RegionLifou, New Caledonia
Native speakers
unknown; est. 13,000 includes many L2 speakers (2009)[1]
Language codes
ISO 639-3dhv
Drehu is not endangered according to the classification system of the UNESCO Atlas of the World's Languages in Danger
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Drehu ([ɖehu]; also known as Dehu,[2] Lifou,[3] Lifu,[4] qene drehu[5]) is an Austronesian language mostly spoken on Lifou Island, Loyalty Islands, New Caledonia. It has about 12,000 fluent speakers and the status of a French regional language. This status means that pupils can take it as an optional topic for the baccalauréat in New Caledonia itself or on the French mainland.[6] It has been also taught at the Institut national des langues et civilisations orientales (INALCO) in Paris since 1973 and at the University of New Caledonia[7] since 2000. Like other Kanak languages, Drehu is regulated by the Académie des langues kanak, founded in 2007.

A separate register of Drehu, known as qene miny, was once used to speak to chiefs (joxu). Very few Drehu speakers know qene miny today.[8]



Front Central Back
High i u
Mid e ø øː o
Open æ æː ɑ ɑː

/e/ is heard as [ɛ] before nasals.

/ø/ can sometimes be [e] before nasals.


Bilabial Dental Alveolar Retroflex Alveopalatal Velar Glottal
Nasals voiceless ɲ̊ ŋ̊
voiced m n ɲ ŋ
Stops and
voiceless p t ʈ t͡ʃ k
voiced b[a] d ɖ d͡ʒ[a] ɡ
Fricatives voiceless f θ s x h
voiced v[a] ð z
Approximants voiceless ʍ
voiced w l
  1. ^ a b c /b d͡ʒ v/ occur only in loanwords.

Writing system

Drehu was first written in the Latin script by the Polynesian[9] and English missionaries of the London Missionary Society during the 1840s, with the help of the natives. The first complete Bible was published in 1890. The Bible writing system didn't distinguish between the dental (written "d", "t") and the alveolar/retroflex ("dr" and "tr") consonants, which for a long time were written indifferently "d" and "t". In Drehu /θ/ and /ð/ are not dental but interdental consonants. The new writing system was created during the 1970s.

Grapheme-phoneme correspondance
Grapheme a aa b c d dj dr e ee ë ëë f g h hl hm hn hng hny i ii j k
Phoneme /ɑ/ /ɑː/ /b/ /c/ /d̪/ /ɟ/ /d/ /e/ /eː/ /ɛ/ /ɛː/ /f/ /g/ /h/ /l̥/ /m̥/ /n̥/ /ŋ̊/ /ɲ̊/ /i/ /iː/ /ð/ /k/
Grapheme l m n ng ny o oo ö öö p q r s sh t th tr u uu v w x z
Phoneme /l/ /m/ /n/ /ŋ/ /ɲ/ /o/ /oː/ /ʌ/ /ʌː/ /p/ /w̥/ /r/ /s/ /ʃ/ /t/ /θ/ /t/ /u/ /uː/ /v/ /w/ /x/ /z/


This section needs expansion. You can help by adding to it. (June 2008)


Personal pronouns





  1. ^ Drehu at Ethnologue (18th ed., 2015) (subscription required)
  2. ^ In missionary time
  3. ^ In French
  4. ^ In English
  5. ^ Qene means language (literally "qe" : mouth, "ne" : of)
  6. ^ Only five of the twenty-eight Kanak languages (in the 1999 Rapport Cerquilini or 40 according to the Académie des langues kanak) have this status: Drehu (island of Lifou), Nengone (island of Maré), A'jië (around Houaïlou), Paicî (around Poindimié) and Xârâcùù (around Canala and Thio).
  7. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2007-10-12. Retrieved 2005-12-31.((cite web)): CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  8. ^ As Maurice Leenhardt did ("Langues et dialectes de l'Austro-Mélanésie" (1946), the Académie considers qene miny not only as a respective register but also a distinct language
  9. ^ Most were from the Cook Islands.
  10. ^ "Kanak languages academy". Académie des Langues Kanak. Retrieved 29 May 2023.