Tahitian language

Tahitian language

nativename=Reo Tahiti
Reo Mā'ohi
states=French Polynesia
fam3=Central-Eastern MP
fam4=Eastern MP
fam6=Central-Eastern Oceanic
fam7=Remote Oceanic
fam8=Central Pacific
fam9=East Fijian-Polynesian
fam11=Nuclear Polynesian
fam12=Eastern Polynesian
fam13=Central E. Polynesian

Tahitian, a Tahitic language, is one of the two official languages of French Polynesia (along with French). It is an Eastern Polynesian language closely related to Rarotongan, New Zealand Māori, and Hawaiian.

Geographic spread

Tahitian is primarily spoken in the Îles de la Société (Society Islands), which includes, notably, the island of Tahiti (which is where the capital of French Polynesia, Pape’ete, is situated). It is also spoken on the "Tuha’a pae" (les Australes, the five Austral Islands) and on the islands of l'Archipel des Tuamotu as a second language (the Tuamotu Archipelago). The languages of the Marquesan group (see Marquesic languages) are completely distinct. In general, the peoples of French Polynesia who speak one language, speak French, if two, then Tahitian is added, if three, then their local language or dialect is added. Furthermore, there is a diverse diaspora of Tahitian speakers throughout Oceania, including pockets as far south as New Zealand.

With respect to cognate languages, some oft-quoted figures include 76% lexical similarity with Hawaiian and 85% with Rarotongan. For example - Tahitian "ra’i" (sky) is "lani" in Hawaiian, and "rangi" in both Rarotongan and Māori. Another example is "fare" (house), represented by "hale" in Hawaiian, "'are" in Rarotongan and "whare" in Māori (where 'wh' is approximately pronounced 'f').

Considering the distance between, for example, Hawaiokinai and Tahiti, this degree of similarity is of particular note. Both the Hawaiians and the Tahitians have lived in their respective archipelagos for centuries; infrequent contact between the two cultures was made using double-hulled sailing canoes. Captain Cook mentions the large canoes being used in the 1760's. To celebrate this feat of ocean navigation, the vessel "Hōkūle‘a" traveled from Honolulu to Papeete in 1976. It is of note that the Tahitian language was even used at the Eurovision Song Contest 2006, when Monaco's Severine Ferrer performed La Coco Dance which featured Tahitian chanting.


Typologically, Tahitian word order is VSO (Verb-Subject-Object), which is typical of Polynesian languages. It also features a very small number of phonemes, as further evidence of its linguistic heritage: five vowels and eight consonants not counting the lengthened vowels, diphthongs and the glottal stop.

The glottal stop or "’eta" is a genuine consonant. (People unfamiliar with Tahitian might mistake it for a punctuation mark.) This is typical of Polynesian languages (compare to the Hawaiian okinaokina and others). However, in Tahitian the glottal stops are seldom written in practice, and if they are, often as a straight apostrophe ' , instead of the curly apostrophe. The native speakers know where to pronounce them and are not taught to write them down. Alphabetical word ordering in dictionaries ignores the existence of glottals. Admittedly, the Tahitian glottal is normally weak, except in a few words like "i’a" (fish), and easily missed by the untrained ear of the non-native speaker.

Tahitian makes a phonemic distinction between long and short vowels; long vowels are marked with a "tārava" or macron. For example, "pāto", meaning "to pick, to pluck" and "pato", "to break out", are distinguished solely by their vowel length. However, macrons are seldom written.

Finally there is a "toro ’a’ï", a trema put on the i, but only used in "ïa" when used as a reflexive pronoun. It does not indicate a different pronunciation.

Although the use of "’eta" and "tārava" is equal to the usage of such symbols in other Polynesian languages, is promoted by "l'Académie Tahitienne", and is adopted by the territorial government, there are at least a dozen other ways of applying accents. Some methods are historical and no longer used, while others are heavily promoted by people who think they know better. This only adds to the confusion. [http://www.farevanaa.pf/theme_detail.php?id=5 See list] . At this moment l'Académie Tahitienne seems to have not made a final decision yet whether the `eta should appear as a small normal curly comma (’) or a small inverted curly comma (‘). Compare 'okina.

Further, Tahitian syllables are entirely open, as is usual in Polynesian languages. In its morphology, Tahitian relies on the use of "helper words" (such as prepositions, articles, and particles) to encode grammatical relationships, rather than on inflection, as would be typical of European languages. It is practically an isolating language, except when it comes to the personal pronouns, which have separate forms for singular, plural and dual numbers.

Taboo names (pi’i)

In many parts of Polynesia the name of an important leader was (and sometimes still is) considered sacred and was therefore accorded appropriate respect. In order to avoid offence, all words resembling such a name were suppressed and replaced by another term of related meaning until the personage died. If, however, the leader should happen to live to a very great age this temporary substitution could become permanent.In the rest of Polynesia "tū" means to stand, but in Tahitian it is "ti’a", because of king Tū-nui-’ē’a-i-te-atua. likewise "fetū" (star) has become in Tahiti "feti’a" and aratū (pillar) became arati’a. Although "nui" (big) still occurs in some compounds, like Tahiti-nui, the normal word is "rahi" (which is common Polynesian for 'large'). And also "’ē’a" fell in disuse, replaced by "purūmu" or "porōmu". Nowadays "’ē’a" means 'path', "purūmu" is 'road'.Tū also had a nickname, Pō-mare (night coughing), under which his dynasty has become best known. By consequence "pō" (night) became "ru`i" (nowadays only used in the Bible, pō having become the normal word again), but "mare" (literally cough) has irreversibly been replaced by "hota".Other examples: "vai" (water) became "pape" as in the names of Papeari, Papeno’o, Pape’ete. "moe" (sleep) became "ta’oto" (the original meaning of which was 'to lie down'). Some of the old words are still used on the Leewards.

ee also

* Lord Monboddo

External links

* [http://www.websters-online-dictionary.org/definition/Tahitian-english/ Tahitian–English dictionary]
* [http://www.farevanaa.pf/ Académie Tahitienne — Fare Vāna’a]
* [http://www.punareo.pf/web/index.php?lang=fp Puna Reo — Cultural Association, English section too]
* [http://www.cadeaux-express.com/tahiti/lexique-tahitien.php Lexique Français–Tahitien (with some english words)]
* [http://zipangz.homestead.com/index.html A short English–Tahitian–Japanese phrasebook] incl. sound files


*Y. Lemaître; Lexique du tahitien contemporain; 1973 ISBN 2-7099-0228-1
* same; second, reviewed edition, 1995 ISBN 2-7099-1247-3
*T. Henry; Ancient Tahiti – Tahiti aux temps anciens
*D.T. Tryon; Conversational Tahitian; ANU 1970

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