Austral language

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Native toFrench Polynesia
RegionAustral Islands
Ethnicity8,000 (1987)[1]
Native speakers
3,000 (2007 census)[1]
L2 speakers: 2,000 (no date)[2]
Language codes
ISO 639-3aut

Austral (Reo Tuha'a pae) is an endangered Polynesian language that is spoken by approximately 8,000 people (1987). It is spoken only on the Austral Islands and the Society Islands of French Polynesia. The language is also referred to as Tubuai-Rurutu, Tubuai, Rurutu-Tupuai, or Tupuai. In structure, it is similarly compared to Tahitian.[4]


Those who originally spoke Austral were the Tubuaians, the people of Tubuai. Because there is no recorded history of its earlier discovery (before European colonization), there is no precise time or date of the initial inhabitance of Tubuai. However, some say that the indigenous people started to occupy the island around the year 1000. The reason that is, is because during this time was a major increase of habitation in the Polynesian islands.

Years later, around 1777, James Cook "discovered" the island. Subsequently, Europeans made their way to this Polynesian isle to settle. Although the Tubuaians created their own society and culture, the Europeans objective was to convert the islanders into their beliefs. In results, the European influence had a negative affect on the Austral culture and population. It had caused the island to decrease from a population of 3000 to 300 over a course of years because of the emergence of new diseases and the introduction to alcohol.

Some traditional practices, beliefs, and languages had been lost or had been struggling to revive.[5]

Genetic classification[edit]

Austral is sorted into the Austronesian family,[6] which contains a majority of the Pacific languages. This family is divided into 15 subcategories, starting with Austronesian and ending with Tahitic.[7] Specifically, it is broken down into Austronesian, Central-Eastern Malayo-Polynsian, Eastern Malayo-Polynesian, Oceanic, Central-Eastern Oceanic, Remote Oceanic, Central Pacific, East Fijian-Polynesian, Polynesian, Nuclear, East, Central, and Tahitic.


The Austral language is classified as "threatened" in the Catalogue of Endangered Languages.[8] With less than 6% of the French Polynesian population speaking Austral, its Ethnologue status is also deemed to be "shifting".[9] This means that the language is staying only within one generation and not being taught to their descendants. Another cause of the Austral language dissipation is because those who speak Austral are now speaking Tahitian. This alteration took place because Tahitian is better known and is spoken by more people in their region, while Austral is being seen as futile as only a low percentage of people speak it.[10]

Syntax, alphabet, and phonology[edit]

Its syntax has a VSO (verb-subject-object) sentence structure.[11]

The language has the same alphabet structure as Tahitian.[12] It includes: A, E, F, H, I, M, N, O, P, R, T, U, V, and ' . In addition, it contains long vowels of a, e, i, o, and u.[4]

Alphabet and Pronunciation
Alphabet Pronunciation IPA
A ' [a]
E ' [e]
F [fɸ}
H [h/ʃ]
I [i/ai]
M [m]
N [n]
O ɔ
P [p]
R [r]
T [t]
U [u]
V [v/β]
' [ʔ]

'Eta is a glottal stop used to transcribe vowels, and is written by using an apostrophe.[13] It is similar to the Hawaiian ʻokina.[14]

Long Vowels
Vowels IPA

There are both long and short vowels. The difference between the two is that long vowels are marked with a straight line on top of the letter; which is called a macron. The macron helps indicate the placement of stress (pitch). The same word will have a different meaning if one contains a long vowel and the other contains a short vowel.


  • If a word contains a "B" it is pronounced as a "P" because the letter "B'" does not exist in their alphabet.
  • A vowel concludes all syllables.
  • All letters are voiced.
  • No consonant clusters
  • Has vowel clusters
  • Vowels are pronounced as a separate syllable.[15]


There are four dialects in the Austral language:[16]

  1. Ra'ivavae
  2. Rimatara
  3. Rurutu
  4. Tubuai (Tupuai)

Sample verbs[edit]

Austral verbs[17]
English Austral
To say parau
To know ʔite
To choose maʔiti
To see naanaa
To think manaʔo
To work ʔatapu


  • Charpentier, Jean-Michel; François, Alexandre (2015). Atlas Linguistique de Polynésie Française — Linguistic Atlas of French Polynesia (in French and English). Mouton de Gruyter & Université de la Polynésie Française. ISBN 978-3-11-026035-9.


  1. ^ a b Austral at Ethnologue (19th ed., 2016)
  2. ^ Austral at Ethnologue (17th ed., 2013)
  3. ^ Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin, eds. (2017). "Austral". Glottolog 3.0. Jena, Germany: Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History.
  4. ^ a b "Tubuai-Rurutu facts". Retrieved 2018-09-28.
  5. ^ Bacchet, P. (6 March 2017). "Tubuai: The Island of Contrast". Retrieved 2 October 2018.
  6. ^ "Austronesian". Retrieved 2018-09-28.
  7. ^ "Austral". Ethnologue. Retrieved 2018-09-28.
  8. ^ Lee, Nala Huiying (17 March 2015). "Assessing levels of endangerment in the Catalogue of Endangered Languages (ELCat) using the Language Endangerment Index (LEI)" (PDF). Retrieved 3 October 2018.
  9. ^ "Language Status". Ethnologue. Retrieved 2018-09-28.
  10. ^ "Austral". Ethnologue. Retrieved 2018-10-19.
  11. ^ Potsdam, Eric. "The Syntax of the Tahitian Actor Emphatic Construction" (PDF). Retrieved October 2, 2018.
  12. ^ "Verbix Languages Languages/Austral". Retrieved 2018-10-19.
  13. ^ "TAHITIAN GRAMMAR". www.polynesian-art. 2018-02-09. Retrieved 2018-10-18.
  14. ^ System, University of Hawaii. "Hawaiian Language Online". Retrieved 2018-10-18.
  15. ^ "Tahitian language, alphabet and pronunciation". Retrieved 2018-10-01.
  16. ^ "Austral language". Retrieved 2018-09-28.
  17. ^ "Verbix Languages Languages/Austral". Retrieved 2018-10-19.