Speaking Respectfully

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Samoans show fa'aaloalo (respect) verbally in a number of ways. This is collectively known as "respect speech", or gagana fa'aaloalo.

Using respect words

There are some words which have a similar meaning to ordinary words, but convey respect. These are substituted into the sentence in place of the ordinary words in some situations. For example, when asking about somebody's sickness (ma'i), there is an ordinary and respectful way to go about it:

O a mai lau ma'i? » how is your sickness?
O a mai lau gasegase? » how is your sickness?

These synonyms are also used when speaking about actions, possessions and family of the person which you wish to be respectful to. Here are some common phrases which have more respectful forms:

E ola ou matua? » Are your parents alive? (as blunt in Samoan as in English)
E soifua mai pea ou matua? » Are your parents alive? (a common question when asking about family)

Referring to people's status when speaking

People with different roles are designated with their own form of address when speaking respectfully, and some respect words change in these situations.

ali'i (chiefs) and ministers of religion are addressed with the word afioga. When speaking to somebody of this status, the ordinary word sau1 (come) is quite rude, and afio is used instead.

Talofa lava lou afioga » Hello
Afio mai loa » Welcome, come on in right away

Teachers, doctors, and other professions are addressed using susuga.

Tulou lava lou susuga » Excuse me sir - when walking infront of somebody
Susu mai » Welcome, come over

A third form of address, tōfā, is used only for tulāfale (orators or "talking chiefs").

Malo fetalai lou tofa » well spoken
Maliu mai lou tofa » Come over, sir.

The word sau1 is replaced with maliu for orators. It can also be used to welcome people who are important but do not carry titles, such as elderly who are not chiefs:

Maliu mai » Come over (polite)

When addressing an audience, all three are typically used together (always with afio first) to welcome the group:

Afio mai, susū mai, maliu mai » Welcome, everybody (of various statuses)

Usage notes

Respectful language is used when speaking to, or about people of high social status. Respect words are not used when speaking to children, and sau1 is always used.

There are a large number of respect words which you will simply not encounter. More specific ones are used in very formal or traditional situations such as the 'ava ceremony or a fa'alavelave.