesia
Region Island of Yap
Ethnicity Yapese
Native speakers
5,130 (2005)[1]
Latin script
Language codes
ISO 639-2 yap
ISO 639-3 yap
Glottolog yape1248
Approximate location where Yapese is spoken
Approximate location where Yapese is spoken
Coordinates: 9°34′N 138°07′E / 9.56°N 138.12°E / 9.56; 138.12

Yapese is a language spoken by the people on the island of Yap (Federated States of Micronesia). It belongs to the Austronesian languages, more specifically to the Oceanic branch of that family. It has been difficult to classify it further, but Yapese may prove to be one of the Admiralty Islands languages.[2]


The branches of the Oceanic languages. Orange is the Admiralties languages and Yapese, yellow-orange is St. Matthias, green is Western Oceanic, violet is Temotu, and the rest are Central-Eastern: dark red Southeast Solomons, blue Southern Oceanic, pink Micronesian, and ocher Central Pacific linkage.
Yapese version of the Book of Mormon

Written Yapese uses Latin script. In Yapese spelling as practiced until the 1970s, the glottal stop was not written with an explicit character. A word-final glottal stop was represented by doubling the final vowel letter. Glottalization of consonants was represented with an apostrophe. In the 1970s an orthography was created which uses double vowel letters to represent long vowels; and because of the ambiguity that would occur if the glottal stop was not written, the glottal stop was written with the letter q. This new orthography using the letter q is not in universal use, but many works and maps about Yap write place names using the new q-orthography.


Apart from a couple grammatical forms which are V, syllables are CV or CVC.


Yapese is one of the relatively few languages in the world with ejective fricatives.[3] The Yapese ejective consonants are /pʼ tʼ kʼ fʼ θʼ/. There are also glottalised nasals /mˀ nˀ ŋˀ/ and approximants /jˀ wˀ lˀ/.[4]: 30, 34-35 

In the table below, each phoneme is listed to the left of the grapheme that represents it in Yapese orthography.

Labial Dental Alveolar Palatal Velar Glottal
Nasal plain /m/ m /n/ n /ŋ/ ng
glottalized /mˀ/ m' /nˀ/ n' /ŋˀ/ ng'
Plosive plain /p/ p /t/ t /k/ k /ʔ/ q/[']
ejective // p' // t' // k'
Fricative voiceless /f/ f /θ/ th /s/ s /ʃ/ ch /x/ g (/h/) h
voiced /β/ b /ð/ d
ejective // f'[5] /θʼ/ th'
Approximant plain /l/ l /j/ y/j /w/ w
glottalized /lˀ/ l' /jˀ/ y' /wˀ/ w'
Trill plain /r/ r

/h/ ⟨h⟩ and /j/ ⟨j⟩ only occur in English and Japanese loans (/j/ ⟨y⟩ does occur in native words, however).


In the table below, each phoneme is listed to the left of the grapheme that represents it in Yapese orthography.

Front Back
unrounded rounded unrounded rounded
short long short long short long short long
Close /ɪ/ i /iː/ ii /ʊ/ u /ʊː/ uu
Mid /ɛ/ e /eː/ ee /œ/ ö /œː/ oe /ʌ/ a /ɔ/ o /ɔː/ oo
Near-open /æ/ ë /æː/ ea
Open /a/ ä /aː/ ae /ɑː/ aa



Yapese makes use of reduplication for several morphological functions, including deriving stative adjectives from inchoative adjectives, as in (1a–b), as well as to make diminutives of verbs, as in (2a-b):[4]: 112-114 

Yapese distinguishes between three numbers (singular, dual, and plural) and three persons (first, second, and third), as well as clusivity in its personal pronouns.[4]: 134 

Yapese independent personal pronouns
Singular Dual Plural
1.INCL gadow gadaed
1.EXCL gaeg gamow gamaed
2 guur gimeew gimeed
3 qiir yow yaed

A Yapese Talking Dictionary was produced by Living Tongues Institute for Endangered Languages.


  1. ^ "Yapese". Ethnologue. 2018. Retrieved 2018-08-11.
  2. ^ Lynch, John; Malcolm Ross; Terry Crowley (2002). The Oceanic languages. Richmond, Surrey: Curzon. ISBN 978-0-7007-1128-4. OCLC 48929366.CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  3. ^ Ladefoged, Peter; Maddieson, Ian (1996). The Sounds of the World's Languages. Oxford: Blackwell. p. 178. ISBN 978-0-631-19815-4.
  4. ^ a b c Jensen, John Thayer (1977). Yapese Reference Grammar. Honolulu: University of Hawai‘i Press. ISBN 978-0-8248-0476-3. OCLC 929721939.
  5. ^ p32, Ballantyne, Keira Gebbie. 2005. Textual Structure and Discourse Prominence in Yapese Narrative. Doctoral dissertation, University of Hawai'i.


  • Jensen, John Thayer. 1977. Yapese–English Dictionary. (PALI Language Texts: Micronesia.) Honolulu: University of Hawai‘i Press.

External links