Marquesan language

ʻEo ʻenata (North Marquesan)
ʻEo ʻenana (South Marquesan)
Region Marquesas Islands, Tahiti
Native speakers
8,700 (2007 census)[1]
Language codes
ISO 639-3 Either:
mrq  North Marquesan
mqm  South Marquesan
Glottolog nort2845  (North)[2]
sout2866  (South)[3]

Marquesan is a collection of East-Central Polynesian dialects, of the Marquesic group, spoken in the Marquesas Islands of French Polynesia. They are usually classified into two groups, North Marquesan and South Marquesan, roughly along geographic lines.[4]


The most striking feature of the Marquesan languages is their almost universal replacement of the /r/ or /l/ of other Polynesian languages by a /ʔ/ (glottal stop).[5]

Like other Polynesian languages, the phonology of Marquesan languages is characterized by a scarcity of consonants and a comparative abundance of vowels. The consonant phonemes are:

Labial Alveolar Velar Glottal
Plosive p t k ʔ
Fricative f v h
Nasal m n ŋ
Liquid r

Of this small number of consonants, /ŋ/ is found only in eastern Nuku Hiva (Tai Pi Marquesan), and /f/ is found only in South Marquesan dialects. In writing, the phoneme /ŋ/ is represented by n(g), and /ʔ/ is represented as ʻ.

Unlike Samoan, the /ŋ/ is not an isolated nasal: it is found only in conjunction with a following /k/. So, whereas the Samoan word for "bay" is faga, pronounced [ˈfa.ŋa], it is hanga in Tai Pi Marquesan, and is pronounced /ˈha.ŋka/. (This word is useful to demonstrate one of the more predictable regular consonantal differences between the northern and southern dialects: in North Marquesan, the word is haka, and in South Marquesan, it is hana).

The letter h is used to represent a wide range of sounds. It is sometimes realised phonetically as [h], and sometimes [s] or [x], depending on the following vowel.

The vowel phonemes are the same as in other Polynesian languages, long and short versions of each:

Front Central Back
Long Short Long Short Long Short
High i: i u: u
Mid e: e o: o
Low a: a


Verbal particles are placed before the verb they modify.[6]

Verbal Phrase[7]
Verbal Particles example example in a sentence
past i i ui (asked) te mehai i iu (the youth asked)
present te...nei te maakau nei (think) te maakau nei au i tuu kui (I think of my mother)
perfective u\ua u hanau (was born) u hanau au i Hakehatau (I was born at Hakehatau)
imperfective e e hee (going) e hee koe i hea (where are you going?)
inceptive atahi a atahi a kai (then they eat) iu pao taia, atahi a kai (...when finish that, then do they eat)
imperative a a hee! (go!) a hee io te tante (go to the doctor!)

A noun phrase in Marquesan is any phrase beginning with either a case marker or a determiner. Case markers or prepositions always precede the determiners, which in turn precede the number markers. As such, they all precede the noun they modify.[8]

Nominal Phrase Markers[8]
Articles Demonstratives Other
definite singular te/t- this tenei a certain titahi
indefinite e/he that tena other tahipito
dual/ paucal definite na that tea
anaphoric hua
Nominal Number Markers[7] Number Markers
dual mou
dual/paucal mau
plural tau

There are 11 personal pronouns which are distinguished by singular, dual, and plural. As well as that, there are two other personal pronouns which distinguish possession.[9]

Pronoun Singular Dual/Paucal Plural Possession au/-ʻu tuʻu
1.inclusive taua tatou
1.exclusive maua mataou koe koʻua kotou to ia ʻaua ʻatou

Dialect diversity

North Marquesan is found in the northern islands, and South Marquesan in the southern islands, as well as on Ua Huka in the northern Marquesas. Comparative data on the various dialects of Marquesan can be found in the Linguistic Atlas of French Polynesia (Charpentier & François 2015).[5]

The most noticeable differences between the varieties are Northern Marquesan /k/ in some words where South Marquesan has /n/ or /ʔ/ (glottal stop), and /h/ in all words where South Marquesan has /f/. For example,

North South
haka fana "bay"
haʻe faʻe "house"
koe ʻoe "you" (singular)
Ua Huka Ua Huna (the island)

The northern dialects fall roughly into four groups:

Tai Pi, spoken in the eastern third of Nuku Hiva, and according to some linguists, a separate language, Tai Pi Marquesan
Teiʻi, spoken in western Nuku Hiva
Eastern Ua Pu
Western Ua Pu

The southern dialects fall roughly into three groups:

Pepane: Eastern Hiva ʻOa and Ua Huka
Fatu Hiva
Nuku: Western Hiva ʻOa and Tahuata

North Marquesan exhibits some original characteristics. While some Polynesian languages maintained the velar nasal /ŋ/, many have lost the distinction between the nasals /ŋ/ and /n/, merging both into /n/. North Marquesan, like South Island Māori dialects of New Zealand, prefers /k/. Another feature is that, while some Polynesian languages replace *k with /ʔ/, North Marquesan has retained it. (Tahitian and formal Samoan have no /k/ whatsoever, and the /k/ in modern Hawaiian is pronounced either [k] or [t] and derives from Polynesian *t.)

The dialects of Ua Huka are often incorrectly classified as North Marquesan; they are instead transitional. While the island is in the northern Marquesas group, the dialects show more morphological and phonological affinities with South Marquesan. The North Marquesan dialects are sometimes considered two separate languages: North Marquesan and Tai Pi Marquesan, the latter being spoken in the valleys of the eastern third of the island of Nuku Hiva, in the ancient province of Tai Pi. Puka-Pukan, spoken in Puka-Puka and the Disappointment Islands in northeastern Tuamotu, is a dialect of South Marquesan, and should not be confused with the homonymous Pukapukan language spoken in Pukapuka, one of the Cook Islands.



  1. North Marquesan at Ethnologue (18th ed., 2015)
    South Marquesan at Ethnologue (18th ed., 2015)
  2. Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin; Bank, Sebastian, eds. (2016). "North Marquesan". Glottolog 2.7. Jena: Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History.
  3. Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin; Bank, Sebastian, eds. (2016). "South Marquesan". Glottolog 2.7. Jena: Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History.
  4. See Charpentier & François (2015).
  5. 1 2 For regular sound correspondences between Marquesan dialects and other Polynesian languages, see Charpentier & François (2015), p.93.
  6. Margaret Mutu & Ben Teìkitutoua (2002), p. 38
  7. 1 2 Margaret Mutu & Ben Teìkitutoua (2002), p. 40
  8. 1 2 Margaret Mutu & Ben Teìkitutoua (2002), p. 72
  9. Gabriele H. Cablitz (2006), p. 100
  10. Gabriele H. Cablitz (2006), p. 101
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