Polynesian languages

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The Polynesian languages form a branch of Oceanic , a subgroup of Malayo-Polynesian within the Austronesian language family .

The total of 36 languages ​​are spoken by around 900,000 people on the Polynesian Islands of the Pacific, including Tonga , Niue , Samoa , Wallis , Tuvalu , Futuna , Pukapuka , Tokelau , Hawaii , the Marquesas , Tahiti , Rarotonga , New Zealand and Easter Island .

The most important Polynesian language is Samoan with 430,000 speakers, followed by Tongan and Tahitian with 125,000 each. Most Polynesian languages ​​are only spoken by a few thousand people. Of the 310,000 Maori in New Zealand, only 60,000 speak their mother tongue. The 210,000 indigenous Hawaiians have almost completely given up their Polynesian language in favor of English (only 1,000 native speakers left). In Polynesia, only the inhabitants of Easter Island developed an independent script for their language Rapanui. This writing called Rongorongo could not be deciphered until today.

Polynesian within Austronesian

With the colonization of Polynesia from the western Pacific (beginning around 300 AD, New Zealand was only reached around 1,200 AD), the Polynesians conquered a very special area for themselves. The originally uniform language of the settlers continued to develop on the individual islands and groups of islands. The result was the close genetic unity of the Polynesian languages, which are very similar despite the enormous distances between the archipelagos. Compared to the other Austronesian languages, they are characterized by an extensive simplification of phonetics and syntax .

The following diagram shows the position of Polynesian within Austronesian. Polynesian was one of the last groups to split off from the other Austronesian languages, as can be seen from its remote position in the - here somewhat simplified - family tree. The position of the Bantu languages within the Niger-Congo is comparable .

  • Austronesian
    • Formosa group (multiple genetic units )
    • Malayo Polynesian
      • West Malayo Polynesian (with Filipino, Malay, Javanese, Sumatran, Borneo languages, Malagasy etc.)
      • Central-East Malayo Polynesian
        • Central Malayo Polynesian
        • East Malayo Polynesian
          • South Halmahera - West New Guinea - Group
          • Oceanic
            • Admiralty Islands
            • West Oceanic (with New Guinea languages, Meso-Melanesian)
            • Central-East Oceanic
              • Southeast Solomon Islands
              • Santa Cruz
              • Vanuatu (two genetic units)
              • New Caledonia
              • Loyalty Islands
              • Micronesian
              • Central Pacific
                • Fiji Rotuma
                • Polynesian

Classification and individual languages

Share of speakers of Polynesian languages

Polynesian is divided into the Tonga Niue group, the Samoa group and the East Polynesian . The latter two are also grouped together as Nuclear Polynesian .

A language that was already extinct in the 19th century belongs to the Samoa group and was spoken on the Tonga island of Niuatoputapu , of which only a few word lists have survived. Niuatoputapu's 1,600 inhabitants today speak Tongan.

Number of speakers according to Ethnologue 2005 and the web link given below.

Linguistic characteristics

Sound systems with only a few, but “clear” vowels and relatively few consonants that form syllables of the consonant - vowel type are typical . With 13 phonemes , Hawaiian is among the languages ​​with the smallest sound inventories.

Within this language type, there are manifold differences between the idioms of the individual island groups, which have repeatedly led to attempts to group the Polynesian languages.

The relationship between Polynesian and the other Austronesian language groups has shown that some idioms of the Indonesian languages ​​can also be found in Polynesian.

In Tongan a frequent change from / a / to / e / before / i / (see assimilation ) can be observed, e.g. B. in fefine "woman", in Futuna fafine; often also in the Muna, e.g. B. in tehi "sea", in Māori tai .

Phonetic equivalents

The individual Polynesian languages ​​have mainly changed individual consonants according to certain sound laws . The Māori has remained the most original in terms of sound.

Φ denotes a bilabial F sound written by the Māori WH. The apostrophe (in Hawaiian ʻOkina ) denotes the glottal stop sound . NG is the velar nasal sound (as in German hunger ). W denotes bilabial W (as in English), V denotes labiodental W (as in German):

Polynesian phonetic equivalents
language K T R. H Φ W. NG
Māori K T R. H WH, H W. NG
Marquesas K T R. H F. V N, K
Tahiti ' T R. H H, F V '
Hawaii ' K L. H H W. N
Cook Islands K T R. ' ' V NG
Tonga K T (s) L. H F. V NG
Samoa ' T L. S, F F. V NG
Tuamotu K T R. H F, H V NG
Mangareva K T R. H H V NG

(Table according to Nevermann 1947)

Polynesian word equations

The word equations in the following table show the basic similarities and differences between different Polynesian languages. The degree of relationship between the Polynesian languages ​​roughly corresponds to that between German and Dutch or Spanish and Portuguese.

German Tongan Samoan Rapanui Tahitian Māori Hawaiian
sky / laŋi / / laŋi / / ɾaŋi / / ɾaʔi / / ɾaŋi / / lani /
North wind / tokelau / / toʔelau / / tokeɾau / / toʔeɾau / / tokeɾau / / koʔolau /
woman / fefine / / fafine / / hahine / / vahine / / wahine / / wahine /
House / fale / / fale / / haɾe / / faɾe / / ɸaɾe / / hale /
Relative / motuʔa / / matua / / matuʔa / / metua / / matua / / makua /
mother / faʔē / / tina: / / matuʔa / / metua vahine / / ɸaea / / makuahine /
father / tamai / / tama: / / matuʔa / / metua ta: ne / / matua /, / pa: pa: / / makua ka: ne /

See also

Commons : Languages ​​of Polynesia  - Collection of images, videos and audio files


  • Lynch, John: Pacific Languages. An Introduction. University of Hawaii Press, Honolulu 1998.
  • Lynch, John, Malcolm Ross & Terry Crowley (Eds.): The Oceanic Languages. Routledge, London and New York 2003.
  • Adelaar, Alexander & Nikolaus P. Himmelmann (eds.): The Austronesian Languages ​​of Asia and Madagascar. Routledge, London and New York 2005.

Web links


  1. Hans Nevermann: Gods of the South Seas. The Polynesian religion. Stuttgart 1947.