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Tahitian language

Tahitian (Reo M `ohi or Reo Tahiti in Tahitian) is an indigenous language spoken mainly in the Society Islands in French Polynesia. It is an Eastern Polynesian language closely related to the other indigenous languages spoken in French Polynesia: Marquesan, Tuamotuan, Mangarevan, and Austral Islands languages. It is also related to the Rarotongan, New Zealand M ori, and Hawaiian languages.

Tahitian was first transcribed from the oral spoken language into writing by missionaries of the London Missionary Society in the early 19th century.

In French Polynesia, it is the most prominent of the indigenous Polynesian languages (reo m ohi)[1] which also include;



Early writing

When Europeans first arrived in Tahiti at the end of the 18th century, there was no writing system and Tahitian was only a spoken language. In 1797, Protestant missionaries arrived in Tahiti on a British ship called the Duff, captained by James Wilson. Among the missionaries was Henry Nott (1774 1844) who learned the Tahitian language and worked with Pomare II, a Tahitian king, to translate the English Bible into Tahitian. A system of 5 vowels and 9 consonants was adopted for the Tahitian Bible which would become the key text by which many Polynesians would learn to read and write.


Tahitian features a very small number of phonemes, as further evidence of its linguistic heritage: five vowels and nine consonants, not counting the lengthened vowels and diphthongs.

letter name pronunciation notes
IPA English
a a: butter, : father
e e: late, : same but longer
f f friend becomes bilabial after o and u
h h house becomes (as in English shoe) after i and before o or u
i as in machine may become diphthong ai in some words like rahi
m m mouse
n n nap
o o: nought, : go
p p sponge (not aspirated)
r r alveolar trill
t t stand (not aspirated)
u u: foot, : moo strong lip rounding
v v vine becomes bilabial () after o and u
eta uh-oh glottal stop beginning each syllable

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 Hawai'ian okina 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. 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 macron or t rava.

For example, p to, 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 , a trema put on the i, but only used in a when used as a reflexive pronoun. It does not indicate a different pronunciation.

Although the use of eta and t rava is equal to the usage of such symbols in other Polynesian languages, it is promoted by l'Acad mie Tahitienne and adopted by the territorial government. There are at least a dozen other ways of applying accents. Some methods are historical and no longer used. This can make usage unclear. See list. At this moment l'Acad mie 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.


Personal prounouns

Like many Austronesian languages, Tahitian has separate words for inclusive and exclusive we, and distinguishes singular, dual, and plural.


  • Au I, me; Ua 'amu au i te i'a. I have eaten the fish.: E haere au i te farehapi'ira'a n nahi I will go to school tomorrow;
  • 'oe : you, thou; Ua 'amu 'oe i te i'a. You have eaten the fish; Ua fa'a'ino 'oe t m tou pereo'o. You broke our car. ;
  • ' na/'oia : he, she; Ua amu ' na i te i'a. He/she ate the fish. ; Eaha ' na i haere mai ai ? Why is she here/why did she come here? ; Aita 'ona i ' nei. He/she is not here.


  • T ua (inclusive) we/us two ; Ua amu t ua i te i'a : We (us two) have eaten the fish.; Haere t ua. : Let's go (literally 'go us two'). ; O t t ua hoa t tae mai ra. : Our friend has arrived.
  • M ua (exclusive) we two ; Ua amu m ua i te i'a. : We have eaten the fish. ;E ho'i m ua ma Titaua i te fare. : Titaua and I are returning/going home. ; No m ua tera 'are. : This is our house.
  • rua : you two ; Ua amu ' rua i te i'a. : You two ate the fish. ; Haere ' rua : You (two) go. ; Na ' rua teie puta. : This book belongs to both of us.
  • R ua : them two ; Ua amu r ua i te i'a. They (they two) have eaten the fish. ; N 'ea mai r ua ? Where are you two/both? ; O r ua 'o P tei noho i te fare He/she and Pa stayed home.


  • T tou (inclusive) we ; O vai t t tou e t a'i nei? Who are we expecting ? ; E'ore t t tou amura'a toe. We have more food.
  • M tou (exclusive) we, them and me ; O m tou ma Herenui i haere mai ai. We came with Herenui; Ua 'ite mai 'oe ia m tou You saw us/you have seen us.
  • outou you (plural) ; A haere atu 'outou, e pe'e atu vau. You (all) go, I am coming. ; O 'outou 'o vai m i haere ai i te tautai ? Who went fishing with you (all)?
  • R tou them; Ua pe'ape'a r tou 'o Teina. They have quarelled with Teina. ; N r tou te pupu p ai. They have the strongest team.

Word order

Typologically, Tahitian word order is VSO (verb subject object), which is typical of Polynesian languages. Some examples of word order from [2] are:

  • te t m 'a nei au "[present continuous] eat [present continuous] I", "I am eating"
  • ua t p vau 'i te vahie "[perfective aspect] chop I [object marker] the wood", "I chopped the wood"
  • ua hohoni hia 'oia 'e te 'uri "[perfective aspect] bite [passive voice] he by the dog", "He was bitten by the dog"
  • e mea mar te ha'ari "Are thing dry the coconut", "The coconuts are dry"
  • e ta'ata puai 'oia "Is man strong he", "He is a strong man"


Definite article

The article te is the definite article and means the. In conversation it is also used as an indefinite article for a or an.[2]

For example;

  • te fare the house; te tane the man

The plural of the definite article te is te mau.

For example;

  • te mau fare the houses; te mau tane the men

Also, te may also be used to indicate a plural;

For example;

  • te ta'ata can mean the person or the people

Indefinite article

The indefinite article is te h 'e, meaning a or an.

For example;

  • te h 'e fare a house


The article o is used with proper nouns and pronouns and implies it is.

For example;

  • O Tahiti (It is) Tahiti
  • O r tou (It is) they


The article e corresponds to o and is used in all common nouns.

For example;

  • e ta'ata (it is) a person
  • e vahine (it is) a woman
  • e mau vahine (many) women

Aspect and modality markers

Verbal aspect and modality are important parts of Tahitian grammar, and are indicated with markers preceding and/or following the invariant verb. Important examples are:

  • e: expresses an unfinished action or state.
E h mene Mere napo: ""Will sing Mary tonight", "Mary will sing tonight"
  • 'ua: expresses a finished action, a state different from a preceding state, or surprise.
'Ua riri au: "Unhappy I", "I am unhappy"
  • t ... nei: indicates progressive aspect.
T tanu nei vau i te taro: "planting I [dir. obj. marker] the taro", "I am planting the taro"
  • e ... ana: expresses a habitual action or state.
E t ere ana ' na: "Always is late he", "He is always late"
  • i ... nei: indicates a finished action or a past state.
I f nau 'aia i Tahiti nei: "Was born she in Tahiti", "She was born in Tahiti"
  • i ... iho nei: indicates an action finished in the immediate past.
I tae mai iho nei ' na: "He just came"
  • 'ia: indicates a wish, desire, supposition, or condition.
'Ia vave mai!: "Hurry up!"
  • 'a: indicates a command or obligation.
'A pi'o 'oe i raro!: "Bend down!"
  • 'eiaha, 'iaha: indicates negative imperative.
'Eiaha e parau!: "Do not speak"
  • 'ahiri, 'ahani: indicates a condition or hypothetical supposition.
'Ahiri te pah i ta'ahuri, 'ua pohe pau roa ia t tou: "If the boat had capsized, we would all be dead"
  • 'aita: expresses negation.
'Aita vau e ho'i mai: "I will not return"


Common phrases and words

Tahitian English
Ia ora na Hello, greetings
Haere mai, maeva, manava Welcome
parahi goodbye
nana bye
E Yes
Aita No
mauruuru roa thank you very much
mauruuru thanks
E aha te huru? How are you?
matai'i well, good
matai'i roa very good
tane man
vahine woman
fenua land
ra'i sky
vai water
uahi fire
amu eat
inu drink
po night
mahana day/sun
moana ocean, sea

Taboo names pi i

In many parts of Polynesia the name of an important leader was (and sometimes still is) considered sacred (tapu) and was therefore accorded appropriate respect (mana). In order to avoid offense, 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 t means to stand, but in Tahitian it became ti a, because the word was included in the name of king T -nui- a-i-te-atua. Likewise fet (star) has become in Tahiti feti a and arat (pillar) became arati a. Although nui (big) still occurs in some compounds, like Tahiti-nui, the usual word is rahi (which is a common word in Polynesian languages for 'large'). The term a fell in disuse, replaced by pur mu or por mu. Nowadays a means 'path' while pur mu means 'road'.

T also had a nickname, P -mare (literally means 'night coughing'), under which his dynasty has become best known. By consequence p (night) became ru`i (nowadays only used in the Bible, p having become the word commonly in use once again), but mare (literally cough) has irreversibly been replaced by hota.

Other examples include;

  • 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.

See also


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

External links

ang:Tahitisc spr c ar: be: br:Tahitieg ca:Tahiti cy:Tahit eg de:Tahitianische Sprache es:Idioma tahitiano eo:Tahitia lingvo fr:Tahitien ko: haw: lelo Kahiki id:Bahasa Tahiti is:Tah t ska it:Lingua tahitiana kv: lt:Taitie i kalba lij:Lengua tahitiann-a mg:Fiteny tahisiana mi:Reo Tahiti nl:Tahitiaans ja: pih:Tahityan no:Tahitisk oc:Tahitian pms:Lenga Tahitian-a pl:J zyk tahita ski pt:L ngua taitiana ty:Reo Tahiti qu:Tahiti simi ru: fi:Tahitin kieli sv:Tahitiska ta: uk: vi:Ti ng Tahiti zh-yue:

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