Te Reo Tahiti


Some Characteristics of Polynesian Languages

Linguistically, the Polynesians of the Gambier Islands show the most homogeneity of speech. All other Polynesian tongues of the territory show differing amounts of variation [dialects] within their respective island groups. For example.

           Tahitian     Austral          Tuamotuan        Gambier        Marquesas 
mountain   mou`a        pu`u *           [absent]         mo`u           mauna 
           mau`a        mauna ~                                          mauka
sky        ra`i         tuara`i *        rangi            rangi          `ani
                                         rangi +                         `aki 
wind       mata`i       matani ~         matangi          matangi        matani 
star       feti`a       hetu ~           fetu             `etu           fetu
                                         kavenga+         hetł           hetu 
mouth      vaha         va`a *           vaha             `a`a           fafa
go         haere        `ano *           haere            `ere           he`e 
one        ho`e         ta`i *           tahi             ta`i           tahi 
ten        `ahuru       rongo`uru+       ngahuru          rongo`uru      `onohu`u
                                         `a`uru *
guts       `a`au        ngakau           roeroe           -              koekoe
                                                          koe = intestinal rumble

* Rurutu | ~ old Tupua`i | + Rapan
Note: The phonetic spelling of some of these words may differ slightly.

The vast majority of persons in French Polynesia speak one or more of the above speech varieties. Tahitian is the mother tongue of most Polynesians in the territory and is usually the second language of the non-Tahitian Polynesians. Consequently, native Tahitian speakers tend to be monolingual with respect to the other Polynesian languages. The mother tongue of those born in Europe is French. They comprise around 10% of the population but exercise a strong linguistic and cultural influence on the Polynesians. The ethnic and linguistic Frenchmen rarely learn anything but the most rudimentary Tahitian, if any at all. French dominates commerce, the school system, the job market, and to some extent politics. Tahitian is strong in Polynesian contexts and church, but some genetically Tahitian households have been shifting more and more toward French. There is also a significant number of Hakka Chinese most of whom speak French and many speak Tahitian as their second and third language respectively.

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Last modified 13 November 2001
E-mail Prof. Ward at: jward@hawaii.edu