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This wiki discusses a keyboard layout for Tongan licensed under the MIT license. It includes phonemes necessary for IPA transcription of Tongan, and also supports other Polynesian languages such as Tahitian, Samoan, Maori, and Hawaiian.

Background Information

Tongan is a Polynesian language. It is written with the Latin alphabet, and as 17 total letters. It is very similar to other Polynesian languages such as Samoan and Maori (languages that are not as under-resourced).

Existing Resources


  • Microsoft keyboard Macro for Tongan. [1]
  • This is a Windows system Polynesian keyboard. It was originally designed for Tonga, but because other Polynesian languages use the macron, fakamamafa, and fakauʻa. [2]

Conclusions Seeing as the official languages of Tonga include both Tongan and English, I will base my keyboard layout on English and add the necessary extra keys to represent macrons on vowels and an inverted apostrophe to represent the 17th consonant, the fakauʻa.


I chose to base my Tongan keyboard off of the standard English Keyboard. Tongan and English are the official language of Tonga, so English is likely to be the most common language spoken by those who speak Tongan. Additionally, all letters in the Tongan orthography are also found within the English orthography except for the fakauʻa (glottal stop).

Letters in the Tongan orthography:

Tongan alphabet
Letter a e f h i k l m n ng o p s t u v ʻ
Pronunciation a e f h i k l m n ŋ o p s t u v ʔ


Macrons are used on all vowels [a, e, i, o, u] in Tongan, so I decided to include all macron notations as 3rd level markings (RALT - letter). Capital letters with macrons are 4rth level markings. This way only two keystrokes are needed for lower case vowels with macrons and three strokes for upper case vowels with macrons. These are commonly used within the orthography, so it is important to simplify their use.


Tongan's last consonant is the fakauʻa, which represents the glottal stop. It is not readily accessible on the traditional English keyboard. When trying to type in the Tongan orthography, many try to replace the fakauʻa with a single quote, but it should instead be represented by an inverted apostrophe (Unicode symbol U+02BB)[4]. Since the fakauʻa is very commonly used in the Tongan orthography, I made it a 1st level key (AC11 - typically the single quote key in the English keyboard). I then made the single quote a 3rd level key (RALT - AC11) and kept the double quotation marks at the 2nd level (RALT - AC11). I could have shifted the single quotation marks to the 2nd level, and double quotation marks to 3rd level, but that would mean those who were familiar with the English keyboard layout would need to relearn a new way of typing 3 separate items. This method would just require them to adjust solely to typing one keystroke for the fakauʻa and two keystrokes for a single quotation mark, instead of one. Furthermore, in the Tongan text I have examined so far, specifically the Tongan Bible transcription [5], the double quotation marks are used more often than single quotation marks.

Extra Steps

Support for similar Languages

Tongan is a Polynesian language, and shares many features/characteristics to its sister languages. Hawaiian also uses a glottal stop and macron in it's orthography represented by the ʻokina and kahakō. All the letters in its alphabet are included in this keyboard. Tahitian, Samoan, and Maori can also be typed using this Tongan keyboard, as they too use a macron to represent a lengthened vowel and inverted apostrophe to represent a glottal stop.

IPA Transcriptions

I added additional support for all phonemes that could potentially be used in Tongan IPA transcriptions, including /ŋ/, /ʔ/, and the acute accent which is used to indicate on which syllable stress falls.

The /ŋ/ can be accessed as a 3rd level key on the 'G' key both in lower case (ALT-AC05) and upper case forms (4rth level (ALT-AC05)).

The /ʔ/ is a 4rth level key on the same key as the fakauʻa, the orthographic representation of the glottal stop.

I included the acute accent as a compose key, because all the levels of each vowel are being used by the vowel with a macron diacritic, a much more common combination. I placed this key at the tilda key, as again, it is rarely used and the accent mark symbol also may make it easier for people to remember the acute accent mark lives on that key.


  1. Download the ton file listed in my keyboard repo on github.
  2. Put the ton file in /usr/share/X11/xkb/symbols.
  3. Add a layout entry in the /usr/share/X11/xkb/rules/evdev.xml file for the layout. To do this, search for the end of the layoutList section by searching for </layoutList> in the file. Copy and paste the layout block below (between the last </layout> and </layoutList>and modify it for this layout.
            <description>Martina's Tongan (Polynesian) + IPA layout</description>
  4. Save the file, exit the editor. Run cinnamon --replace on the command line.
  5. Go back to your keyboard layout settings, and you should be able to find the layout under "Martina's Tongan (Polynesian) + IPA layout" in the list.
  6. References