Proto-Polynesian language

Proto-Polynesian (abbreviated PPn) is the hypothetical proto-language from which all the modern Polynesian languages descend. It is a daughter language of the Proto-Austronesian language. Historical linguists have reconstructed the language using the comparative method, in much the same manner as with Proto-Indo-European and Proto-Uralic. This same method has also been used to support the archaeological and ethnographic evidence which indicates that the ancestral homeland of the people who spoke Proto-Polynesian was in the vicinity of Tonga, Samoa, and nearby islands.[1]


The phonology of Proto-Polynesian is very simple, with 13 consonants and 5 vowels. Note that *q in Proto-Polynesian most probably was a glottal stop [ʔ].


Bilabial Alveolar Velar Glottal
Voiceless stop *p *t *k *q
Nasal *m *n
Fricative *s *h
Trill *r
Lateral *l
Glide *w


Proto-Polynesian had five simple vowels, /a/ /e/ /i/ /o/ /u/, with no length distinction. In a number of daughter languages, successive sequences of vowels came together to produce long vowels and diphthongs, and in some languages these sounds later became phonemic.[2]

Sound correspondences

Proto-Polynesian *p *t *k *q *m *n *w *s *h *l *r
Tongan p t k ʔ m n ŋ v f h l Ø
Niuean Ø
Niuafoʻou?? ʔ/Ø h h/Ø l/Ø
Proto-Nuclear-Polynesian *p *t *k *m *n *w *f *s *l
Sāmoan p t~k ʔ Ø m n ŋ v f s Ø l
East Futunan t k ʔ/Ø
Tikopian Ø ɾ
Nukuoroan h l
Proto-Eastern-Polynesian *p *t *k *ʔ/Ø *m *n *w *f *h *l
Rapa Nui p t k ʔ/Ø m n ŋ v v/h h Ø ɾ
MVA, Rarotongan Ø ʔ/v ʔ
Tuamotuan f/h/v h
Māori w ɸ/h
Tahitian ʔ ʔ v f/v/h
N. Marquesan k k h ʔ
S. Marquesan ʔ n f/h
Hawaiian k w h/w l


The following is a table of some sample vocabulary as it is represented orthographically in various languages.[3] All instances of <ʻ> represent a glottal stop, IPA /ʔ/. All instances of 'ng' and Samoan 'g' represent the single phoneme /ŋ/. The letters 'r' in all cases represents voiced alveolar tap /ɾ/, not /r/.

Polynesian vocabulary
Proto-Polynesian Tongan Niuean Sāmoan Rapa Nui Tahitian Māori Rarotongan S. Marquesan Hawaiian English
*taŋata tangata tangata tagata tangata ta'ata tangata tangata ʻenata kanaka man
*sina hina hina sina hina hinahina hina ʻina hina grey-haired
*kanahe kanahe kanahe ʻanae 'anae kanae kanae ʻanae mullet
*tiale siale tiale tiale tiare tiare tīare tiare kiele flower
*waka vaka vaka vaʻa vaka va'a waka vaka vaka waʻa canoe
*ɸaɸine fafine fifine fafine vi'e/vahine vahine wahine vaʻine vehine wahine woman
*matuqa mātu'a motua matua matuʻa metua matua metua, matua motua makua parent
*rua ua ua lua rua rua [4] rua rua ʻua lua two
*tolu tolu tolu tolu toru toru toru toru toʻu kolu three

See also


  1. ^ Kirch, Patrick Vinton; Roger Green (2001). Hawaiki, Ancestral Polynesia: An Essay in Historical Anthropology. Cambridge University Press. pp. 99–119. ISBN 978-0-521-78309-5.
  2. ^ Rolle, Nicholas (2009). "The Phonetic Nature of Niuean Vowel Length". Toronto Working Papers in Linguistics (TWPL): 31.
  3. ^ Hockett, C.K. (May 1976), "The Reconstruction of Proto Central Pacific", Anthropological Linguistics, 18 (5): 187–235
  4. ^ Archaic: the modern Tahitian word for two is piti, due to the practice of pi'i among Tahitians, a form of linguistic taboo. However, the cognate remains in the second-person dual pronounʻōrua, roughly translated you two.
Ghosts in Polynesian culture

There was widespread belief in ghosts in Polynesian culture, some of which persists today.

After death, a person's ghost would normally travel to the sky world or the underworld, but some could stay on earth. In many Polynesian legends, ghosts were often involved in the affairs of the living. Ghosts might also cause sickness or even invade the body of ordinary people, to be driven out through strong medicines.

List of proto-languages

Below is a list of proto-languages that have been reconstructed, ordered by geographic location.

Mele-Fila language

Mele-Fila (Ifira-Mele) is a Polynesian language spoken in Mele and Ifira on the island of Efate in Vanuatu. In spite of their differences, Mele and Fila are two dialects of the same language and are mutually intelligible. French and English are also fairly common among the residents of Efate.Mele-Fila is an everyday language for residents of Mele village and Fila Island. Mele village, with a population of 1,000, is located roughly 7 km north-west of Port Vila, the nation’s capital. Fila Island, with a population of 400, is located about 1.5km west of Vila.

Māori phonology

Māori phonology is typical for Polynesian languages, its phonetic inventory is one of the smallest in the world with considerable variation in realisation. The Māori language retains the Proto-Polynesian syllable structure: (C)V(V(V)), with no closed syllables. The stress pattern is unpredictable unlike many other Polynesian languages.

Polynesian languages

The Polynesian languages form a language family spoken in geographical Polynesia and on a patchwork of outliers from south central Micronesia to small islands off the northeast of the larger islands of the southeast Solomon Islands and sprinkled through Vanuatu. Linguistic taxonomists classify them as a subgroup of the much larger and more varied Austronesian family, belonging to the Oceanic branch of that family.There are approximately forty Polynesian languages. The most prominent of these are Tahitian, Samoan, Tongan, Māori and Hawaiian. As humans first settled the Polynesian islands relatively recently and because internal linguistic diversification only began around 2,000 years ago, the Polynesian languages retain strong commonalities. There are still many cognate words across the different islands, for example: tapu, ariki, motu, kava, and tapa as well as Hawaiki, the mythical homeland for some of the cultures.

All Polynesian languages show strong similarity, particularly in vocabulary. The vowels are often stable in the descendant languages, nearly always a, e, i, o and u. Consonant changes tend to be quite regular. The legendary homeland of many Polynesian peoples, reconstructed as *sawaiki, appears as Hawaiki among the Māori of New Zealand with s replaced by h; but 'Avaiki in the Cook Islands with s replaced by the glottal stop, and w by v; as Hawai'i, the name of the largest island in the Hawaiian Islands, with s replaced by h, and k by the glottal stop; as Savai'i, the largest island in Samoa, with w replaced by v, and k by the glottal stop; and as Havai'i in the Society Islands with s replaced by h, w replaced by v, and k by the glottal stop.

Proto-Austronesian language

The Proto-Austronesian language (PAN) is the reconstructed ancestor of the Austronesian languages, one of the world's major language families.

Lower-level reconstructions have also been made, and include Proto-Malayo-Polynesian, Proto-Oceanic, and Proto-Polynesian. Recently, linguists such as Malcolm Ross and Andrew Pawley have built large lexicons for Proto-Oceanic and Proto-Polynesian.

Proto-Malayo-Polynesian language

The Proto-Malayo-Polynesian language (PMP) is the reconstructed ancestor of the Malayo-Polynesian languages, which is by far the largest branch (by current speakers) of the Austronesian language family. Proto-Malayo-Polynesian is ancestral to all Austronesian languages spoken outside Taiwan, as well as the Yami language on Taiwan's Orchid Island. The first systematic reconstruction of Proto-Austronesian (="Uraustronesisch") by Otto Dempwolff was based on evidence from languages outside of Taiwan, and was therefore actually the first reconstruction of what is now known as Proto-Malayo-Polynesian.

Proto-Oceanic language

Proto-Oceanic (abbr. POc) is a proto-language that language comparatists since Otto Dempwolff have proposed as the probable common ancestor to the group of Oceanic languages. Proto-Oceanic is itself an Austronesian language and so therefore a descendant of the Proto-Austronesian language (PAN), the common ancestor of the Austronesian languages.

Proto-Oceanic was probably spoken about 4200 years ago, in the Bismarck Archipelago, east of Papua New Guinea. Archaeologists and linguists currently agree that its community more or less coincides with the Lapita culture.

Proto-Philippine language

The Proto-Philippine language is a reconstructed ancestral proto-language of the Philippine languages, a proposed subgroup of the Austronesian languages which includes all languages within the Philippines (except for the Sama–Bajaw languages) as well as those within the northern portions of Sulawesi in Indonesia. Proto-Philippine is not directly attested to in any written work, but linguistic reconstruction by the comparative method has found regular similarities among languages that cannot be explained by coincidence or word-borrowing.

Sikaiana language

Sikaiana is a Polynesian language, spoken by about 730 people on Sikaiana in the Solomon Islands.



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