Rare language spotlight: Rotokas

In this month's rare language spotlight we reveal some little-known facts about Rotokas, which is believed to have the smallest alphabet of all known languages!

Fact file

Native to: Papua New Guinea

Number of native speakers: Approx. 4,000

Spoken by: Bougainville Islanders

Learn some Rotokas: If you visit Bougainville Island, you probably will not have trouble finding the beach, but if you do, you can ask the way by saying 'Ovu-ia avakava?'

Interesting facts:

  • Rotokas is believed to have the smallest alphabet of all known languages, with just 12 letters and 11 sounds (two of the 12 letters share one sound). Its only potential rival for this title is Piraha (see Dec 2019 Monthly View!). For this reason it is said to be one of the easiest languages in the world to learn.
  • There are no nasal tones in Rotokas. An example of a nasal tone is the letter ‘n’ in English – if you say this you should feel a vibration in your nose. Rotokas speakers only use their noses when they are making fun of foreigners trying to pronounce Rotokas words!
  • Although Bougainville Island is less than half the size of Wales, an astonishing 18 languages are spoken by its inhabitants. This makes them even more vulnerable to extinction than other small languages, and indeed the numbers of native Rotokas speakers are in decline.

The Language Shop provides support in any language you may need, including many of the rarer ones. Get in touch with us to find out more.

Keep up to date with all our latest news here and on social media  – we are on FacebookTwitter and LinkedIn.