The Central Pacific languages
Green is East Fijian, pink is West Fijian – Rotuman, and ocher Polynesian (not shown: Rapa Nui)
The Polynesian languages are a language family spoken in geographical Polynesia as well as 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 sprinked through Vanuatu. They are classified as part of the Austronesian family, belonging to the Oceanic branch of that family. Polynesians share many unique cultural traits which resulted from about 1000 years of common development, including common linguistic development, in the Tonga and Samoa area through most of the first millennium BC.
There are approximately forty Polynesian languages. The most prominent of these are Tahitian, Samoan, Tongan, Māori and Hawaiian. Because the Polynesian islands were settled relatively recently and because internal linguistic diversification only began around 2,000 years ago, their languages retain strong commonalities.
A general subgrouping based on the application of the comparative method of historical linguistics presently results in the following simplified classification dating in its broad outlines from the 1960s:
- Nuclear Polynesian
- Futunic Outliers
History of classification
||The neutrality of this section is disputed. (August 2012)|
The contemporary classification of the Polynesian languages began with certain observations by Andrew Pawley in 1966 based on shared innovations in phonology, vocabulary and grammar showing that the East Polynesian languages were more closely related to Samoan than they were to Tongan, calling Tongan and its nearby relative Niuean "Tongic" and Samoan and all other Polynesian languages of the study "Nuclear Polynesian".
This was a surprise because previously there had been only lexicostatistical studies, which squarely suggested a "West Polynesian" group composed of at least Tongan and Samoan and that an "East Polynesian" group was equally distant from both Tongan and Samoan. Lexicostatistics is a tool that [clarify] linguistic relations through the comparative method of historical linguistics (identification of demonstrable shared innovations) but only 100 or 200 words from Swadesh lists are used and since Pawley's 1966 publication, teasing out the ancient relationships of the Polynesian languages [clarify] and the proofs of shared innovations.
The second such study was published more or less immediately (1967) and was again by Pawley. It began the process of teasing out the relations of Polynesian languages on small islands in Melanesia, the "Polynesian Outliers", which Pawley was able to trace to East Futuna in the case of those farther south and perhaps to Samoa itself in the case of those more to the north.
Then came, but for small twigging of the East Polynesian tree, a hiatus spanning most of twenty years until Wilson published a study of Polynesian pronominal systems in 1985 suggesting that there was a special relationship between the East Polynesian languages and all other Nuclear Polynesian but for Futunic, and calling that extra-Futunic group the "Ellicean languages". Furthermore, East Polynesian was found to more likely have emerged out of extra-Samoan Ellicean than out of Samoa itself, an astonishing suggestion given the long assumption of a Samoan homeland for the origins of East Polynesian speech. Wilson named this new group "Ellicean" after the pre-independence name of Tuvalu and presented fine-grained evidence for subgroups within that overarching category.
Marck, in 2000, was able to offer some support for some aspects of Wilson's suggestion through comparisons of shared sporadic (irregular, unexpected) sound changes, e.g. Proto Polynesian and Proto Nuclear Polynesian *mafu 'to heal' becoming Proto Ellicean *mafo. This was made possible by the massive Polynesian language comparative lexicon ("Pollex" - with reconstructions) of Biggs and Clark.
Despite the relative low number of Polynesian languages, and the relative abundance of data already available on many of them, the comparative method was often reduced to comparisons of vocabulary, its shared sporadic sound changes and, as Wilson did in 1985, comparison of pronominal systems which is perhaps the second most commonly described aspect of "minor" languages often available for comparison after the lexicostatistical lists. Now Wilson has a forthcoming work providing further evidence of fine grained subgroups within Ellicean and a consideration of other recent work on the matter of Ellicean internal relations. Wilson's forthcoming work brings the matter to the approximate limits of current data available, incorporating much data unknown to most other researchers.
Returning to lexicostatistics, it must be emphasised that the method does not make the best possible use of its short word lists of 100 or 200 words. Dyen's massive lexicostatistical study of Austronesian, for instance, showed a great deal of (lexicostatistical) diversity in the Austronesian languages of Western Melanesia. This was sometimes on par with the lexicostatistical distance of Taiwan Austronesian languages from other Austronesian including Taiwan Austronesian languages from each other (Taiwan now definitively known to be the homeland of the language family itself). But the low lexicostatistical agreement of many Western Melanesian Oceanic languages with other Oceanic Austronesian can be easily dismissed as of little subgrouping interest because those languages are nevertheless full of diagnostic innovations of Oceanic Austronesian in their sound systems and vocabulary, including many Oceanic lexical innovations found in the 100 and 200 lexicostatistical word lists (and the deadly conclusive evidence of the shared phonological innovations of those low-scoring groups with all other Oceanic Austronesian). The Western Oceanic Melanesian "diversity" of lexicostatistical studies was never of any interest in terms of attributing any special time depth or subgrouping significance to it. They are just languages with accelerated loss of vocabulary, sometimes, in the Westerm Oceanic case, because they involve certain more ancient peoples of the region shifting to Oceanic speech after Oceanic-speaking peoples arrived.
These kinds of problems with lexicostatistics are addressed by Russell Gray and Simon Greenhill at the Department of Psychology, University of Auckland. Their work involves computational phylogenetic methods applied to lexicon and, mainly by others, cultural evolution. Their methods put a slightly expanded 200 word lexicostatistical list to much better use[peacock term] than lexicostatistics' simple cognate counting, following phylogenies of individual words and seeking best fits across the phylogenies of each of the 200+ words across all the languages under study. Their 2008 analysis of the 'Austronesian Basic Vocabulary Database' began to develop about 20 years ago as a special project of theirs working from - then outwards from - Biggs' Pollex. The 2008 computer run supported East Polynesian and some of the other groups, including Tongic, Nuclear Polynesian and Ellicean, an otherwise elusive grouping pursued only through Wilson's trenchant work with other kinds of the very limited data available.
Considering only groupings supported to 90% probability, the language groupings proposed by Gray and Greenhill are:
- Ellicean–East Polynesian
- Pileni (and Taumako; on the Reef Islands in the Solomons)
- Futuna-Aniwan or West Futunan (Futuna Island, Vanuatu)
In addition, data weakly supported the Futunic languages as a group. Not included in the database were Niuafoʻouan and Pukapukan. The procedure "wrongly" groups Tikopian with Ellicean, the only matter at variance with the comparative method of historical linguistics. This raises the question of undetected borrowings from Ellicean into Tikopean or vice versa.
Partly because Polynesian languages split from one another comparatively recently, many words in these languages remain similar to corresponding words in others. The table below demonstrates this with the words for 'sky', 'north wind', 'woman', 'house' and 'parent' in a representative selection of languages: Tongan; Niuean; Samoan; Sikaiana; Takuu; Rapanui language; Tahitian; Cook Islands Māori (Rarotongan); Māori; North Marquesan; South Marquesan; Hawaiian and Mangarevan.
|Tongan||Niuean||Samoan||Sikaiana||Takuu||Rapanui||Tahitian||Rarotongan||Māori||North Marquesan||South Marquesan||Hawaiian||Mangarevan|
Certain regular correspondences can be noted between different Polynesian languages. For example, the Māori sounds /k/, /ɾ/, /t/, and /ŋ/ correspond to /ʔ/, /l/, /k/, and /n/ in Hawaiian. Accordingly, "man" is tangata in Māori and kanaka in Hawaiian, and Māori roa "long" corresponds to Hawaiian loa. The famous Hawaiian greeting aloha corresponds to Māori aroha, "love, tender emotion." Similarly, the Hawaiian word for kava is ʻawa.
Similarities in basic vocabulary may allow speakers from different island groups to achieve a surprising degree of understanding of each other's speech. When a particular language shows unexpectedly large divergence in vocabulary, this may be the result of a name-avoidance taboo situation – see examples in Tahitian, where this has happened often.
Many Polynesian languages have been greatly affected by European colonization. Both Māori and Hawaiian, for example, have lost much ground to English, and only in the last twenty years have they made progress towards restoration.
In general, Polynesian languages have three numbers for pronouns and possessives: singular, dual and plural. For example in Māori: ia (he/she), rāua (they two), rātou (they 3 or more). The words rua (2) and toru (3) are still discernible in endings of the dual and plural pronouns, giving the impression that the plural was originally a trial, and that an original plural has disappeared. Polynesian languages have four distinctions in pronouns and possessives: first exclusive, first inclusive, second and third. For example in Māori, the plural pronouns are: mātou (we, exc), tātou (we, inc), koutou (you), rātou (they). The difference between exclusive and inclusive is the treatment of the person addressed. Mātou refers to the speaker and others but not the person or persons spoken to (i.e., "I and some others, but not you"), while tātou refers to the speaker, the person or persons spoken to, and everyone else (i.e., "You and I and others").
a and o possession
Many Polynesian languages distinguish two possessives. The a-possessives (as they contain that letter in most cases), also known as subjective possessives, refer to possessions which must be acquired by one's own action (alienable possession). The o-possessives or objective possessives refer to possessions which are fixed to you, unchangeable, and do not necessitate any action on your part (but upon which actions can still be performed by others) (inalienable possession). Some words can take either form, often with a difference in meaning. One example is the Samoan word susu which takes the o-possessive in lona susu (her breast) and the a-possessive in lana susu (her breastmilk). Compare also the particles used in the names of two of the books of the Māori Bible: Te Pukapuka a Heremaia (The Book of Jeremiah) with Te Pukapuka o Hōhua (The Book of Joshua); the former belongs to Jeremiah in the sense that he was the author, while the Book of Joshua was written by someone else about Joshua.
Most Polynesian languages have five vowel qualities, corresponding roughly to those written i, e, a, o, u in classical Latin. In the tradition of orthographies of languages they were familiar with the missionaries who first developed orthographies for unwritten Polynesian languages did not explicitly mark phonemic vowel length or the glottal stop. By the time that linguists trained in more modern methods made their way to the Pacific, at least for the major languages, the Bible was already printed according to the orthographic system developed by the missionaries, and the people had learned to read and write without marking vowel length or the glottal stop.
This situation persists in many languages. Despite efforts of local academies at reform the general conservative resistance to orthographic change has led to varying results in the languages, and several writing systems co-exist. The most common method, however, is the one where a macron is used to indicate a long vowel, while a vowel without that accent is short, for example, ā versus a. The glottal stop (not present in all Polynesian languages, but where present it is one of the most common consonants) is indicated by an apostrophe, for example, 'a versus a. This is somewhat of an anomaly as the apostrophe is most often used to represent letters which have been omitted, while the glottal stop is rather a consonant which is not written. The problem can somewhat be alleviated by changing the simple apostrophe for a curly one, taking a normal apostrophe for the elision and the inverted comma for the glottal stop. The latter method has come into common use in Polynesian languages.
- Pawley, Andrew, 1966, Polynesian languages: a subgrouping based upon shared innovations. Journal of the Polynesian Society 75:39-64.
- Pawley, Andrew, 1967, The relationships of Polynesian Outlier languages. Journal of the Polynesian Society 76:259-296.
- Wilson, William H., 1985, Evidence for an Outlier source for the Proto Eastern Polynesian pronominal system. Oceanic Linguistics 24:85-133.
- Marck, Jeff (2000), Topics in Polynesian languages and culture history. Canberra: Pacific Linguistics.
- Wilson, William H. (forthcoming) Whence the East Polynesians? Further linguistic evidence for a Northern Outlier Source. Oceanic Linguistics.
- Elbert, Samuel H., 1953, Internal relationships of Polynesian languages and dialects. Southwestern Journal of Anthropology 9:147-173.
- Emory, Kenneth P., 1963, East Polynesian relationships: settlement pattern and time involved as indicated by vocabulary agreements. Journal of the Polynesian Society 72:78-100.
- Biggs, Bruce (1990, 1991, 1992, 1993, 1994) and Bruce Biggs and Ross Clark (1996), Pollex: Comparative Polynesian Lexicon (computer data base). Auckland: Department of Anthropology, University of Auckland.
- E.g., Kirch, Patrick Vinton and Roger Green (2001) Hawaiki, Ancestral Polynesia: An Essay in Historical Anthropology. Cambridge University Press. Cambridge.
Pawley, Andrew (2009) Polynesian paradoxes: subgroups, wave models and the dialect geography of Proto Polynesian. Unpublished paper delivered at the 11th International Conference on Austronesian Linguistics. Aussois, France.
- Dyen, Isidore, 1965. A Lexicostatistical classification of the Austronesian languages. International Journal of American Linguistics (Memoir 19).
- Ross, Malcolm, 2008. The integrity of the Austronesian language family: from Taiwan to Oceania, in Alicia Sanchez-Mazas, Roger Blench, Malcolm D. Ross, Ilia Peiros and Marie Lin (ed.), Past Human Migrations in East Asia: Matching archaeology, linguistics and genetics, Routledge, Taylor & Francis Group, Great Britain, pp. 161-181.
- Indeed Fijian, a language closely related to Polynesian, has singular, dual, trial, and plural; and even there we may see the trial replacing the plural in some generations to come, as the trial there currently can be used for a group from 3 up to as many as 10.
- Edward Tregear (1891). The Maori-Polynesian comparative dictionary. Lyon and Blair. p. 675. Retrieved 2011-07-21.
- Edward Tregear (1895). A Paumotuan dictionary with Polynesian comparatives. Whitcombe & Tombs Limited. p. 76. Retrieved 2011-07-21.
- Krupa V. (1975–1982). Polynesian Languages, Routledge and Kegan Paul
- Irwin, Geoffrey (1992). The Prehistoric Exploration and Colonisation of the Pacific. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
- Lynch J. (1998). Pacific Languages : an Introduction. University of Hawaii Press.
- Lynch, John, Malcolm Ross & Terry Crowley (2002). The Oceanic languages. Richmond, Surrey: Curzon Press.
- Marck, Jeff (2000), Topics in Polynesian languages and culture history. Canberra: Pacific Linguistics.
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