Tahitian Language
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Tahitian Language
Reo Tahiti
Reo M?ꞌohi
Native toFrench Polynesia
Ethnicity185,000 Tahitians
Native speakers
68,260, 37% of ethnic population (2007 census)[1]
Official status
Recognised minority
language in
Language codes
This article contains IPA phonetic symbols. Without proper rendering support, you may see question marks, boxes, or other symbols instead of Unicode characters. For an introductory guide on IPA symbols, see Help:IPA.

Tahitian (autonym Reo Tahiti, part of Reo M?ꞌohi, languages of French Polynesia)[3] is a Polynesian language, spoken mainly on the Society Islands in French Polynesia. It belongs to the Eastern Polynesian group.

As Tahitian had no written tradition before the arrival of the Western colonists, the spoken language was first transcribed by missionaries of the London Missionary Society in the early 19th century.


Tahitian is the most prominent of the indigenous Polynesian languages spoken in French Polynesia (reo m?ꞌohi).[3][4] The latter also include:[5]


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 Duff, captained by James Wilson. Among the missionaries was Henry Nott (1774-1844) who learned the Tahitian language and worked with P?mare II, a Tahitian king, to translate the English Bible into Tahitian. A system of five vowels and nine 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: five vowels and nine consonants, not counting the lengthened vowels and diphthongs. Notably, the consonant inventory lacks any sort of dorsal consonants.

Next follows a table with all phonemes in more detail.

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

The glottal stop or ꞌeta is a genuine consonant. This is typical of Polynesian languages (compare to the Hawaiian ʻokina and others). Glottal stops used to be seldom written in practice, but are now commonly written, though often as straight apostrophes, , instead of the curly apostrophes used in Hawaiian. Alphabetical word ordering in dictionaries used to ignore the existence of glottals. However, academics and scholars now publish text content with due use of glottal stops.

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 among older people because Tahitian writing was never taught at school until one or two decades ago.

Finally there is a toro ꞌaꞌï, a trema put on the i, but only used in ïa when used as a reflexive pronoun. It does not indicate a different pronunciation. Usage of this diacritic was promoted by academics but has now virtually disappeared, mostly due to the fact that there is no difference in the quality of the vowel when the trema is used and when the macron is used.

Although the use of ꞌeta and t?rava is equal to the usage of such symbols in other Polynesian languages, it is promoted by the Académie 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'Académie tahitienne seems to have not made a final decision yet whether the ꞌeta should appear as a small normal curly comma (') or a small inverted curly comma (?). (Compare ?okina.) The straight apostrophe (Unicode U+0027) being the default apostrophe displayed when striking the apostrophe key on a usual French AZERTY keyboard, it has become natural for writers to use the straight apostrophe for glottal stops, though to avoid the complications caused by substituting punctuation marks for letters in digital documents, the saltillo (ꞌ) may be used.

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 a very analytic language, except when it comes to the personal pronouns, which have separate forms for singular, plural and dual numbers.

Today, macronized vowels and ꞌeta are also available for mobile devices like smartphones and tablets. People can download and install mobile applications to realize the macron on vowels as well as the ꞌeta.


Personal pronouns

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


  • Au (Vau after "a", "o" or "u")[1] I, me: ꞌUa ꞌamu vau i te iꞌa I have eaten the fish; E haere au i te farehaapiꞌira ?n?nahi I will go to school tomorrow.
  • ꞌOe you: ꞌUa ꞌamu ꞌoe i te iꞌa You have eaten the fish; ꞌUa tuꞌino ꞌoe i t? m?tou pereꞌoꞌo[2] You damaged our car.
  • ꞌ?na/ꞌoia he, she: ꞌUa ꞌamu ꞌ?na i te iꞌa He/she ate the fish; E aha ꞌ?na i haere mai ai? Why is she here/why did she come here?; ꞌAita ꞌ?na i ꞌ? nei He/she is not here.


  • T?ua (inclusive) we/us two: ꞌUa ꞌamu t?ua i te iꞌa We (us two) have eaten the fish; E haere t?ua[3] Let's go (literally 'go us two'); ꞌO t? t?ua hoa t?i tae mai[4] Our friend has arrived.
  • M?ua (exclusive) we/us two: ꞌUa ꞌamu m?ua i te iꞌa We have eaten the fish; E hoꞌi m?ua ꞌo Titaua i te fare[5] Titaua and I will return/go home; N? m?ua tera fare That is our house.[6]
  • ꞌ?rua you two: ꞌUa ꞌamu ꞌ?rua i te iꞌa You two ate the fish; A haere ꞌ?rua[7] You (two) go; N? ꞌ?rua teie puta This book belongs to both of you.
  • R?ua they two: ꞌUa ꞌamu r?ua i te iꞌa They (they two) have eaten the fish; N? hea mai r?ua? Where are they (they two) from?;[8] ꞌO r?ua ꞌo P? tei faꞌaea i te fare[9] He/she and Pa stayed home.


  • T?tou (inclusive) we: ꞌO vai t? t?tou e t?aꞌi nei? Who are we waiting for/expecting?,[10] E ꞌore t? t?tou m?ꞌa e toe There won't be any of our food more left.
  • M?tou (exclusive) we, they and I: ꞌO m?tou ꞌo Herenui tei haere mai[11][12] We came with Herenui; ꞌUa ꞌite mai ꞌoe ia m?tou You saw us/you have seen us.
  • ꞌOutou you (plural): ꞌA haere atu ꞌoutou, e peꞌe atu vau You (all) go, I will follow;[13] ꞌO ꞌoutou ꞌo vai m? tei haere i te tautai?[14] Who went fishing with you (all)?
  • R?tou they/them: ꞌUa m?r? r?tou ia Teina[15][16] They have quarrelled with Teina; N? r?tou te pupu p?ai aꞌe[17] 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 [6] are:

  • t? t?m?ꞌa nei au - "[present continuous] eat [present continuous] I", "I am eating"
  • ꞌua t?p? vau ꞌi te vahie - "[perfective aspect] chop I [object marker] the wood", "I chopped the wood"
  • ꞌua hohoni hia ꞌoia e te ꞌ?r? - "[perfective aspect] bite [passive voice] he by the dog", "He was bitten by the dog"

[*e mea mar? te haꞌari - "Are thing dry the coconut", "The coconuts are dry"] [*e taꞌata p?ai ꞌoia - "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.[6]:p.9

For example;

  • te fare - the house; te t?ne - the man

The plural of the definite article te is te mau.

For example;

  • te mau fare - the houses; te mau t?ne - the men

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

For example;

  • te taꞌata - can mean the person or the people

Indefinite article


The indefinite article is e

For example;

  • e taꞌata - a person [18]

The article e also introduces an indefinite common noun.

For example;

  • e taꞌata - a person
  • e vahine - a woman
  • e mau vahine - (many) women

In contrast, te h?ꞌ? means a certain. [19]

For example;

  • te h?ꞌ? fare - a certain house


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

For example;

  • ꞌO Tahiti - (It is) Tahiti
  • ꞌO r?tou - (It is) they

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 i teie p?: [20] ""Will sing Mary tonight", "Mary will sing tonight"
  • ꞌua: expresses a finished action, a state different from a preceding state. [21] [ꞌua does not indicate surprise]
ꞌUa riri au : "Angry I", "I am angry" [22]
  • t? ... nei: indicates progressive aspect.
T? tanu nei au i te taro: "planting I [dir. obj. marker] the taro", "I am planting the taro"


E t?ere ana ꞌ?na "Always is late he", "He is always late"
  • i ... nei indicates a finished action or a past state.
ꞌUa f?nau hia ꞌoia 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 ꞌ?na "He just came"
  • ꞌia indicates a wish, desire, supposition, or condition.
ꞌIa vave mai! "Hurry up!"
  • ꞌa indicates a command or obligation.
ꞌA piꞌo ꞌoe i raro! "Bend down!"
  • ꞌeiaha indicates negative imperative.
ꞌEiaha e parau! "Do not speak"
  • ꞌ?hiri, ꞌahani indicates a condition or hypothetical supposition.
ꞌ?hiri te pah? i taꞌahuri, ꞌua pohe pau roa ?a t?tou "If the boat had capsized, we would all be dead"
  • ꞌaita expresses negation.
ꞌAita vau e hoꞌi mai "I will not return"


Common phrases and words

Tahitian English
'Ia ora na hello, greetings
haere mai, maeva, m?nava welcome
p?rahi goodbye
nana bye
'? yes
'aita no
m?uruuru roa thank you very much
m?uruuru thanks
e aha te huru? how are you?
maitaꞌi well, good
maita'i roa very good
t?ne man
vahine woman
fenua land
raꞌi sky
vai water
auahi fire
'amu eat
inu drink
p? night
mahana day/sun
moana ocean, sea
e ua it's raining
ua to'eto'e it's cold
nehenehe beautiful
'ori dance
po'ia hungry
hoa friend
atau right
aui left
ni'a up
raro down
roto in
r?pae out
muri back
ua here au ia 'oe I love you
tumu r?'au tree
a'a root
tumu trunk
'?maꞌa branch
rau'ere leaf
pa'a rind
m?'a hotu fruit
'?rapa square
menemene circle
'?rapa maha roa rectangle
porotoru triangle

Taboo names - piꞌi

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 tiꞌa, because the word was included in the name of king T?-nui-ꞌ?ꞌa-i-te-atua. Likewise fet? (star) has become in Tahiti fetiꞌa and arat? (pillar) became aratiꞌa. 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 ꞌ?ꞌa fell in disuse, replaced by pur?mu or por?mu. Currently ꞌ?ꞌa 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 ruꞌi (currently 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, Papenoꞌo, Papeꞌete
  • moe (sleep) became taꞌoto (the original meaning of which was 'to lie down').

Some of the old words are still used on the Leewards.

See also


  1. ^ Tahitian at Ethnologue (18th ed., 2015)
  2. ^ Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin, eds. (2017). "Tahitian". Glottolog 3.0. Jena, Germany: Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History.
  3. ^ a b Reo M?ꞌohi correspond to "languages of natives from French Polynesia," and may in principle designate any of the seven indigenous languages spoken in French Polynesia. The Tahitian language specifically is called Reo Tahiti (See Charpentier & François 2015: 106).
  4. ^ "Les Langues Polynésiennes". Académie Tahitienne. Retrieved 2010.
  5. ^ See Charpentier & François (2015).
  6. ^ a b Tryon, Darrell T. (1970). Conversational Tahitian. University of California Press. ISBN 9780520016002. Retrieved 2010. Tahitian language.


External links

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