Sunday, 25 September 2011

Gagana: 5 Common Errors in Samoan

The following points are, in my opinion only, five of the most common grammatical and spelling errors I continue to observe in social gatherings including online sites such as Facebook, Twitter, as well as some independent Islander sites. I assume this may be from a lack of comprehension of the Samoan language so I have included a few notes as guidance. You may either take it or leave it, but I would appreciate if we can share our thoughts in order to increase awareness for those who wish to learn the gagana Samoa (Samoan language).

1.       Misuse of Uso

In English it is understood that a brother is your male sibling, and a sister is your female sibling. In the Samoan language, how you refer to your sibling not only depends on their gender but your own.

For a male: Your brother is your uso, your sister is your tuafafine
For a female: Your sister is your uso, your brother is your tuagane

Put simply, uso is what you call your sibling of the same gender only. I find it hard not to jump in and make this point when a girl calls a guy her uso, and vice versa. Knowing how to refer to family members or friends is one of the first basics one should learn in any language.

2.       Mistranslation of Cousin to be Kasegi/Taseni

Kasegi or taseni means dozen. So when you are trying to convince me that Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson is your kasegi, what you are really telling me is that he is your dozen.

The proper word is tauusoga. Your relationship with the son or daughter of your aunty or uncle is tauusoga, not kasegi. Unfortunately this word kasegi is becoming an acceptable replacement only because more and more people are now using it . . . erroneously.

3.       Misuse of A’e and Ifo

The use of Directive Particles would normally be a much longer topic in one of my classes, but I will try to summarise and get across an idea with a few quick examples.

a’e: describes something going in the upwards direction, e.g. rising, increasing, ascending, climbing
ifo: describes a downwards direction, e.g. falling, decreasing, descending, lowering

Ou te ala ifo, ua uma le lakapi . (When I woke down, the rugby had finished.)
As you can tell from the English translation, this has a contradictory description and does not make sense at all. It should be:
Ou te ala a’e, ua uma le lakapi. (When I woke up, the rugby had finished.)

setting of the sun - goto o le la
Ua oso a’e le la. (The sun has come up.) I often hear people use oso ifo instead, so in translation they are describing the sun to be rising downwards.

Ua goto ifo le la. (The sun has gone down.) Never use goto a’e together, referring to the sun setting upwards.
Sounds silly in English, doesn’t it? Well it also sounds silly in Samoan, yet it is surprisingly common.

 4.       Incorrect spelling of ma le, i le, a le. . .
I will not go on about the use of prepositions, particles, and conjunctives in the Samoan language. The only point I would like to make is that some people (even some newspaper articles, surprisingly) tend to lump some of them as one word.

Incorrect:                                    Correct:
pusi male isumu                      pusi ma le isumu (cat and the mouse)
male faaaloalo lava                ma le faaaloalo lava (with the utmost respect)
alu ile faleoloa                        alu i le faleoloa (go to the shop)
le taavale ale tama                 le taavale a le tama (the car of the boy/ the boy’s car)

5.       The increasing popularity of the letter W

I am not sure if this is just another one of those spelling trends where people deliberately misspell certain words but I have noticed the increased appearance of the letter W in Samoan social posts. For instance: wa la, awoi, awa.

There is no W in the Samoan alphabet. Some are incorrectly replacing the letter U, which only sounds like the W in the English alphabet. Therefore the words in the examples above should be: ua la, auoi, aua.

What is your opinion of the points I have listed? Do you have other suggestions? What other common errors have you also noticed? Please leave a comment if you agree, disagree, or have a related issue you would like to discuss.

Ma le faaaloalo lava :)



  1. thanks for the lesson. very informative

  2. Agreed! Saying "e fa'ape lea" instead of "e fa'apea". And thanks for the short drill down.

  3. I can't say I knew any of those things! There is no W?! Thanks for giving me my something new I learned today!

  4. This comment has been removed by the author.

    1. Removed post? You were making a valid point about the use of diacritics, Chris :) One I agree with when teaching the Samoan language.

    2. Sorry you do such great work that I didn't want to offend you so I removed it. I developed a lot of software all of which includes the diacritics, such as a full Firefox web browser with spellchecking, MS office spellchecking, auto-creation of diacritics as you type and many others. But that doesn't give me the right to be fiapoto to people like you doing an awesome job on your own.

  5. Just viewing the 1956 Movie "Pacific Destiny" and laughed at the attempts at Samoan by the British actors. I worked for Polynesian Airlines in Samoa in the 70's and made many mistakes ( usually greeted with much mirth and many kind words of encouragement )so I was checking on some aspects of the dialogue , curious how the language was depicted in the 1950's .
    Keep up the good work if you ever need a pa lagi to give you some mistakes - Noel

  6. This comment has been removed by the author.

  7. "In the Samoan language, how you refer to your sibling not only depends on their gender but your own." which makes no sense and just complicates things, a brother is a brother to both his brother and sister and a sister is a sister to both her sister and brother so there's no reason to call them different things depending on gender and alot of Samoans realize that.

    "I find it hard not to jump in and make this point when a girl calls a guy her uso, and vice versa." but you don't jump in because you know better people won't respond well to someone having the audacity to try and dictate to them what they can and can't call their sibling, they can call them whatever they want especially when it's a common thing that Samoans are doing knowing it doesn't make sense to use two completely different words based on the gender of who's saying it.

    "Knowing how to refer to family members or friends is one of the first basics one should learn in any language." They know how to refer to family members and friends they like me just don't see the point in using those outdated terms so they're keeping it simple, just think of it like slang people are adapting to the times and not being so overly formal/exact when speaking.

    And judging from you pointing out how they translate "cousin" it seems people are intentionally making those "errors" on purpose because those words aren't anything alike to get mixed up, they just aren't following the language verbatim it happens in every language it just shows they're evolving and aren't hung up on traditions that don't make much sense.