languages of French Polynesia are French and Tahitian. Each island group
has its own language, e.g. Tuamotuan in the Tuamotus and Marquesan in
These languages, together with Tahitian, are East Polynesian languages
and members of the vast Austronesian language family.
Tahitian's closest relatives include Hawaiian, Maori, Marquesan and
Tuamotuan; other Polynesian languages such as Samoan and Tongan are
also quite closely related. The relationship of these Polynesian languages
to many Micronesian and Melanesian languages, such as Fijian, is more
remote but still evident, as is the affiliation of all the above to
the enormous Austronesian (or "Malayo-Polynesian") language
family which encompasses most languages of Oceania, Indonesia (e.g.
Malay), the Philippines (e.g. Tagalog), Madagascar (Malagasy) and Taiwan,
which together number in the thousands, making this one of the world's
most important language families.
of the way the Tahitian language is pronounced, it is generally easier
for Americans to pronounce Tahitian words than it is for them to pronounce
words in French. Unlike French or English, there are no confusing rules
about how words are pronounced. In Tahitian, each letter has a certain
sound and that sound remains the same, no matter what the combination
Before the arrival of the missionaries in the 1700's, the Tahitian language
had never been written. The missionaries took the sounds of the language
and matched them to letters in our alphabet. As a result, only 16 letters
are used: five vowels, A, E, I, O, U; and eleven consonants, B, F, G,
H, K, M, N, P, R, T, V.
follow these rules for pronunciation:
ah as in father
ay as in may
ee as in be
oh as in no
oo as in rude
the consonants is that same as for English.
Every syllable in the Tahitian language ends in a vowel. There are no
silent letters. There are never two consonants together without a vowel
between them, but it is quite common for 2 or 3 vowels to be grouped
together. In this case, each vowel would be a separate syllable and
would be clearly pronounced. There are times when it sounds as though
each syllable isn't being pronounced for some words because, as in most
languages, syllables are frequently slurred together.
The only difficult part of pronunciation in Tahitian is the glottal
catch. This is when two vowels are separated by an apostrophe, such
as in the name of the town, Faa'a. It is the only characteristic
that people seem to have trouble with. But it is an important characteristic,
because the break can change the meaning of a word entirely.
Take, for example, the Tahitian word hoe, which means paddle
or row. By adding an apostrophe, ho'e, the word becomes
one, as in the number. Hoe would be smoothly pronounced
ho-ay. Ho'e would be pronounced the same
way, phonetically, but with a hesitation after the first syllable, kind
of like having someone lightly punch you in the stomach at the end of
Another aspect of the language comes from the early contact with the
missionaries. There are many Tahitian words that sound very similar
to English, such as Tenuare, pronounced ten-oo-ah-ray,
which means January, or Fepuare (feh-poo-ah-ray),
which is February.