Project Canterbury

Dictionary and Grammar of the Language of Sa'a and Ulawa, Solomon Islands

By Walter G. Ivens

Washington: Carnegie Institution of Washington, 1918.

Transcribed by the Right Reverend Dr. Terry Brown
Bishop of Malaita, Church of Melanesia, 2006


The two languages, Sa'a and Ulawa, of which a dictionary is here presented, belong to one of the Melanesian groups of the Oceanic family of languages. Ulawa is the language spoken in the ten villages of the small island of Ulawa, the Contrariété Island of the charts, in the southeast Solomons. Sa'a is spoken in its purity in the village of the same name, the last inhabited place on the southeast extremity of the large island of Malaita, which lies some 30 miles west of Ulawa.

Malaita is composed of two islands, commonly called Big and Little Malaita, separated by a narrow channel designated Mara Masiki Channel on the Admiralty chart, but called Laloi Su'u (literally "within-the-inlet") by the people who use the languages presented here. Sa'a is situated on the Malaita coast exactly opposite Ulawa, and there is constant communication between the two places during the calmer weather after the dropping of the southeast trade winds. The two languages are evidently from a common stock and are so closely allied that it has been found quite possible in the present work to adjust the various details to the same scheme of treatment, both as to grammar and vocabulary.

Of the two, Sa'a is far more highly specialized than Ulawa. This specialization is shown:

1. In the use of nouns in the singular number, and particularly of such as are the names of parts of the body, without the definite article nga being prefixed.

2. In the very careful observance of the phonetic rule that the vowel a changes to e in certain words after a preceding i or u or after the verbal particle ko.

3. In the very frequent use of the gerundive.

4. In the richer vocabulary and in the employment of words not used in Ulawa in order to avoid uncertainty in meaning, e. g., Sa'a nume house, nime bowl, where Ulawa employs nima for both; Sa'a domu to fall (of persons only) in addition to 'usu, where Ulawa has only 'usu for both.

5. In the fuller forms of the pronoun used as subject of the verb and in the more particular and careful use of the quasi-trinal forms ending in -lu.

6. In the dropping of an inner consonant in the reduplication of stems.

The name of Contrariété Island is Ulawa and not Ulava or Ulaua, as is sometimes found; the language has no v sound, and in Lau, where w changes to q (kw), the island is known as Ulaqa. The number of persons who live on Ulawa and who speak Ulawa is not more than 1,200 at the outside; but the language has a certain and considerable extrinsic important in view of the fact that a number of villages on Ugi, the island lying off the east coast of San Cristoval, have Ulawa teachers and are using Ulawa books.

[iv] The true Sa'a speech is spoken in its purity at two villages only, Sa'a itself and A'ulu. But the differences between Sa'a and Qaloto (Pwaloto), the language of the majority of the inhabitants of Little Malaita, 4,000 or 5,000 in number, are so slight, amounting largely to variant in accent and intonation, that Sa'a may be said to be the principal language of Little Malaita.

The language of the north end of Little Malaita is called Tolo, and this is also the language of the south end of Big Malaita. On the north end of Big Malaita the language is known as Lau. These three languages, Sa'a, Tolo, and Lau are closely akin, and with Ulawa they form a distinct subgroup in the linguistics of the Solomons Islands. Sa'a and Ulawa on their part have distinct likenesses with the languages of San Cristoval, and Lau at the other end of Malaita has several features which show a grammatical connection with the language of Florida.

An important feature in both Sa'a and Ulawa is the use of shortened forms of the personal pronouns in the three persons singular and of additional forms in the third person plural, and the suffixing of these as objects to verbs and prepositions. This is the practice of Solomon Island languages generally. The presence of the third personal possessive has not hitherto been recognized in the languages of San Cristoval, but doubtless it exists, although not so commonly in use as in Sa'a and Ulawa. Certain examples seem to show its presence in the language of Florida (though Dr. Codrington has not marked it in his grammar of Florida); anggu and ana certainly occur, cf. ganagana oli anggu remembering me, ganagana oili ana remembering him. If these are compared with Sa'a 'amasi to'o aku feeling pity for me and 'amasi to'o ana feeling pity for him, it will be seen that the so-called suffix in Florida is anggu, ana, and not nggu and na, cf. "Melanesian Languages," page 524, nouns.

This is the first essay toward the dictionary of any Solomon Island language. The complier is fully aware of the scantiness of his work. Probably not more than one-third and certainly not one-half of the existing words have been collected by him. The languages are rich and, with proper opportunity, many additions might easily be made to the words herein set forth.

Of the linguistic importance of the Melanesian languages there can be no possible doubt. Dr. Codrington in his book "The Melanesian Languages" has shown how certain features in a language so far removed geographically from Melanesia as Malagasy can be explained by referring to Melanesian habits of speech, and also how Melanesia is in many ways the linguistic key to the proper explanation of Polynesian. Mr. A. S. Atkinson, in a paper read in 1886 before the Nelson (New Zealand) Philosophical Society, said with reference to Dr. Codrington's "Melanesian Languages" that "this work will mark an epoch in Polynesian philology by showing the fundamental relation between [iv/v] the Polynesian and the Melanesian languages." If this opinion is correct, and Mr. Atkinson was an excellent judge, it is of the highest importance that matter such as is contained in this dictionary, the compilation of which is directly the result of the lead given by Dr. Codrington, should be placed before scholars in the hope that it may be of some further help in elucidating the philological problems of the Oceanic family of languages.

It should be noted that it has not been thought necessary to print in this work many words common to the Oceanic family whose cognates are set out in full in the Mota dictionary.

The complier of this dictionary desires to put on record his indebtedness herein to Dr. Codrington's example, and wishes to acknowledge that whatever value the dictionary may be found to possess will be due to his having endeavored to follow the lines laid down in two of the books from Dr. Codrington's pen, "Melanesian Languages" and the "Dictionary of Mota."

The thanks of the author are also due to the officials of the Carnegie Institution of Washington for their readiness to print and publish the present volume, and to Mr. William Churchill, Associate of the Institution, for assistance in arranging the matter presented in the dictionary.





List of books printed in the languages of Sa'a and of Ulawa:

1. Prayer Books containing Matins and Evensong, Litany, Selection of Psalms containing about 60 Psalms, Holy Communion Office with Collects, Occasional Services, Church Catechism.

2. Hymn Books containing 50 Hymns.

3. Complete New Testament.

4. Catechism for the Children of the Church.


Bibliography of Sa'a and Ulawa languages:

1. Small grammars in Dr. Codrington's "Melanesian Languages."

2. Separate grammars compiled by W. G. Ivens.


Other Matter:

Collection of Folk Lore Tales in Ulawa.

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