Walter G. Ivens.

Grammar and Vocabulary of the Lau Language online

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Produced by David Starner, with help from Charles Franks
and the Distributed Online Proofreading Team.

Transcriber's Note: Some umlauts and other fine distinctions
of Sa'a orthography have been lost. The Lau orthography is
correct as given.






Lau is the name given to the language spoken by the inhabitants of
the artificial islets which lie off the northeast coast of Big
Malaita, Solomon Islands. The language spoken on the coast from Uru
on the northeast to Langalanga, Alite Harbor, on the northwest of
Big Malaita, is practically Lau. On the west coast there is
considerable admixture of Fiu, which is the language of the bush
behind the Langalanga lagoon. In Dr. Codrington's "Melanesian
Languages," pp. 39 et seq., certain words are given as spoken at
Alite in Langalanga. These words are probably Fiu rather than Lau.

The purest Lau is spoken at Sulufou, one of the artificial islets
near Atta Cove. The inhabitants of Ai-lali, on the mainland of Big
Malaita opposite the island Aio, are an offshoot of the Lau-speaking
peoples. In Port Adam (Malau) on Little Malaita, some 12 miles
north of Sa'a, there are two villages, Ramarama and Malede,
inhabited by Lau-speaking peoples, and the inhabitants of these
villages hold as a tradition that their forefathers migrated from
Suraina, near Atta Cove, 80 miles away, along the coast to the

The Lau of this grammar and vocabulary was learned from dealings
with the Port Adam natives and also from a stay of several weeks
with Rev. A. I. Hopkins, at Mangoniia, on the mainland opposite the
artificial islet Ferasubua.

It is not claimed that the Lau here presented is the same as the Lau
of the northeast coast of Big Malaita. Doubtless owing to the Port
Adam peoples being surrounded by Sa'a-speaking peoples, they have
adopted Sa'a words and methods of speech to some extent. The women
of the hill peoples above Port Adam have largely been procured as
wives for the Port Adam men and thus there has been a tendency for
the distinctiveness of the Lau language to disappear and for the
Sa'a words to be adopted. While this tendency was perhaps not very
great previous to the introduction of Christianity (for the village
children always follow the language of the father rather than that
of the mother), the teachers in the village schools, after
Christianity was introduced, necessarily used the Sa'a books and,
when translations were eventually made into Lau, words and phrases
of Sa'a crept in. So far as lay in the power of the present author,
he has endeavored to eliminate these Sa'a elements from the present

In the translations made into Lau, some use has been made of the
gerundive, following the use in Sa'a; but until we have further
evidence of the validity of this usage it must be regarded as not
belonging to the genius of the Lau language, and it is therefore
omitted here.

It will be seen that Lau is a typical Melanesian language and has
few marked peculiarities. In Sa'a there is a distinctive use of the
shortened forms of the pronouns of the first and second persons,
_au_ and _'o_, suffixed to verbs and prepositions as object; in Lau
the same shortening is not effected and the longer forms _nau_,
_oe_, are used.

It has not been thought proper to represent any break in
pronunciation such as occurs in Sa'a in such words, e. g., as _ia_
fish, Sa'a _i'e_. Lau shows generally the dropping of such
consonants as are dropped in Sa'a, but it is doubtful if the same
break occurs in pronunciation.

The books already printed in Lau are:

1. A translation of the English Prayer Book comprising matins and
evensong, litany, baptism of adults, certain psalms and hymns,
catechism, Holy Communion with Sunday collects.

2. The four Gospels.

The grammar here given is an alteration of the grammar prepared by
the present writer, and printed at Norfolk Island by the Mission
Press in 1914.

W. G. Ivens. St. Paul's Vicarage, Malvern, Victoria, 1920.


adj., adjective.
adv., adverb.
art., article.
def., definite.
demons., demonstrative.
excl., exclusive (of personal pronouns, excluding the person
exclam., exclamation.
genit., genitive.
_gu_, marks a noun as taking the suffixed pronouns _gu_, _mu_,
incl., inclusive (of personal pronouns, including the person
interj., interjection.
interr., interrogative.
metath., metathesis.
n., noun.
_na_, marks a noun as taking the suffixed pronoun in the third
singular only.
neg., negative.
neut., neuter.
obj., object.
part., particle.
partic., participle.
pers., person, personal.
pl., plural.
poss., possessive.
pr., pronoun.
pref., prefix.
prep., preposition.
S, Sa'a language. See Sa'a and Ulawa dictionary.
sing., singular.
sub., subject.
suff., suffix, suffixed.
term., termination.
tr., transitive.
U, Ulawa language. See Sa'a and Ulawa dictionary.
v., verb.
v.i., verb intransitive, i.e., a verb which can not take the
pronoun suffixed.
v.p., verbal particle., verb transitive, i.e., a verb which can take the pronoun
voc., vocative.
M.L., Codrington's Melanesian Languages.



The vowels are a, e, i, o, u, with the Italian sounds. All of these
vowels may be long or short, the long sound being represented by a
doubling of the vowel. Closed syllables do not occur, and every word
ends with a vowel. The vowel o in Lau frequently represents a in
Sa'a: _fou_ rock, Sa'a _hau_; _finau_ hook, Sa'a _hinou_; _loulou_
quick, Sa'a _lauleu_. Where in Sa'a a changes to e in certain words
after a preceding i or u, no such change is made in Lau in the same
words: _ia_ fish, Sa'a _i'e_; _ua_ still, Sa'a _ue_; _i asi_ at sea,
Sa'a i _'esi_.

The diphthongs are ae, ai, ao, eu, ei, ou, as in _sae_, _mai_,
_rao_, _dau_, _mei_, _fou_, pronounced, respectively, as in the
English words eye, iron, hour, how, hey, oh.

The consonants are f, k, g; d, t; b; q, gw; l, r; s; m; mw; n, ng.

The f replaces an h in Sa'a: _fera_ village, Sa'a _hera_ courtyard;
_fuli fera_ village, Sa'a _huli_ bed, _huli nume_ site of house.
The sound represented by f often approximates to v.

Both k and g are hard. The Melanesian g is not heard; as in Sa'a, it
has been dropped in certain words, _ia_ fish, but there is no
noticeable break in the pronunciation. In certain other words this g
is replaced by k: _take_, to stand. Mota _sage_, Sa'a _ta'e_. The g
in Lau may replace a k in Sa'a: _igera_ they, Sa'a _ikire_. A g also
appears in personal pronoun plural 1, excl., where Sa'a has a break:
_igami_ we, Sa'a _i'emi_. A g may also replace an h in Sa'a: _luga_
to loose, Sa'a _luhe_.

There is no preface of n in the sound of d.

In many words a t has been dropped: _angi_ to cry, Oceanic _tangi_;
_asi_ sea, Oceanic _tasi_; _ola_ canoe, Florida _tiola_, Sa'a

There is no w in Lau. Where it occurs in Sa'a its place is supplied
in Lau by q, the sound of which is kw or ku: _qalu_ eight, Sa'a
_walu_. In Lau the island Ulawa is known as Ulaqa. A q in Lau may
represent an h in Sa'a: _qai_, the reciprocal prefix, is in Sa'a
_hai_. The letter gw may represent a q (pw) in Sa'a: _gwou_ head,
Sa'a _qau_; _gwini_ wet, Sa'a _qini_; _gwou_ deserted, Mota _wou_.
The sound of d is not followed by r, as is the case in Sa'a, nor is
d before i sounded any way differently, as is the case in Sa'a.
Nasal m, i.e., mw, is not so common a sound as it is in Sa'a, but it
is heard in _mwane_ male, _mwela_ child.

There is an interchange between n and l: _nima_ or _lima_ five;
_daluma_ middle, Sa'a _danume_; _inala_ to discern, Sa'a _ilala_.
Both l and r are used and the sounds are distinct; both sounds are


(a) Demonstrative:
Singular, _na, si; ta, te, ke; maae; fe_.
Plural, _gi; mwai, ote_.

(b) Personal: _a, ni_.

_Na_ denotes a, any, the, and is put to more general use than the
corresponding _nga_ in Sa'a; _na_ is used with both singular and
plural: _na noni_ the body; _na sasigamu_ your brethren. The
conjunction _ma_ (=and) coalesces with _na_; _mana Mwela_ and the
Son. _Na_ is used with the interrogative _taa_ what.

2. _Si_ is more definite and particular in meaning than _na_ and
denotes a part, a piece, any; it is more or less equivalent to
_me'i_ in Sa'a: _si doo ne_ the thing; _gamelu ka ania si taa_ what
are we to eat? _si ere_ a firestick; _si doo gu saea na_ that which
I said; _na_ may be prefixed: _na si baea taa ne_ what words? _si_
can not be used of the plural.

3. _Ta_ means a certain one, every, at all, just, only, and is the
same as the numeral _ta_ one: _ta_ may precede the article _fe_; _ta
fe uo_ every hill, _ni_ may follow _ta_: _tani aiai_ some, other.
_ta_ may mean only: _ta ro ai_ only two people; _ta_ may be used
with the numerals, _ta ro mwane_ two men; _ta ro tangale penny_ 200

_Te_ has practically the same meanings as _ta_: _te geni sarii_ a
maiden; _te taifilia_ he alone; _te aiai falaete_ one person only.
_Te_ is used of units (as _ata_ in Sa'a), _te fiu fe doo_ only seven
things; _te ai ma te ai_ one by one; _too te ai_ singly. _Si_ may
follow both _ta_ and _te_: _ta si fou_ a certain rock, _te si na
doo_ everything; _te_ may be used as equivalent to the conjunction
and: _te na Mwela_ and the Son.

_Ke_ is used as _te_: _ke si gula iidimani_ a small piece; _ro kesi
kurui bata_ two small pieces of money. _Ke_ and _si_ may be combined
and used with _te_: _e langi asia na teke si doo_ there is nothing
at all.

4. _Maae_ is compounded of _maa_ eye, one, and _e_ the construct
form, and means one, a; _maae_ is used with _fera_ country, _dangi_
day, _rodo_ night, _oru_ wind; _maae fera_ a village, _maaedangi_ a
day, _maaerodo_ darkness.

5. _Qe_ is used with certain nouns: _qe afe_ a widow, _qe ia_ a
fish, _qe oru_ a widow; _na_ may be prefixed: _na qe ia gi_ the

6. _Fe_ is used of things spherical in shape and denotes a unit: _fe
bread_ a loaf, _fe bubulu_ a star; also _fe gale bola_ a young
pigeon, _fe rade_ a reed; _fe_ is used of one of a series: _fe rodo_
a night, _fe asua_ a day; _fe_ is also used as a multiplicative: _fe
fiu ade doo taala_ seven cases of wrong-doing; _na or ta or te_ may

7. _Gi_ denotes plurality and follows the noun: _na mwane gi_ the
males. It may be separated from the noun: _na doo nia gi_ his
things; _gi_ is used with the forms of the personal pronoun plural
except those ending in _lu_.

8. _Mwai_ is used with nouns of relationship only: _mwai asi nia_
his brethren, _ro mwai sasina_ brethren.

9. In Port Adam _ote_ seems to be employed as a regular plural
article: _ote mwane gi_ you men. But it is a question whether _ote_
is not properly employed of females only: _ote aia nia_ his female
relations, _ote sasina_ his sisters, _ote ai_ you women, _ote ai gi_
you women.

10. _A_ is used as a personal article with the names of males, both
native and foreign: _a Leo_, _a Joe_. It is used also with _doo_
thing: _a doo_ so and so, _a doo na_ the person.

_Ni_ is used as a personal article with the names of females, both
native and foreign: _ni Alida_, _ni Mary_. It is used also with
certain nouns which denote women, where in Sa'a _nga_ or the
personal article _a_ is used: _ni te nau_ my mother, _ni mwaemwane_
a man's sister, a woman's brother, _ni aia_ female relations, _ni
doo_ the woman, _ni mwela ne_ that woman. _Ni_ is not used with
_afe_ wife, nor with _geni_ female; it is not used with the plural.


1. Nouns to which possessive suffixes may be added:

Certain nouns take the suffixed pronoun denoting the possessor.
These are nouns denoting:

a. Parts of the body: _lima_ hand, _limagu_ my hand, _aba_ arm,
_abamu_ thy arm, _maa_ eye, _maamu_ thy eye.

b. Position, end, middle, top: _buri_ behind, _burigu_ behind me, _i
dalumana_ in the midst, _isingana_ its end, _i kamena lobo_ beside
the lake, _i fafona_ on top of it.

c. Certain states or doings of men: life, death, speech, custom,
goings: _mae_ to die, _maela_ death, _maelana_ his death, _baela_
speech, _baelagu_ my word.

d. The word _sasi_ brother, _sasigu_ my brother, my sister. The
other words denoting relationship employ the personal pronoun to
denote possession.

2. Formation of nouns: Nouns which have a special termination
showing them to be nouns substantive are (a) verbal nouns and (b)
independent nouns.

a. Verbal nouns are formed from verbs by the terminations _a_, _fa_,
_la_, _ta_: _mae_ to die, _maea_ death or sickness, _maela_ death,
_bae_ to speak, _baea_ word, _baela_ speech, _fanga_ to eat,
_fangaa_ feast, food, _fangala_ food, _mae_ to die, _maemaefa_
sickness, _nao_ to lead, _naofa_ first, _naofe mwela_ eldest child,
also with suffixed pronoun _naofana mwela_; _ta_ is seen in the root
_afuta_ all, which is used only with the suffixed pronoun,
_afutagera_ all of them, _afutana na ai gi_ all the people. The
termination _la_ has a more or less gerundival force.

Compound nouns may be formed, _girigiri lifoa_ gnashing of teeth,
_saitama dooa_ wisdom.

Where in the vocabulary _fa_ and _ta_ have a hyphen attached, it is
intended to show that they are used only with the suffixed pronoun

There are certain adjectives to which the termination _la_ is
attached, _diena_ good, _dienala_ goodness, _baita_ big, _baitala_
bigness, and _tasa_ in excess, _tasala_ excess. It is probable,
however, that these words are really verbs.

b. Independent nouns: The only termination is na, and this is added
(1) to certain nouns which express relation ship or kindred; (2) to
cardinal numerals to form ordinals. 1. Nouns so formed are always
preceded by a prefix which marks reciprocity of relationship or
kindred, _mwai_, and by the numeral _ro_ two; _sasi_ brother, _ro
mwai sasina_ the two brothers, _te_ mother, _ro mwai telana_ wife
and child.

2. Numerals: _olu_ three, _oluna_ third.

3. Construct form: To make a construct form the letter _e_ is added
to the first of two nouns, _toloe fera_ hill, _fuli abae ai_ men's
handwork. When the first member ends in _a_ the _ae_ sometimes
contracts to _e_, _fufue ai_ seed, _aqale mwai_ ten baskets, but
_maae rodo_, a night; also when the first noun ends in _o_ the _oe_
is contracted to _e_: _abole ai_ a log, _abolo_ a piece. This _e_
may be added to words which have not a distinct noun termination:
_naoe gula_ the chief place.

4. Genitive relation: The genitive relation of nouns one to another
is effected by the use of the propositions _ni_ and _i_: _ni_ is
used mainly in construction: _baea ni sugela_ deceitful words, _gwai
ni gwaila_ anointing oil; _ni_ expresses purpose: _si gula ni lea
inia_ a place for him to go to, _rosuli ni manatai gami_ hear us in
mercy. In certain words _li_ replaces _ni_: _maalimaea_ enemy,
_maalitafa_ a channel in a reef; _i_ is used also to denote purpose:
_lea i fasifa_ came to sell it. Location, which also denotes place
whence, is shown by _i_, _geni i Saa_, a Sa'a woman. _Si_ is used in
certain phrases: _ofu si doo_ bundles, _ro tooni si doo_ two

The genitive is frequently omitted _olu teu flour_, three measures
of flour, _mumudi fangala_ crumbs of food, _mwane Saa_, a Sa'a man,
_falisi vine_ a vineyard.

The possessive _ana_ may be used to denote the genitive: _luma ana
foaa_ house of prayer, _tala ana fanualama_ way of peace. A genitive
relation is also shown by the use of the suffixed pronoun of the
third person singular or plural in agreement with the idea expressed
in the second noun of the pair: _i tolona fera_ on the tops of the
hills, _gwouda na ai gi_ men's heads.

The ordinary personal pronouns are used as possessive in cases where
the pronoun can not be suffixed: _afe nau_ my wife, _arai nia_ her

The instrumental prefix i occurs: _kamu_ to eat areca nut, _ikamu_ a
line spatula.

5. Plural: To show plurality _gi_ is used, following the noun _na
mwane gi_ the men. The word _oro_, many, may be attached: _na mwane
oro gi_ many men, _tani ai oro_ many people.

The personal pronoun plural third _gera_ is used to mark plurality:
_gera fiolo_ the hungry, _gera priest da adea urina_ the priests
acted thus.

Totally and completion are shown by _sui_ finished or _sui na_:
_afutada sui_ they all, _gera lea sui na_ they have gone already. To
express totality the suffixed pronoun singular third and all persons
plural are added to a root _afuta_, formed from _afu_ to complete,
with _ta_ noun termination: _afutanafera_ all the land, _afutana
nonigu_ all my whole body. It is a question whether the numeral
_qalu_ eight is used like _walu_ in Sa'a of an indefinite number,
e.g., _qalu fera_ all lands; but _te si nafera_ seems to be the
proper usage.

6. Gender: There is no grammatical gender. The words _mwane_ male,
_geni_ female, are added when the noun does not carry a sex

7. Nouns of relationship: With the exception of sasi brother,
sister, nouns of relationship are never used with a suffixed
pronoun: _maa nau_ my father. The prefix _mwai_, denoting
reciprocity of relationship, may precede: _mwai asi nau_ brethren.
In speaking of pairs of people _ro_ is used: _ro mwai sasina_ two
brothers. The _na_ of _sasina_, _telana_, etc., is a noun
termination and is not the suffixed pronoun.

The articles _ni_ for the singular and _ote_ for the plural are used
of women: _ni aia_ a female relation, _ote geni_ women.

The word for father is _maa_; the article _na_ may be prefixed: _na
maa nau_ my father. The Rev. A. I. Hopkins says that _maaka nau_ is
also commonly used as meaning my father. The word for child is
_mwela_, _mwela na ai_ So-and-So's son, _mwela nia_ his child; _aia_
is used for female relations with _ni_ as singular article and _ote_
as plural: _mwaemwane_ sister, _ni mwaemwane_ a man's sister.

The adjective _gale_ little, is used preceding the noun to describe
something young: _ro fe gale bola_ two young pigeons. The article
used with _te_, mother, is _ni_: _ni te nau_ my mother; _ta ro mwai
telana nau_ my wife and child, _ta ro mwai fungona_ two
relations-at-law; _ai_ person, man, is used as a vocative: _mwela
ai_ hey, you there! _na ai oe_ your people, _ai ni raoa_ a servant,
_ai tou_ the little one, the lesser.


The pronouns may be classified as (A) those used as the subject of a
verb; (B) those suffixed to a verb or a preposition as object; (c)
those suffixed to nouns substantive and denoting possession.


(1) _inau, naut gu_.
(2) _ioe, oe, o_.
(3) _inia, niat nit e_.

Inclusive: (1) _igia, gia; igolu, golu_.
Exclusive: (1) _igami, gami, mi; igamelu, gamelu_.
(2) _igamu, gamu; igamolu, gamolu_.
(3) _igera, gera, da; idalu, dalu_.

Inclusive: (1) _igoro, goro_.
Exclusive: (1) _igamere, gamere_.
(2) _igamoro, gamoro_.
(3) _idarot daro_.

1. The longer forms, those with _i_, are used as possessive pronouns
when the suffixed pronoun can not be added: _geni inau_ my wife.

The forms with _i_ are never used by themselves as the subject, but
are accompanied by one of the shorter forms: _igera da ada ma da si
ada na_ they see but do not see. The three longer forms in the
singular are of more or less infrequent use. The initial _i_ is run
on to the preceding vowel in pronunciation.

2. All the forms without _i_ are used alone as the subject of the
verb. Where there are three forms the second and third are generally
used together as subjects: _gami mi langi si saetamana_ we do not
know; but the short forms _gu_, _o_, _mi_, _mu_, _da_, may be used
alone as subjects: _gu si saea_ I do not know. The forms in _lu_ are
not used as a trial number, but denote a more restricted number of

3. _Nia_ is used as meaning, there is, it is: _efita fe bread nia
agamolu_, how many loaves have you? It may be used before a proper
name as the equivalent to a genitive: _ana maaedangi nia Abiathar_
in the days of Abiathar. When the meaning is, there is, it is, _nia_
is preceded by _e_: _na liqa gera enia ada_ they have their holes;
_ma te ai enia i luma_ there is only one person in the house; with
_na_ demonstrative added: _nia na_ that is it, that is so.

4. The form _ni_ is seen in _nifai_ what? where? It occurs in
certain phrases as meaning, it is, there is: _e uta ro si lio ni
agamu_ how is it ye are of two minds? _na light fuana noni ni maa_
the light of the body it is the eye.

5. The plural sign _gi_ is used with the forms in the plural but not
with those ending in _lu_: _gia gi fi dao na_ we have just come.

6. The forms in the plural third _igera_ and _gera_ are used as
equivalent to a plural article: _igera na judea_ the Jews.

7. The pronouns of the third person singular and plural may be used
of impersonal or inanimate things.


Singular: (1) _nau_. (2) _oe_. (3) _a_.

Inclusive: (1) _gia_, _golu_.
Exclusive: (1) _gami_, _gamelu_. (2) _gamu_, _gamolu_.
(3) _gera_, _da_, _dalu_.

Inclusive: (1) _goro_.
Exclusive: (1) _gamere_. (2) _gamoro_. (3) _daro_.

1. Examples of usage are, _gera saegera sui_ they were all summoned,
_nia lea fonosia_ he went to get it. A second object of the verb
always appears in the suffixed pronoun singular and plural third:
_gu langi si adasia na ola_ I did not see a canoe, _gera gutafigera
na mwane gi_ they persecuted the men. All prepositions governing
nouns have the pronoun suffixed as an anticipatory object in
agreement with the noun: _gera lea fonosia fera_ they went to harm
the land, _fafia si doo_ concerning the matter.

2. The verb _dori_ (to wish) has the pronoun suffixed where in Sa'a
none would be used: _nia langi si doria gwou ana_ he would not drink
(it) of it.

3. To _taifili_ (alone) the pronouns are suffixed: _te taifilia_ he
alone, _taifiligera_ they alone.


Singular: (1) _gu_. (2) _mu_. (3) _na_.

Inclusive: (1) _gia_, _golu_.
Exclusive: (1) _gami_, _gamelu_. (2) _gamu_, _gamolu_. (3) _gera_,
_da_, _dalu_.

Inclusive: (1) _goro_.
Exclusive: (1) _gamere_. (2) _gamoro_. (3) _dar

1. These are the pronouns denoting possession and they are suffixed
to a certain class of nouns only, those which denote names of parts
of the body, or of family relationship, or of things in close
relationship to the possessor. In all other cases possession is
denoted by the use of the ordinary personal pronouns.

2. When things and not persons are in question _ni_ is used in place
of _da_ in plural third: _lea alua i fulini_ go and put them in
their places.

3. Of the plural forms those ending in _lu_ denote a restriction in
the number of the persons concerned.

4. These pronouns are also suffixed to the preposition _fua_ to,
used as a dative, to _afuta_ all, and to certain other words which
show a noun termination but which have no independent existence as
nouns: _otofa_ concerning, _oofa_ approaching to, enceinte, _sie_,
at the house of (in the vocabulary all such words are followed by a
hyphen); also to _mara_ of one's own accord, alone, _te taifilia
marana_ he alone; also to the verb _too_ to hit, _toogu_, _toona_,
hit me, etc.


These are _na_, _ne_, this; _nena_, _nana_, _nane_, that.

1. These all follow a noun or a pronoun: _a mwela ne_ this person,
_nia nana_ that is it.

2. _Na_ is added after the negative _langi_: _langi na no_, not
that; and after _sui_ finished: _sui na_ that is finished.

3. _Go_ an adverb, there, is used as a demonstrative: _tefe doo go
ana_ only one thing, _inau go agu_ I for my part; _ne_ may be added,
_gone_ that, _inia gone_ that is so. _Ba_ means that, there: _diena
ba_ good! _bago_ is used following a noun or a pronoun: _a doo bago_
that person there.


1. The words used are _ati_, who; _taa, tafa_, what. The personal
article _a_ makes _ati_ who, singular, _gerati_ plural. Both _ti_
and _taa_ are nouns. The adverb _ba_ may be added to _ati_ for the
purpose of emphasis: _ati ba_ who? _Ti_ stands for the name of the
person and _ati_ means, what is the name? _ati mwane_ what man? The
demonstrative _ne_ may be added for emphasis: _ati ne_ who is it

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