There are about forty Polynesian languages, all of which are part of the Austronesian language family. There are two main branches of Polynesian languages: “Tongic” and “Nuclear Polynesian.” (Don’t you now want nothing more than to learn to speak Nuclear Polynesian?)

The most widely spoken Polynesian languages are Tahitian, Samoan, Tongan, Māori and Hawaiian. Though a speaker of one of these languages wouldn’t be able to completely understand the speaker of another, since these languages only started to diverge about two thousand years ago there are a lot of similarities in grammar and vocabulary.

Each of the main island groups in the region has developed it own Polynesian language, though some are more closely related than others:

— Most Tuvaluans speak TUVALUAN, which is fairly similar to Samoan, and is related to the languages spoken by Polynesian people who happen to live in Melanesia. About 13,000 people worldwide speak Tuvaluan. The main language the island of Nui is similar to Gilbertese, a Micronesian language. English is also an official language of Tuvalu.

— The official languages of Tonga are TONGAN, which has about 125,000 speakers, and English.

— Tokelauans speak English and TOKELAUAN, which is similar to Tuvaluan. There are about 1,500 Tokelauan speakers in Tokelau and nearly 3,000 in New Zealand.

— Samoans speak SAMOAN, which, coincidentally, is fairly similar to Tuvaluan and Tokelauan. Most of the estimated 370,000 Samoan-language speakers live in Samoa, though the majority of the rest live and speak Samoan in New Zealand. English is also an official language in both Independent Samoa and American Samoa.

— The Cook Islands primarily use three languages: MĀORI, English and PUKAPUKAN, which is spoken on Pukapuka (“Danger Island”) and on Nassau, and is more similar to Tokelauan, Tuvaluan and Samoan than to Māori. About 4,000 people speak Pukapukan, most of whom live in New Zealand. (The Marsters of Palmerston speak English, as introduced above.)

On other Polynesian islands people speak a mix of Polynesian languages and English. 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. The Pitcairn Islanders populated the Norfolk islands, and their creole language, NORFUK, is similar to Pitkern. Easter Island (Rapa Nui) is a special territory of Chile, so people not only speak RAPA NUI, also called PASCUAN, but they also speak Spanish.

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