Fourteen letters only are used in the writing of classical Samoan (other than loan words recently introduced into the language): a, e, f, g, i, l, m, n, o, p, s, t, u, v. The letters h, k, and r are used in writing some words of foreign origin. In contemporary Samoa, there are two distinct forms of pronunciation, one formal and the other colloquial. As G. B. Milner notes in his Samoan Dictionary ( London, 1966), p. xiv, formal pronunciation "is held out to children, students and foreign visitors as a model to follow and is regarded by an overwhelming majority of Samoans as representing an earlier and purer state of the language than that which . . . exists today," whereas the colloquial pronunciation (in which the t of the classical language becomes a k) is "used by the great majority of Samoans both in their private and public relations." In his dictionary, Milner adopts the formal pronunciation as his standard of description, as did Pratt before him. It is this standard that I have also followed.
The five vowels, a, e, i, o, u (each of which is distinctly pronounced), may be phonetically either long or short; long vowels may be marked with a macron. The letter g represents a nasal sound, as in the English word singer, which in other Polynesian languages is written ng. An apostrophe is used to mark the glottal stop that occurs in many Samoan words. This represents a break, or catch in the voice, similar to that found in the Cockney pronunciation of English, in which, for example, the word letter is pronounced le'er. Further information on the phonology and pronunciation of Samoan may be found in chapter 1 of G. Pratt, Grammar and Dictionary of the Samoan Language (Malua, 1960), in the preface to G. B. Milner, Samoan Dictionary ( London, 1966), and in La'i Ulrike Mosel and Ainslie So'o, Say It in Samoan (Canberra, 1997).