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Polynesian Migrations

Isles of Hiva: Language

Illustration right: Tatoo Design



tatoo designThe Marquesan language has been grouped under the category Proto Central Eastern Polynesian, along with, among others, Hawaiian, Tahitian, Tuamotuan, Rarotongan, and Maori. The people who speak these languages are also physically and culturally related, having migrated into the Pacific from a homeland in Western Polynesia.

Some scholars believe that the Marquesan language, or more specifically the dialect of the Southern Marquesan Islands (Hiva Oa, Tahuata, Fatu Hiva), is the closest relative of Hawaiian language (Green 1966); and that this suggests that the first Hawaiians came predominantly from the southern Marquesas (K.P. Emory 1978). While this suggestion is no longer held with certainty, the close relationship between Marquesan and Hawaiian is evident from a comparison of vocabularies:

Haw / Marq-So. / Marq-No. / Gloss

inoa / inoa / ikoa / name

mano / mano / mako / shark

moena / moena / moeka / mat

one / one / oke / hunger

[From "Lexical Diffusion in Polynesia and the Marquesan-Hawaiian Relationship," Samuel H. Elbert, Journal of the Polynesian Society, 91 (4) December 1982, 505.]

About 56% of basic words in the two languages are the same or similar.

Hawaiian and Marquesan also share words that are not found in other Polynesians languages:

Hawaiian / Marquesan / Gloss

'elele / ke'e'e / messanger

makali / mata'i / tie bait to hook (Haw); string to tie bait a hook (Marq.)

pa'akai / pa'atai / salt

[For a longer list of words, see Elbert's "Lexical Diffusion in Polynesia and the Marquesan-Hawaiian Relationship," 510-511.]

The two languages also share unique sound changes from the Proto Central Eastern Polynesian (the hypothetical original language). Elbert concludes that the linguistic evidence supports the hypothesis of archaeologists that the Hawaiian language derives fr om Marquesan (511). Although this does not prove that the first Hawaiians came from the Marquesas or that only Marquesans settled Hawai'i, it does seem to support the hypothesis that early settlers of Hawai'i came predominantly from the Marquesas.

[No grammar or dictionary of the Marquesan langugae is available in English; a French grammar of Marquesan, Introduction a la Langue des Iles Marquises was published in Tahiti 1987.]