French Polynesia is a group of 121 islands and atolls in the South Pacific Ocean. Officially, it’s an overseas collectivity of France. The islands are renowned for their beautiful beaches, clear blue water and vibrant culture. And what makes French Polynesian culture so vibrant? Well, it may have something to do with the wide array of languages spoken by its people. On that note, let’s tour the different languages spoken in French Polynesia, with a special focus on their history in relation to the islands.
Learn languages at your pace
As you might imagine, the only official language of French Polynesia is French. This was written into the law in 1996. A 2017 census revealed that over 70% of the French Polynesian population (ages 15 and older) speaks French at home. An even greater portion (95.2%) can speak, read and write in French. It’s hardly surprising, then, that French is the language most used in school, though it’s sometimes used alongside Tahitian and English.
According to that same 2017 census, the next most-spoken language in French Polynesia is Tahitian. This comes as no surprise, as Tahiti is by far the most populated island in French Polynesia, accounting for 68.7% of the population. Up until the end of the 18th century, this indigenous language was only spoken and had no written counterpart. That eventually changed when foreign missionaries decided to translate the Bible into Tahitian in 1797.
The Tahitian language is not quite as expansive as some other languages, with only five vowels, nine consonants and a vocabulary of around 1,000 words. But that doesn’t mean it’s easy to learn! One of the trickiest parts for foreigners learning this French Polynesian language is the glottal stop, which is usually marked with an apostrophe.
Today, both French and Tahitian are taught in schools on the island. If you’re planning a holiday to Tahiti, it’s a great idea to learn some basic words and phrases.
|La ora na||Hello|
Other languages you may come across in French Polynesia include Paumotu, spoken primarily in the Tuamotu Archipelago, and Marquesan, spoken in the Marquesas Islands. Although the origins of these languages trace back to Polynesian, they still maintain their own unique characteristics and variations.
Mangarevan and Tuamotuan are two other languages used in French Polynesia, although they are less widely spoken than Tahitian, Paumotu and Marquesan. Mangarevan is spoken on the Gambier Islands, while Tuamotuan is spoken primarily in the Tuamotu Archipelago.
Given that French Polynesia is a popular tourist destination, locals also learn English in school as a third language. Any resident who wishes to work in hotels, for example, will be required to speak basic English to be able to communicate with guests.
A beautiful array of languages
French Polynesia has a range of languages and dialects that reflect the rich linguistic heritage of the area, as well as its diverse cultural influences. French may be the only official language, but if you head over for a visit, you’ll quickly learn the importance of languages in French Polynesia. Here, locals don’t simply see language as a tool for communicating — in many cases, it is woven into the fabric of their cultural identity.