Joel of Far Outliers has written a long and interesting post about Chamorro and Saipanese and their struggle for survival on the island. A tidbit on Saipan Carolinian to whet your appetite:

The Trukic languages form one long dialect chain, where speakers on neighboring islands can understand each other fine, but speakers from farther apart have increasing difficulty. There is no contrast between l and n in most of the dialects. Where this speaker writes aramasal Seipel ‘people of Saipan’, a speaker of a different dialect might write aramasan Seipen. Similarly, the town of Tanapag, settled by a different group of Carolinians, also goes by the name of Tallabwog.

Unfortunately, Joel is “going to have to concentrate on some high-priority projects with relatively tight deadlines, so posting will be very light” this summer. Work well and come back soon!


  1. I wonder how common n/l allophony is. I recall that the Thai letter l at the end of a word is pronounced “n”, and most Thai people had difficulty saying and reading my name when I was there.

  2. Yes, King Phumipol’s name is pronounced “Phumipon.”

  3. xiaolongnu says:

    Slightly tangential, but early on after my move to Hawaii (anonymity, what anonymity?) I spotted a big Polynesian-looking guy walking down the street wearing a T-shirt with the legend “Proud Carolinian.” For a second I thought “North or South?” before realizing that wasn’t the point at all. The kapa design on the shirt should have tipped me off, of course.

  4. Ancient Egyptian apparently had some l/n/r variations.

  5. English has one I can think of – chimney/chimbley.

  6. xiaolongnu says:

    And now that I think of it, so do certain dialects of Chinese. I had a professor at Fudan University in Shanghai who taught us the history of contemporary Chinese literature. She always pronounced the title of Lu Xun’s book “Na Han” (usually translated “Call to Arms”) as “La Han,” and it took me ages to figure out what was going on.

  7. Jimmy Ho says:

    This is very common in varieties of Cantonese. In Guangzhou, to take an easy example, I never heard anyone say, “Nei ho” 你好 with the same initial as Mandarin “ni hao”; it is (or sounds like) “lei ho”. A friend I taught some French to could never say “Joyeux Noël” (merry Xmas), always turning it into “joyeux Loën”.

  8. John Emerson says:

    L-N variations are a factor in the transliteration of Mongol texts around 1300-1400, and n-r variations are common in the historical development of Chinese.

  9. P. Spaelti says:

    L-N-D variation is found in Siouxan. For example Lakhota-Dakhota-Nakhota.

  10. P. Spaelti says:

    Oh yes, and also in Nakanai/Lakalai (an Austronesian language spoken on New Britain). It’s also found in a variety of Bantu languages, but specific references escape me at the moment.
    So that makes for a pretty wide spread occurrence, I would say.

  11. It sure does. It makes sense phonetically, but I’d never thought about it or noticed all those examples.

  12. michael farris says:

    N-L (and NH-L) variation is also found in Vietnamese.

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