|Taetae ni Kiribati|
|(120,000 cited 1988–2010)|
|Latin script (Kiribati alphabet)|
Official language in
|Regulated by||Kiribati Language Board|
The word Kiribati is the modern rendition for "Gilberts", so the name is not usually translated into English. "Gilberts" comes from Captain Thomas Gilbert, who, along with Captain John Marshall, was one of the first Europeans to visit the Gilbert Islands in 1788. Some of the islands had been sighted or visited earlier, including by Commodore John Byron, whose ships happened on Nikunau in 1765. Frequenting of the islands by Europeans and Chinese dates from whaling and oil trading from the 1820s, when no doubt Europeans learnt to speak it, as I-Kiribati learnt to speak English and other languages foreign to them. However, it wasn't until Hiram Bingham II took up missionary work on Abaiang in the 1860s that the language began to take on the written form known today. For example, Bingham was the first to translate the Bible into Gilbertese, and wrote several hymn books, dictionaries and commentaries in the language of the Gilbert Islands.
The official name of the language is now te taetae ni Kiribati, or 'the Kiribati language'.
The first complete description of this language was in Dictionnaire gilbertin–français of Father Ernest Sabatier (981p, 1954), a Catholic priest. This dictionary was later translated into English by Sister Olivia (with the help of South Pacific Commission).
Over 99% of the 103,000 people living in Kiribati are ethnically I-Kiribati (wholly or partly) and speak Kiribati. Kiribati is also spoken by most inhabitants of Nui (Tuvalu), Rabi Island (Fiji), Mili (Marshall Islands) and some other islands where I-Kiribati have been relocated (Solomon Islands, notably Choiseul Province and Vanuatu) or emigrated (to New Zealand and Hawaii mainly).
Unlike many in the Pacific region, the Kiribati language is far from extinct, and most speakers use it daily. 97% of those living in Kiribati are able to read in Kiribati, and 80% are able to read English.
Countries by number of Kiribati speakers
- Kiribati, 103,000 (2010 census)
- Fiji, 5,300 cited 1988
- Solomon Islands, 4,870 cited 1999
- Tuvalu, 870 cited 1987
Linguistics and study
The Kiribati language has two main dialects: the Northern and the Southern dialects. The main differences between them are in the pronunciation of some words. The islands of Butaritari and Makin also have their own dialect. It differs from the standard Kiribati in vocabulary and pronunciation.
- Banaban (Banaba Island and Fiji)
- Northern Kiribati (Makin, Butaritari, Marakei, Abaiang, Tarawa, Maiana, Kuria, Abemama and Aranuka)
- Nuian (Tuvalu)
- Rabi (Fiji)
- Southern Kiribati (Tabiteuea, Onotoa, Nonouti, Beru Island, Nikunau, Tamana and Arorae)
- /t/ is lenited and assibilated to [s] before /i/
- The labiovelar fricative /βˠ/ may be a flap or an approximant, depending on the context.
- /ɾ/ does not occur in the syllable coda
- Short /i/ and /u/ may become semivowels when followed by more sonorous vowels. /ie/ → [je] ('sail'). Kiribati has syllabic nasals, although syllabic /n/ and /ŋ/ can be followed only by consonants that are homorganic.
Quantity is distinctive for vowels and nasal consonants but not for the remaining sounds so that ana (third person singular article) contrasts with aana ('its underside') as well as anna ('dry land'). Other minimal pairs include:
|te ben ('ripe coconut')||te been ('pen')|
|ti (1st person subj marker)||tii ('only')|
|on ('full')||oon ('the/some turtles')|
|te atu ('bundle')||te atuu ('head')|
|tuanga ('to tell someone')||tuangnga ('to tell')|
The Kiribati language is written in the Latin script and has been since the 1840s, when Hiram Bingham Jr, a missionary, first translated the Bible into Kiribati. Previously, the language was unwritten. The letter 's' does not appear in the Kiribati alphabet, instead the combination "ti" is used for that sound.
One difficulty in translating the Bible was references to words such as "mountain", a geographical phenomenon unknown to the people of the islands of Kiribati at the time (heard only in the myths from Samoa). Bingham decided to use "hilly", which would be more easily understood. Such adjustments are common to all languages as "modern" things require the creation of new words. For example, the Gilbertese word for airplane is te wanikiba, "the canoe that flies".
Catholic missionaries arrived at the islands in 1888 and translated the Bible independently of Bingham, resulting in differences (Bingham wrote Jesus as "Iesu", while the Catholics wrote "Ietu") that would be resolved only in the 20th century. In 1954, Father Ernest Sabatier published the bigger and more accurate Kiribati to French dictionary (translated into English by Sister Olivia): Dictionnaire gilbertin–français, 981 pages (edited by South Pacific Commission in 1971). It remains the only work of importance between Kiribati language and a western language. It was then reversed by Frédéric Giraldi in 1995, creating the first French to Kiribati dictionary. In addition, a grammar section was added by Father Gratien Bermond (MSC). This dictionary is available at the French National Library (rare language department) and at the headquarters of the Missionaries of the Sacred Heart (MSC), Issoudun.
- Hello – Mauri
- Hello – [singular] Ko na mauri
- Hello – [plural] Kam na mauri
- How are you? – Ko uara?
- How are you? – [to several people] Kam uara?
- Thank you – Ko rabwa
- Thank you – [to several people] Kam rabwa
- Goodbye – Ti a boo (we will meet)
- Gilbertese at Ethnologue (18th ed., 2015)
- Nordhoff, Sebastian; Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin, eds. (2013). "Gilbertese". Glottolog. Leipzig: Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology.
- Maude, H. E. (1961). Post-Spanish discoveries in the central Pacific. Journal of the Polynesian Society, 67-111.
- "Kiribati Census Report 2010 Volume 1" (PDF). National Statistics Office, Ministry of Finance and Economic Development, Government of Kiribati. Retrieved 17 March 2013.
- "Kiribati - Phoenix and Solomon Islands Resettlement Schemes".
- Blevins (1999:205–206)
- Blevins (1999:206)
- Blevins (1999:207)
- Blevins (1999:209)
- Te taetae ni Kiribati – Kiribati Language Lessons – 10
- Blevins, Juliette; Harrison, Sheldon P. (1999), "Trimoraic Feet in Gilbertese", Oceanic Linguistics 38 (2): 203–230, doi:10.1353/ol.1999.0012
- Cowell, Reid (1951), The Structure of Gilbertese, Rongorongo Press
|Gilbertese language test of Wikipedia at Wikimedia Incubator|
- Trussel, Stephen; Gordon W Groves (1978). A Combined Kiribati-English Dictionary based on the works of Hiram Bingham, D.D. and Father Ernest Sabatier, M.S.C. (translated by Sr. M. Oliva) with additional scientific material from Luomala, Goo & Banner. University of Hawaii. Retrieved 2014-04-23.
- English/Kiribati and Kiribati/English translator with over 50,000 words
- Gilbertese words collection for SuperMemo
- Kaipuleohone archive includes recordings and written materials on Kiribati
- Dictionary with Gilbertese – English Translations from Webster's Online Dictionary – The Rosetta Edition
- Bibliography on Kiribati linguistics
- How to count in Gilbertese