There are twenty Micronesian languages sprinkled across the region–nineteen considered part of the group called “Micronesian Proper” and one that diverges just enough
that it’s separate (Nauruan). For those who give a hoot, these form a distinct group of the Oceanic subgroup of the Austronesian family. Palauan, spoken in Palau, and
Chamorro, spoken in the Northern Marianas and Guam, are also Austronesian languages but are from a different subgroup–if you must know, Western Malayo-Polynesian–and are likely to have come more directly from the Philippines or Indonesia than the others. Here is Ethnologue.com’s language map of the Micronesia.
During World War II the Japanese occupied Micronesia and the Japanese language quickly came to dominate the region; the older generation of Micronesians may still actually be able to converse in Japanese. Today most Micronesians who learn non-Pacific languages choose English.
Even though most Micronesian languages are part of the same family they’re different enough from each other that you can’t just hop from island to island and chat.
The languages have different vocabularies to be sure, as well as different grammatical nuances and other defining characteristics well worth mentioning. For example,
Chuukese is particularly tricky because, according to Alpha Omega Translations, “[it] is a very poetic language, rich with idioms and a flare for the dramatic. Chuukese phrases such as ‘You don’t love me anymore’ might take on an almost Shakespearian form: ‘You have flown away from me on swift wings'”
If you want to speak Yapese you should most definitely practice your “glottal stop.” What is a glottal stop? The glottal stop is a kind of sound used in many spoken languages that is produced by temporarily and quickly stopping the airflow in the vocal tract. How do you do it? Watch this YouTube video about glottal stops and you will know all. (There are actually a lot of languages worldwide that use the glottal stop.)
[wpspoiler name=”What’s the deal with all those apostrophes? Master the glottal stop” open=”true”][/wpspoiler]
In Yapese, words that begin with a vowel, for the most part, start with a glottal stop. Vowels that appear in a word next to each other have a glottal stop between them. There are also words with glottal stops at the end. Before the 1970s if we’re writing a Yapese word with a glottal stop you would either double the final vowel letter, if you’re talking about an end-of-the-word glottal stop, or with an apostrophe if you’re referring to a “glottalization” of consonants. Nowadays you’d more likely use double vowel letters to indicate long vowels and the letter “q” to represent a glottal stop.[/wpspoiler]
If you want to hear some Marshallese, check out the U.S./Marshallese Embassy’s “Marshallese phrasebook,” which gives a few examples of Marshallese words accompanied by audio clips. You can hear the Marshallese equivalent of helpful phases such as:
— What is your name?: Etam? (listen)
— Where are you going? Kwoj etal nan ia? (listen)
— I’m hungry: IkwÃ¶le (listen), and
— Thank you very much: Kommol tata (listen)
By the way, the Marshallese Embassy’s website lets us know that, “Rainbows are a common sight in Majuro. Local legend tells that the expression “iaKwe!” (You are a rainbow) once developed into the traditional Marshallese greeting, ‘Iokwe yuk,’ which means ‘Love to You.'” Kudos to any nation whose language includes a common
expression that translates as “You are a rainbow.”
Want to learn how to speak Gilbertese? Try this guide based on the Peace Corps’ Volunteers “how to speak Gilbertese” handbook. The guide not only helps you with the
standard situation such as hellos and goodbyes, but it also tells you what to say when you’re invited to speak at the village meeting house and even suggests how you might catch and salt an ikarii, the all-important “bony-fish.”
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