Tahitian language

From Academic Kids

Spoken in: French Polynesia
Total speakers: 120,000
Ranking: Not in top 100

   Eastern Malayo-Polynesian
     Central-Eastern Oceanic
      Remote Oceanic
       Central Pacific
        East Fijian-Polynesian

Language codes
ISO 639-2tah

Tahitian, a Tahitic language, is the official language of French Polynesia and is spoken throughout Oceania. It is an Eastern Malayo-Polynesian language which shares much with Hawaiian and Rarotongan.

It 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, Papeete, is situated). It is also spoken on some islands in the northwestern part of l'Archipel des Tuamotu (Tuamotu Archipelago). In general, the peoples of French Polynesia who do not speak Tahitian as a local language are either completely or partially bilingual in it. Furthermore, there is a diverse diaspora of Tahitian speakers throughout Oceania, including pockets as far south as New Zealand.

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; its alphabet has only fourteen letters, being: A, E, I, O, and U for the vowels, and ' (glottal stop), F, H, N, M, P, R, T, and V for the consonants. Note the use of the apostrophe to denote a glottal stop—this is typical of Polynesian languages, and when copying Tahitian words, one should take care to faithfully reproduce apostrophes as they are in actuality consonants, not punctuation, and are as important as any other letter.

Tahitian makes a phonemic distinction between long and short vowels; when written, long vowels are either marked with a diacritic (typically, a macron) or reduplicated. For example, paato, meaning "to pick, to pluck" and pato, "to break out", are distinguished solely by their vowel length.

Further, Tahitian syllables are entirely open, and the language therefore prohibits consonant grouping. This is somewhat like Japanese, although Japanese is not as restrictive, allowing palatization of consonants and in some cases final nasals.

Tahitian is morphologically weak, meaning that it 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.

With respect to cognate languages, some oft-quoted figures include 76% lexical similarity with Hawaiian and 85% with Rarotongan. Considering the incredible distance between, say, Hawaii and Tahiti, this degree of intelligibility is astounding. Both the Hawaiians and the Tahitians have lived in their respective archipelagos for millennia; no contact between the two cultures had, to anyone's knowledge, been made since their separation in ancient times.

On the other hand, languages spoken on islands tend to be conservative due to small populations and lack of communication with speakers of other languages; consider the similarities between modern-day Icelandic and Old Norse.

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