French Polynesia–Language


French is the only official language of French Polynesia, though a 1996 law, which declares French the official language, also says, vaguely, “Tahitian and other Polynesian languages can be used.” As of 2007 about 70% of French Polynesians report that the
language they speak at home is French, while most of the others speak other Polynesian languages, mostly Tahitian, though about 95% of people in French Polynesia reported they could speak, read and write French and only 3/4 had knowledge of any Polynesian language.

Beside French, in the Marquesas Islands people speak one of several Polynesian dialects called Marquesan. The common language of most of the Tuamotus is called Tuamotuan, though in Puka-Puka the main language is Marquesan. In the Gambier Islands people use Mangarevan. In the Australs, the indigenous language of Austral is giving way to Tahitian.

While French is the only official language of Tahiti, most Tahitians speak the indigenous Tahitian language (Reo Tahiti) as well. Until the early 19th century Tahitian was only a spoken language but British missionaries changed that by translating the Bible into Tahitian. The alphabet they developed only has 8 consonants (f, h, m, n, p, r, t, v) and 5 vowels (a, e, i, o, u). Today Tahitian has only about 1,000 words but since the pronunciation and grammar differ from English, learning the language is very hard. Especially challenging to English speakers is the fact that “the glottal stop” occurs very often in Tahitian. (What is a glottal stop and how do you make it? This woman explains it all.) Starting in the 1980s the Tahitian government began to promote learning of Tahitian
alongside French and today both are taught in schools, though the French constitution forbids its territories for having an official language that’s anything other than French.

In Pitcairn, the Pitcairn Islanders, who are the descendants of the Bounty Mutineers, speak both English and Pitkern, which is a creole language that mixes 18th century English and Tahitian. As the Pitcairn Islanders populated the Norfolk islands, and their creole language, Norfuk, is similar to Pitkern.

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