Open Access Te Herenga Waka-Victoria University of Wellington
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'O li'ili'I 'o lisega 'o le fanaa'e: Missionary and government influences on Samoan language change 1906-2014

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posted on 2021-12-08, 11:53 authored by Sadat MuaiavaSadat Muaiava

The arrival of the missionaries and foreign administrations¹ in Sāmoa in 1830 and 1900, respectively, initiated a surge in the integration of foreign types (words) in the gagana Sāmoa (Samoan language). To date, research regarding changes to the gagana as a result of this contact has largely been observational (Pratt 1862, Cain 1986, Mosel and Hovdhaugen 1992, Allardice 2000, Lāmeta 2005, Tamasese 2005, Ma‘ia‘i 2010, Macpherson 2010, Kruse-Vā‘ai 2011, Ma‘ilo 2016). While these studies are valuable, this study seeks to enhance current research through a systematic and empirical examination of changes to the gagana. As a result, this research is guided by three research questions:  1. What can a diachronic analysis of the lexicons of lāuga fa‘amatai and lāuga fa‘alelotu tell us about language change in gagana Sāmoa since the arrival of the missionaries in 1830?  2. What has been the nature of language contact between lāuga fa‘amatai and lāuga fa‘alelotu?  3. To what extent can changes in the gagana Sāmoa be attributed to social change?  Fa‘afaletui and Corpus methodologies were used. The Fa‘afaletui methodology is a Samoan methodology used to obtain the perceptions of insider informants about changes to the gagana. The corpus methodology was used as an empirical method to also analyse changes to the gagana.  To investigate changes to the gagana over time and at specific periods, four indicator years were used for the corpus to represent a significant period of social contact in Sāmoa. These are: 1906, 1944, 1977 and 2014. From the corpus of Sulu Sāmoa and Sāvali texts from 1906-2014, a combined word list consisting of 1,475 foreign types was identified.  The perceptions of insider informants point to the profound influence of the missions on the gagana, and how the written word, particularly the translation of the Bible, aided religious conversion and formalised new ideologies and vocabularies. Their perceptions also point to the considerable influence of government on the gagana in the areas of government divisions and education. In addition, the lack of gagana standardisation and the increase in Samoan population movement and growth in metropolitan centres have intensified language change.  The fa‘afaletui sessions were enhanced by the corpus findings which indicate that over time, the evolution of foreign words into the gagana was integrated using five different lexical constructions and demonstrate the Samoan language has changed considerably between 1906-2014.  The implementation of the fa‘afaletui and corpus methodologies meets the Pacific research aims of this research in that it values the use of both Pacific and non-Pacific methodologies for Pacific language research.  This research offers a platform for examining changes to gagana Sāmoa over time that draws on the perspectives of insider informants and data from newspaper texts. The examination is an in-depth discussion and overview of the influences of the mission Church and Westminster State on changes to the gagana and provides a holistic approach and appreciation of the correlations between language and the social environment. Finally, this research values the call by Teaiwa (2009) for more Pacific-related research that values and incorporates both Pacific and non-Pacific methodologies.  ¹ Foreign administrations here refer to the formal establishment of the German and New Zealand administrations in 1900 and 1914 respectively. It does not include consulates that were in place in Sāmoa prior to 1900.


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Date of Award



Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

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Author Retains Copyright

Degree Discipline

Pacific Studies

Degree Grantor

Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

Degree Level


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy

ANZSRC Type Of Activity code

970120 Expanding Knowledge in Languages, Communication and Culture

Victoria University of Wellington Item Type

Awarded Doctoral Thesis



Victoria University of Wellington School

School of Languages and Cultures


Macalister, John; Suaali‘i-Sāuni, Tamasa‘ilau