Drehu language

RegionLifou, New Caledonia
Native speakers
unknown; est. 13,000 includes many L2 speakers (2009)[1]
Language codes
ISO 639-3dhv
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Drehu ([ɖehu]; also known as Dehu,[2] Lifou,[3] Lifu,[4] qene drehu[5]) is an Austronesian language mostly spoken on Lifou Island, Loyalty Islands, New Caledonia. It has about twelve-thousand fluent speakers and the status of a French regional language. This status means that pupils can take it as an optional topic for the baccalauréat in New Caledonia itself or French mainland.[6] It has been also taught at the Institut national des langues et civilisations orientales (INALCO) in Paris since 1973 and at the University of New Caledonia since 2000. As for other Kanak languages, Drehu is now regulated by the "Académie des langues kanak", officially founded in 2007.

There is also a respectful register in Drehu, called qene miny.[7] In time past, this was used to speak to the chiefs (joxu). Today very few people still know and practice this language.



Front Central Back
High i iː u uː
Mid e eː ø øː o oː
Open æ æː ɑ ɑː

/e/ is heard as [ɛ] before nasals.


Bilabial Labiodental Dental Alveolar Retroflex Alveopalatal Velar Glottal
Stops and
p (b) t d ʈ ɖ t͡ʃ (d͡ʒ) k ɡ
Nasals m̥ m n̥ n ɲ̊ ɲ ŋ̊ ŋ
Fricatives f (v) θ ð s z x h
Laterals l̥ l
Semivowels ʍ w

/b d͡ʒ v/ occur only in loanwords.

Writing system

Drehu was first written in the Latin script by the Polynesian[8] and English missionaries of the London Missionary Society during the 1840s, with the help of the natives. The first complete Bible was published in 1890. The bible writing system didn't distinguish between the dental (written "d", "t") and the alveolar/retroflex ("dr" and "tr") consonants, which for a long time were written indifferently "d" and "t". In Drehu /θ/ and /ð/ are not dental but interdental consonants. The new writing system was created during the 1970s.


Personal pronouns


  • Eni/ni: I, me
  • Eö/ö: you
  • Nyipë/nyipëti: you (a polite form of address to a chief (joxu)or an older man)
  • Nyipo/nyipot(i): you (a polite form of address to an older woman)
  • Angeic(e): he, him, she
  • Nyidrë/nyidrët(i): he, him (a polite form of address to a chief (joxu)or an older man)
  • Nyidro/nyidrot(i): you (a polite form of address to an older woman)
  • Ej(e): it


  • Eaho/ho: we two (exclusive)
  • Easho/sho (easo/so): we two (inclusive)
  • Epon(i)/pon(i): you two
  • Eahlo: they two
  • Lue ej(e): they two for things and animals


  • Eahun(i)/hun(i): we, us (exclusive)
  • Eashë/shë, easë/së: we all, all of us (inclusive)
  • Epun(i)/pun(i): you
  • Angaatr(e): they, them
  • Itre ej(e): they, them (for things and animals)


  1. ^ Drehu at Ethnologue (18th ed., 2015)
  2. ^ In missionary time
  3. ^ In French
  4. ^ In English
  5. ^ Qene means language (literally "qe" : mouth, "ne" : of)
  6. ^ Only five of the twenty-eight Kanak languages (in the 1999 Rapport Cerquilini or 40 according to the Académie des langues kanak) have this status: Drehu (island of Lifou), Nengone (island of Maré), A'jië (around Houaïlou), Paicî (around Poindimié) and Xârâcùù (around Canala and Thio).
  7. ^ As Maurice Leenhardt did ("Langues et dialectes de l'Austro-Mélanésie" (1946), the Académie considers qene miny not only as a respective register but also a distinct language
  8. ^ Most were from the Cook Islands.


  • Notes Grammaticales sur la langue de Lifu (Loyaltys) (in French). Paris. 1882.
  • Ray, Sidney H. (Jul–Dec 1917). "The People and Language of Lifu, Loyalty Islands". Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute. Royal Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland. 47: 239–322. doi:10.2307/2843343. JSTOR 2843343.
  • Walsh, D. T. (1967). Dehu Grammar. Canberra: Pacific Linguistics.
  • (in French) Le drehu, langue de Lifou (Iles Loyauté): phonologie, morphologie, syntaxe. ISBN 2-85297-142-9
  • (in French) Maurice Lenormand, Dictionnaire de la langue de Lifou. Le Qene Drehu, 1999, Nouméa, Le Rocher-à-la-Voile, 533p
  • Tryon, Darrell T. English-Dehu Dictionary, Pacific Linguistics, 1971. ISBN 0-85883-059-0
  • Tryon, Darrell T. Dehu-English Dictionary, Pacific Linguistics, 1971.

External links

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