The Guide to the Samoa Language: Gagana Samoa
Samoa is home to two official languages: Samoan and English. While English is the language that will help you get by in Samoa, especially in Apia and Samoa’s main resorts, Samoan (or “Gagana Samoa” in Samoan) is the native language and the language widely used by locals. You’re bound to encounter plenty of Samoan words and phrases during your getaway, from people greeting you with “talofa” to you scouting out the next “fiafia” night to staying in a “fale”. Learn a little about the Samoan language in this quick guide to the language of Samoa.
And while you’re here, you might want to open up the 15 Samoan Words You Need to Know When Visiting Samoa.
5 Fun Facts About the Samoan Language
- The Samoan alphabet consists only of 14 letters; five vowels and nine consonants
- The Samoan language as it’s known in Samoan is “Gagana Samoa“
- There are long vowels used in Samoan which can vastly change the meaning of the word
- The language closest to Samoan is Tongan
- Samoan is thought to be one of the oldest surviving Polynesian languages.
A Quick Note About Speaking English in Samoa
As mentioned, locals in Apia and large resorts tend to be fluent in English. However, English is less familiar once you leave Apia and visit/stay in the smaller villages. With this in mind, be sure to speak slowly and clearly when speaking English with locals, whether it’s at your beach fale, at the local grocery store, or when visiting natural attractions (as you’ll need to pay your entry fees for most attractions).
Where Does Samoan Come From?
For those of you who like a bit of context, Samoan is part of a Polynesian branch of the huge Austronesian family of languages. Its closest relative languages are Maori, Hawaiian, Tahitian Ma’ohi and especially Tongan.
Samoan was traditionally a spoken language with no phonetic written form until missionaries wrote the language in the 1830s. You can get more of an overview of the history of Samoa and the great Polynesian migration in A Brief History of Samoa.
Pronunciations in Samoan
The first thing to know about pronunciations in Samoan is that there are only 14 letters in the Samoan alphabet: a, e, i, f, g, l, m, n, o, p, s, t, u and v. The letters k, h and r are also used for colloquial language and foreign loan words.
How to Pronounce Consonants in Samoan
Consonants are pronounced the same as they are in English with the exception of the letter “g” which is pronounced “ng” and has a soft pronunciation, similar to the sound in the middle of the word “singing”. For example, the word “palagi” (meaning a white person) is pronounced “pa-lung-i”.
How to Pronounce Vowels in Samoan
Samoan vowels are pronounced like the following:
- A as in “far”
- E as in “let”
- I as in “sit”
- O as in “hot”
- U as in “full”
The thing to note about Samoan vowels are the long and short vowel variants. Long vowels will be marked with a macron, which looks like: ā, ē, ī, ō and ū. However, you won’t always see the most accurate spellings for words that should have a macron vowel; vowel pronunciation is something you’ll usually learn with time.
How to Pronounce the Glottal Stop
The glottal stop is the apostrophe before or between vowels, such as in “fa’afetai” the word for thank you or “‘aiga” the word for family. In Samoan, the glottal stop represents a closing of the throat in between the vowel sounds, instead of sounding the vowels in one flowing sound. So “fa’afetai” is pronounced “fa-ah-feh-tie”.
Stress on the Second-to-Last Syllable
One final thing to note about Samoan pronunciation is that stress is normally placed on the second-last syllable.
Samoan Words and Phrases to Know
Although English is widely spoken by younger Samoans and in towns like Apia, effort in speaking the local language is always appreciated. What’s more, locals living in rural areas and especially the older generation are unlikely to be fluent in English, so knowing a few Samoan words is handy in these instances. Here are some Samoan words and phrases to try out…
Basic Phrases in Samoan
Hello – Talofa!
Yes – Ioe
No – Leai
Please – Fa’amolemole
Thank you – Fa’afetai
Thank you very much – Fa’afetai tele
Goodbye – Tofa soifua
Bye – Tofa/Fa
Places in Samoan
Beach – Matafaga
House – Fale
Church – Falesa
Shop – Faleoloa
Sea – Sami
Reef – Aau
Mountain – Mauga
Island – Motu
Village – Nu’u
Food and Drink in Samoan
Fish – I’a
Dolphinfish/Mahimahi – Masimasi
Palolo viridis – Palolo (edible worm)
Octopus – Fe’e
Meat – Fasi Povi
Chicken – Moa
Pork – Puaa
Fruit – Fuala’au aina
Taro – Talo (tropical root vegetable)
Breadfruit – ‘Ulu
Umu – Earth oven
Water – Vai
Coffee – Kofe
Tea – Ti
Liquor – ‘Ava malosi
Milk – Susu
Wine – Uaina
Learn more important words to know in the 15 Samoan Words You Need to Know When Visiting Samoa, as well as more things to eat in the Traditional Samoan Food: 10 Foods to Try in Samoa.
Frequently Asked Questions About the Samoa Language
Finally, here are the most frequent questions travellers have about the language of Samoa.
How Many Languages are in Samoa?
There are two languages in Samoa: Samoan (known as Gagana Samoa) and English.
Do They Speak English in Samoa?
Yes, English is spoken in the main places that travellers visit in Samoa, especially in Apia and the main resorts. However, fluent English isn’t as common in Samoa’s smaller villages, rural areas or in Savai’i.
What Language is Closest to Samoan?
The language closest to Samoan is Tongan.
What Countries Speak Samoan?
The countries that speak Samoan are Samoa and American Samoa.
More About the Culture and Language of Samoa
That’s it for our quick guide to the language of Samoa. For more Samoa wisdom, take a look at these similar articles:
- A Traveller’s Guide to the Samoa Culture
- Who are the People of Samoa?
- Samoan Etiquette: Samoa Customs & Traditions
And if you’re planning a trip to Samoa, don’t miss our Samoa Travel Tips: 30 Tips for Travelling in Samoa.