Pacific Scoop

Faáfafines’ unconventional use of language evolves into Samoan dialect


Faáfafines are known for their fashion sense ... and popularising their own dialect. Photo: SFA

Pacific Scoop:
Report – By Cherelle Jackson in Apia

To the untrained ear, the language used by faáfafines in Samoa, may just sound like common slang, or bilingual mockery.

But according to a study by Samoan academic, Letuimanuasina Dr Emma Kruse-Vaai, the unconventional use of Samoan and English by faáfafines has led to a distinctive “faáfafines dialect,” that is ever evolving.

In her recently published book, Producing the Text of Culture, which focuses on the appropriation of English in contemporary Samoan, Dr Kruse-Vaai explores the role of the faáfafines in the evolution of the Samoan language.

Text of Culture

Producing the Text of Culture ... the book.

“The faáfafines use a specific mixture of English and Samoan. Their unconventional language use, ostentatious clothing, assumed feminine voices and mannerisms have always been openly displayed.”

Dr Kruse-Vaai points out the open acceptance of faáfafines in the Samoan society as strength in developing the dialect among Samoans.

“Faáfafines are a distinctive speech community and they are also very much a part of the wider Samoan community.”

According to the author, a Samoan relative can explain their relation to a faáfafines by stating, “Ioe, o lou uncle, o le uso o lou tama ae o le aunty,” translated, “Yes he is my uncle, my father’s brother, but he is an aunty.”

Though it may sound confusing Dr Kruse-Vaai says it is widespread and commonly understood.

“Like other speech communities, faáfafines language use involves some expressions which are not readily comprehensible to others. The topics or content are a mixture of everyday concerns and activities as well as taboo subjects.”

A common feature of the faáfafine speech, according to Dr Kruse-Vaai, is a distinctively high, sibilant and feminine sounding tone of voice.

Dr Emma Kruse-Vaai

Dr Kruse-Vaai .... faáfafine dialect resembles the accent of a European speaking Samoan.

In her research, which was originally conducted for her PhD in English for the University of New South Wales in Australia, the Samoan academic suggests that aspects of the faáfafine dialect resembles the accent of a European speaking Samoan.

“In a way this is a good example of mimicking European speech but it has gone farther than mere mimicking. It has become as a distinctive feature of faáfafine speech which can be readily identified over a telephone radio talkback.”

Dr Kruse-Vaai explains that faáfafines play on multi-syllabled words, both English and Samoan, and either invert the syllables of mix both Samoan and English syllables in one word.

Therefore Samoan words with double syllables are inverted, such as terms for girl and boy: teine and tama, in faáfafines dialect then becomes neite and mata.

In the faafafine dialect, multi-syllable words are either inverted or mixed to create other terms, such as the use of the word ‘Sa-chick’, which means Samoa or Samoans.

The first syllable “Sa” remains the same, while the second syllable “moa” which means chicken, is abbreviated “chick” hence the word becomes, “Sa-chick” or “Sa-hen”.

The faáfafines dialect include words such as, Montrella for Monday, sistra for sister, strop for stop and major for boyfriend.

Dr Kruse-Vaai praises the uniqueness of the dialect in her book saying: “The unconventional use of language by faáfafine  is partly a sign of identity as a well as a genuine enjoyment of language and its creative potential. They are an example of a smaller and distinctive speech community in Samoa.”

Cherelle Jackson is a Samoan journalist and contributor to Pacific Scoop.


  1. keseta okenaisa fauolo manila, 10. August 2011, 14:26

    Malo Emma. You were my sixth form english teacher @ Samoa College. I will definately get myself a copy of your book.
    Some of my close friends are fafen, three in particular are like family, and really, faasamoa does allow for people to flourish because the base for our social organization is family. If our families accept us for who we we grow out to be, we become innovative and inventive. So as the faafafine say “kaisi le siku lea”

  2. Joseph, 10. August 2011, 19:10

    What a croc. This is like Margared Mead all over — inventing crap for the Palagi readers. Uggghhh……

  3. Mason T. Savea, 12. August 2011, 16:41

    Joseph, aua le pisa ke ua see le po lou guku, you sound like a palagi already. Faafetai tele lava mo le kusi Emma. Ive already read a few paragraphs for a Thesis studies. So have a few of my Maori friends for studies. thanks alot.

  4. Mason Tupu, 12. August 2011, 21:10

    Shudup joseph.

  5. lani, 5. February 2012, 0:53

    Joseph are you EVEN samoan??? defend you stupid comment, I am fafa and we Fafa’s can sit in room and have a full on convo just like Emma’s book is saying we do have our on dialect I can bet you in any money you will not understand us you may think you do because you will hear some words you know and some words mixed up. So tell us why you think its a load of crap???

  6. Faifaivave, 8. July 2012, 19:26

    I agree with Joseph…but in a more fa’aaloalo way….it would be important to explain first that the word aunty is used to describe fa’afafine by all Samoan speakers and therefore is not meaning that they are their aunty as in the English way…very misleading for non-Samoan speakers, but a good play on words otherwise, could even call it a pun. But hey I’ll check out the book, I’m sure there’s other stuff that’s of interest.