Rapa Nui language
|Vānanga Rapa Nui|
|Latin script, possibly formerly rongorongo|
Official language in
|Easter Island (Chile)|
Rapa Nui or Rapanui (//), also known as Pascuan (//) or Pascuense, is an Eastern Polynesian language of the Austronesian language family. It is spoken on the island of Rapa Nui, also known as Easter Island.
The island is home to a population of just under 6,000 and is a special territory of Chile. According to census data, there are about 3,700 people on the island and on the Chilean mainland who identify as ethnically Rapa Nui. Census data does not exist on the primary known and spoken languages among these people. In 2008, the number of fluent speakers was reported as low as 800. Rapa Nui is a minority language and many of its adult speakers also speak Spanish. Most Rapa Nui children now grow up speaking Spanish and those who do learn Rapa Nui begin learning it later in life.
The Rapa Nui language is isolated within Eastern Polynesian, which also includes the Marquesic and Tahitic languages. Within Eastern Polynesian, it is closest to Marquesan morphologically, although its phonology has more in common with New Zealand Maori, as both languages are relatively conservative in retaining consonants lost in other Eastern Polynesian languages.
Like all Polynesian languages, Rapa Nui has relatively few consonants. Uniquely for an Eastern Polynesian language, Rapa Nui has preserved the original glottal stop of Proto-Polynesian. It is, or until recently was, a verb-initial language.
Very little is known about the Rapa Nui language prior to European contact. The majority of Rapa Nui vocabulary is inherited directly from Proto–Eastern Polynesian. Due to extensive borrowing from Tahitian there now often exist two forms for what was the same word in the early language. For example, Rapa Nui has Tahitian ꞌite alongside original tikeꞌa for 'to see', both derived from Proto-Eastern Polynesian *kiteꞌa. There are also hybridized forms of words such as hakaꞌite 'to teach', from native haka (causative prefix) and Tahitian ꞌite.
Language notes from 1770 and 1774
Spanish notes from a 1770 visit to the island record 94 words and terms. Many are clearly Polynesian, but several are not easily recognizable. For example, the numbers from one to ten seemingly have no relation to any known language. They are compared with contemporary Rapa Nui words, in parenthesis:
- cojàna (katahi)
- corena (karua)
- cogojù (katoru)
- quirote (kaha)
- majanà (karima)
- teùto (kaono)
- tejèa (kahitu)
- moroqui (kavau)
- vijoviri (kaiva)
- queromata-paùpaca quacaxixiva (kaangaahuru)
It may be that the list is a misunderstanding, and the words not related to numbers at all. The Spanish may have shown Arabic numerals to the islanders who did not understand their meaning, and likened them to some other abstraction. For example, the "moroqui" for number eight (8) would have actually been "moroki", a small fish that is used as a bait, since "8" can look like a simple drawing of a fish.
Captain James Cook visited the island four years later, and had a Tahitian interpreter with him, who, while recognizing some Polynesian words (up to 17 were written down), was not able to converse with the islanders in general. The British also attempted to record the numerals and were able to record the correct Polynesian words.
In the 1860s the Peruvian slave raids began. It was at this time that Peruvians were experiencing labor shortages and they came to regard the Pacific as a vast source of free labor. Slavers raided islands as far away as Micronesia, but Easter Island was much closer and became a prime target.
In December 1862 eight Peruvian ships landed their crewmen and between bribery and outright violence they captured some 1,000 Easter Islanders, including the king, his son, and the ritual priests (one of the reasons for so many gaps in knowledge of the ancient ways). It has been estimated that a total of 2,000 Easter Islanders were captured over a period of years. Those who survived to arrive in Peru were poorly treated, overworked, and exposed to diseases. Ninety percent of the Rapa Nui died within one or two years of capture.
Eventually the Bishop of Tahiti caused a public outcry and an embarrassed Peru rounded up the few survivors to return them. A shipload headed to Easter Island, but smallpox broke out en route and only 15 arrived at the island. They were put ashore. The resulting smallpox epidemic nearly wiped out the remaining population.
In the aftermath of the Peruvian slave deportations in the 1860s, Rapa Nui came under extensive outside influence from neighbouring Polynesian languages such as Tahitian. While the majority of the population that was taken to work as slaves in the Peruvian mines died of diseases and bad treatment in the 1860s, hundreds of other Easter Islanders who left for Mangareva in the 1870s and 1880s to work as servants or labourers adopted the local form of Tahitian-Pidgin. Fischer argues that this pidgin became the basis for the modern Rapa Nui language when the surviving part of the Rapa Nui immigrants on Mangareva returned to their almost deserted home island.
Language notes from 1886
Language notes from the twentieth century
Father Sebastian Englert, a German missionary living on Easter Island during 1935–1969, published a partial Rapa Nui–Spanish dictionary in his La Tierra de Hotu Matuꞌa in 1948, trying to save what was left of the old language. Despite the many typographical mistakes, the dictionary is valuable, because it provides a wealth of examples which all appear drawn from a real corpus, part oral traditions and legends, part actual conversations.
Englert recorded vowel length, stress, and glottal stop, but was not always consistent, or perhaps the misprints make it seem so. He indicated vowel length with a circumflex, and stress with an acute accent, but only when it does not occur where expected. The glottal stop /ʔ/ is written as an apostrophe, but is often omitted. The velar nasal /ŋ/ is sometimes transcribed with a ⟨g⟩, but sometimes with a Greek eta, ⟨η⟩, as a graphic approximation of ⟨ŋ⟩.
The island is under the jurisdiction of Chile and is now home to a number of Chilean continentals most of whom speak only Spanish. The influence of the Spanish language is noticeable in modern Rapa Nui speech. As fewer children learn to speak Rapa Nui at an early age, their superior knowledge of Spanish affects the 'passive knowledge' they have of Rapa Nui. A version of Rapa Nui interspersed with Spanish nouns, verbs and adjectives has become a popular form of casual speech. The most well integrated borrowings are the Spanish conjunctions o (or), pero (but) and y (and). Spanish words such as problema (problem), which was once rendered as poroborema, are now often integrated with minimal or no change.
Spanish words are still often used within Rapa Nui grammatical rules, though some word order changes are occurring and it is argued that Rapa Nui may be undergoing a shift from VSO to the Spanish SVO. This example sentence was recorded first in 1948 and again in 2001 and its expression has changed from VSO to SVO.
- 'They both suffer and weep"
- 1948: he ꞌaroha, he tatagi ararua
- 2001: ararua he ꞌaroha he tatagi
Easter Island's indigenous Rapa Nui toponymy has survived with few Spanish additions or replacements, a fact that has been attributed in part to the survival of the Rapa Nui language. This contrasts with the toponymy of continental Chile, which has lost most of its indigenous names.
Rapa Nui has ten consonants and five vowels.
All vowels can be either long or short and are always long when they are stressed in the final position of a word. Most vowel sequences are present, with the exception of *uo. Repetition sequences do not occur except in eee ('yes').
Written Rapa Nui uses the Latin script. The Latin alphabet for Rapa Nui consists of 20 letters:
A, Ā, E, Ē, G, H, I, Ī, K, M, N, O, О̄, P, R, T, U, Ū, V, ꞌ
The nasal velar consonant /ŋ/ is generally written with the Latin letter ⟨g⟩, but occasionally as ⟨ng⟩. In electronic texts, the glottal plosive /ʔ/ may be written with an 'okina ⟨ꞌ⟩ to avoid the problems of using a straight apostrophe ⟨'⟩. A special letter, ⟨ġ⟩, is sometimes used to distinguish the Spanish /ɡ/, occurring in introduced terms, from the Rapa Nui /ŋ/. Similarly, /ŋ/ has been written ⟨g̈⟩ to distinguish it from Spanish g. The IPA letter ⟨ŋ⟩ is now also coming into use.
The reduplication of whole nouns or syllable parts performs a variety of different functions within Rapa Nui. To describe colours for which there is not a predefined word, the noun for an object of a like colour is duplicated to form an adjective. For example:
- ꞌehu (mist) → ꞌehu ꞌehu = dark grey
- tea (dawn) → tea tea = white
Besides forming adjectives from nouns, the reduplication of whole words can indicate a multiple or intensified action. For example:
- hatu (weave) → hatuhatu (fold)
- kume (undo) → kumekume (take to pieces)
- ruku (dive) → rukuruku (go diving)
There are some apparent duplicate forms for which the original form has been lost. For example:
- rohirohi (tired)
The reduplication of the initial syllable in verbs can indicate plurality of subject or object. In this example the bolded section represents the reduplication of a syllable which indicates the plurality of the subject of a transitive verb:
- ꞌori (dance):
- E ꞌori ro ꞌa (he/she/they is/are dancing)
- E ꞌoꞌori ro ꞌa (they are all dancing)
The reduplication of the final two syllables of a verb indicates plurality or intensity. In this example the bolded section represents the reduplication of two final syllables, indicating intensity or emphasis:
- Haꞌaki (tell):
- Ka haꞌaki (Tell the story)
- Ka haꞌakiꞌaki (Tell the whole story)
Rapa Nui incorporates a number of loanwords in which constructions such as consonant clusters or word-final consonants occur, though they do not occur naturally in the language. Historically, the practice was to transliterate unfamiliar consonants, insert vowels between clustered consonants and append word-final vowels where necessary.
- e.g.: Britain (English loanword) → Peretane (Rapa Nui rendering)
More recently, loanwords – which come primarily from Spanish – retain their consonant clusters. For example, "litro" (litre).
- e.g.: He hakahu koe i te rama (the relational particle and object are bolded)
- "You light the torch"
Where a verb of sensing is used, the subject is marked by the agentive particle e.
- e.g.: He tikea e au te poki (the agentive particle and subject are bolded)
- "I can see the child"
Pronouns are usually marked for number: in Rapa Nui there are markers for first, second and third personal singular and plural; however, there is only a marker for dual in the first person. The first person dual and plural can mark for exclusive and inclusive. The pronouns are always ahead of the person singular (PRS) 'a' and relational particle (RLT) 'i' or dative (DAT) 'ki'. However, in some examples, they do not have PRS, RLT and DAT.
There is only one paradigm of pronouns for Rapa Nui. They function the same in both subject and object cases.
|abbreviations||grammatical interpretations||Rapa Nui forms|
|1de||1st-person dual exclusive||māua|
|1di||1st-person dual inclusive||tāua|
|1pe||1st-person plural exclusive||mātou|
|1pi||1st-person plural inclusive||tātou|
- e.g. (1) 
'I live here all alone'
- e.g. (2) 
'They made him governor'
ACT – action
CAUS – causative
EX – existential
LIM – limitative
PFT – perfect tense
PPD – postpositive determinant
PRS – person singular
RLT – relational particle
STA – state (verbal)
±SPE – +/- specific
TOW – towards subject
Yes/no questions are distinguished from statements chiefly by a particular pattern of intonation. Where there is no expectation of a particular answer, the form remains the same as a statement. A question expecting an agreement is preceded by hoki.
Original Rapa Nui has no conjunctive particles. Copulative, adversative and disjunctive notions are typically communicated by context or clause order. Modern Rapa Nui has almost completely adopted Spanish conjunctions rather than rely on this.
Alienable and inalienable possession
In the Rapa Nui language, there are alienable and inalienable possession. Lichtemberk described alienable possession as the possessed noun being contingently associated with the possessor, and on the other hand inalienable possession as the possessed noun being necessarily associated with the possessor. The distinction is marked by a possessive suffix inserted before the relevant pronoun. Possessive particles:
- a (alienable) expresses dominant possession
Alienable possession is used to refer to a person's spouse, children, food, books, work, all animals (except horses), all tools and gadgets (including refrigerators), and some illnesses.
e.g. (1) 
'I must cook dinner for my children who are hungry'
poki 'children' is an alienable possession therefore a is used to indicate that in this sentence, therefore the possessive pronoun "ta'aku" is used instead of "to'oku"
- o (inalienable) expresses the subordinate possession
It is used with parents, siblings, house, furniture, transports (including carts, cars, scooters, boats, airplanes), clothes, feeling, native land, parts of the body (including mind), horses, and their bridles.
e.g. (2) 
'It is true apparently, he is my brother.'
Inalienable possession o is used in this example, therefore "'o'oku" instead of "'a'aku" is used. It is talking about the speaker's brother, which is an inalienable relation.
There are no markers to distinguish between temporary or permanent possession; the nature of objects possessed; or between past, present or future possession.
A and O possession
A and O possession refer to alienable and inalienable possession in Rapa Nui. a marks for alienable possession and o marks for inalienable possession. a and o are marked as suffixes of the possessive pronouns; however, they are only marked when the possessive pronoun is in the first, second or third person singular. In (2) above, taina 'sibling' is inalienable and the possessor is first person singular ꞌoꞌoku 'my'. However, for all the other situations, a and o are not marked as a suffix of the possessor.
'We'll talk about those matters.'
In the above example, the possessor meꞌe 'those' is not a possessive pronoun of the first, second or third person singular. Therefore, o is marked not as a suffix of the possessor but a separate word in the sentence.
There are no classifiers in the Rapa Nui language.
GRP- group plural
LIM - limitative
POS1sa- possessive 1st person singular alienable
POS1si - possessive 1st person singular inalienable
POS - possession
PPD- postpositive determinant
PFT - perfect tense
RES - resultative
+/- SPE - +/- specific
STA- state (verbal)
Ko and ka are exclamatory indicators.
- Ko suggests a personal reaction:
- Ko te aroha (Poor thing!)
- Ka suggests judgement on external events:
- Ka haꞌakiꞌaki (Tell the whole story!)
Terms which did not exist in original Rapa Nui were created via compounding:
- patia ika = ('spear fish') = harpoon
- patia kai = ('spear food') = fork
- kiri vaꞌe = ('skin foot') = shoe
- manu patia =('bird spear') = wasp
- pepe hoi = ('stool horse') = saddle
- pepe noho =('stool stay') = chair
- ꞌina (neutral)
- kai (perfective)
- (e)ko (imperfective)
- taꞌe (constituent negator)
Additionally there are also two additional particles/ morphemes which also contribute to negation in Rapa Nui:
- kore (Existential/noun negator)
- hia / ia (verb phrase particle which occurs in combination with different negators to form the meaning 'not yet')
Negation occurs as preverbal particles in the verb phrase, with the clausal negator kai and (e)ko occurring in first position in the verbal phrase, while the constituent negator (taꞌe) occurs in second position in the verbal phrase. Clausal negators occur in the same position as aspect markers and subordinators—this means it is impossible for these elements to co-occur. As a result, negative clauses tend to have fewer aspectual distinctions. Hia occurs in eighth position as a post-verbal marker. Verbal negators precede adjectives. The table below roughly depicts the positions of negators in the Verb Phrase:
Position in the verb phrase
|NEG (kai / eko)||determiner||hia|
|Aspect marker||CONNEG (taꞌe)|
ꞌIna is the neutral negator (regarding aspect). It has the widest range of use in a variety of contexts. It usually occurs in imperfective contexts, as well as habitual clauses and narrative contexts, and is used to negate actions and states. It almost always occurs clause initially and is always followed by the neutral aspectual he + noun or he + verb.
'There was no light to see the food.' [R352.070]
In the example above ꞌina is followed by the combination of he+ maꞌeha (noun)
'He did not see many people.' [R459.003]
In this example, ꞌina is followed by he + takeꞌa (verb)
In addition to negating verbal and nominal clauses, it also functions as the term ꞌnoꞌas shown below:
'There were no chairs?...' [R413.635]
'I don't know who she is.' [R413.356]
It is used to negate past events and narrative events, and is usually combined with ꞌina. It is also used to negate stative verbs, and a verb phrase marked with kai may contain various post-verbal particles such as the continuity marker ꞌâ / ꞌana. This marker occurs when the clause has perfect aspect (often obligatory with the perfect marker ko). When combined with kai, it indicates that the negative state continues.
'I haven't yet started to chop down a tree.' [R363.091]
(E)ko is the imperfective negator, which (like kai) replaces the aspectual marker in front of the verb, and which can occur with the negator ꞌina.
'(The fisherman) would not eat the tune (caught with) his boat.' [Ley-5-27.013]
'Don't eat raw food.' (Weber 2003b:610)
In other contexts, especially when ꞌina is absent, the e is obligatory.
'Don't you want to dance with me (lit. us to dance)?' [R315.115]
Taꞌe is a constituent negator used to negate anything other than a main clause. This can be subordinate clauses, prepositional phrases, possessive predicates and other non-verbal clauses. It also negates nominalised verbs and sub-constituents such as adjectives and quantifiers. It does not negate nouns (this is done by the noun negator kore). It is also used to negate locative phrases, actor emphasis constructions, and is also used to reinforce the preposition mai.
'I'm going now, before it gets dark.' [R153.042]
Taꞌe is an indicator for subordinate clauses, as it can also negate subordinate clauses without subordinate markers (in which case it usually occurs with an aspect marker).
'Because (the sheep) did not listen, it got lost.' [R490.005]
Noun negator: kore
kore is a verb meaning 'the absence or lack of something'.
'He looked (at his wife); the crying was over.' [Ley-9-55.076]
It immediately follows the noun in the adjective position, and is used to indicate that the entity expressed by the noun or noun modifier does not exist or is lacking in the given context.
'The problem was the lack of files to sharpen (the fishhooks) at the time.' [R539-1.335]
Hia / ia
Hia / ia is a morpheme used immediately after negated verbs and co-occurs with a negator to indicate actions or events which are interrupted or are yet to happen.
'When he had not yet become a priest, he came here.' [R423.004]
In Rapa Nui, double negation is more frequent than single negation (with the negator ꞌina often co-occurring with another clause negator most of the time). It is often used as a slight reinforcement or emphasis.
ꞌIna can be combined with negators kai and (e)ko- both of these are main clause negators.
|17) ¡ Ka||rua||ꞌô||mahana||ꞌina||kai||tuꞌu||mai!|
'She hasn't come for two days.' [R229.132]
In the example above we see the negator ꞌina co-occurring with the perfective negator kai.
When taꞌe occurs in double negation, if the other negator is kai or (e)ko, the negative polarity is cancelled out.
'(God) did not fail to make known who he is, by the good things he did.' (Acts 14:17)
ꞌIna only negates main clauses so it never combines with the negator taꞌe, which is a subordinate clause negator. When occurring with ꞌina, negation may be reinforced.
'(if the mother does not eat the fish caught by her firstborn son), he will not fail to catch fish.' [Ley-5-27.008]
Double negation occurs very frequently in imperatives in particular.
'Don't go to another place.' [R161.027]
There is a system for the numerals 1–10 in both Rapa Nui and Tahitian, both of which are used, though all numbers higher than ten are expressed in Tahitian. When counting, all numerals whether Tahitian or Rapanui are preceded by 'ka'. This is not used however, when using a number in a sentence.
- Rapa Nui Numerals 1-10:
- (ka) tahi
- (ka) rua
- (ka) toru
- (ka) ha
- (ka) rima
- (ka) ono
- (ka) hitu
- (ka) vaꞌu/varu
- (ka) iva
- (ka) agahuru
- Rapa Nui (Vananga rapa nui)
- Rapa Nui at Ethnologue (18th ed., 2015)
- Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin, eds. (2017). "Rapanui". Glottolog 3.0. Jena, Germany: Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History.
- Laurie Bauer (2007), The Linguistics Student's Handbook, Edinburgh
- 2002 Chilean census data
- Fischer 2008, p. 149
- Makihara 2005a: p. 728
- Heyerdahl, Thor. Easter Island – The Mystery Solved. Random House New York 1989.
- See Revista Española del Pacífico. Asociación Española de Estudios del Pacífico (A.E.E.P.). N.º3. Año III. Enero-Diciembre 1993. See also online version.
- Online biography of Sebastian Englert Archived 28 June 2009 at the Wayback Machine as hosted by Minnesota State University.
- Englert's online dictionary with Spanish translated to English.
- Rongorongo connections to Rapa Nui.
- Makihara 2005a
- Makihara 2005b
- Du Feu 1996, pp. 84–88
- Pagel 2008: p. 175
- Pagel 2008: p. 176
- Latorre 2001: p. 129
- Du Feu 1996, pp. 184
- Du Feu 1996, pp. 185–186
- Kieviet 2017
- Du Feu 1996, pp. 4
- Du Feu 1996, pp. 176–177, 192–193
- Du Feu 1996, pp. 185
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- Du Fu 1996, pp. 110 harvnb error: no target: CITEREFDu_Fu1996 (help)
- Du Fu 1996, pp. 6 harvnb error: no target: CITEREFDu_Fu1996 (help)
- Kieviet 2017, pp. 140
- Du Fu 1996
- Du Fu 1996 pp.123
- Du Feu 1996, pp. 84
- Du Feu 1996, pp. 3
- Du Fu 1996, pp. 102 harvnb error: no target: CITEREFDu_Fu1996 (help)
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- Du Fu 1996, pp. 102–103 harvnb error: no target: CITEREFDu_Fu1996 (help)
- Du Feu 1996, pp. 110
- Du Feu 1996, pp. 180
- Kieviet 2017, pp. 12
- Kieviet 2017, pp. 462
- Kieviet 2017, pp. 314
- Kieviet 2017, pp. 493
- Kieviet 2017, pp. 116
- Kieviet 2017, pp. 494
- Kieviet 2017, pp. 493, 494
- Kieviet 2017, pp. 316
- Kieviet 2017, pp. 93
- Kieviet 2017, pp. 170
- Kieviet 2017, pp. 498
- Kietviet 2017, pp. 482 harvnb error: no target: CITEREFKietviet2017 (help)
- Kieviet 2017, pp. 499
- Kieviet 2017, pp. 500
- Kieviet 2017, pp. 490
- Kieviet 2017, pp. 520
- Kieviet 2017, pp. 497
- Kieviet 2017, pp. 503
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- Kieviet 2017, pp. 504
- Kieviet 2017, pp. 506
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- Kieviet 2017, pp. 507
- Kieviet 2017, pp. 508
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- Kieviet 2017, pp. 99
- Kieviet 2017, pp. 496
- Kieviet 2017, pp. 155
- Kieviet 2017, pp. 166
- Du Feu 1996, pp. 79–82
- Chilean Census 2002
- Du Feu, V. (1996). Rapa Nui. London: Routledge.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)
- Fischer, S.R. (2008). "Reversing Hispanisation on Rapa Nui (Easter Island)". In T. Stolz; D. Bakker; R.S. Palomo (eds.). Hispanisation: The Impact of Spanish on the Lexicon and Grammar of the Indigenous Languages of Austronesia and the Americas. Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter. pp. 149–165.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)
- Latorre, Guilermo (2001). "Chilean toponymy: "the far-away possession"". Estudios Filológicos (in Spanish). Austral University of Chile. 36: 129–142. Retrieved 10 January 2014.
- Kieviet, Paulus (2017). A grammar of Rapa Nui. Studies in Diversity Linguistics 12. Berlin: Language Science Press. doi:10.17169/langsci.b124.303. ISBN 978-3-946234-75-3.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)
- Makihara, Miki (2005a). "Rapa Nui ways of speaking Spanish: Language shift and socialization on Easter Island". Language in Society. 34 (5): 727–762. doi:10.1017/S004740450505027X.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)
- Makihara, Miki (2005b). "Being Rapa Nui, speaking Spanish: Children's voices on Easter Island". Anthropological Theory. 5 (2): 117–134. doi:10.1177/1463499605053995.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)
- Pagel, S., 2008. The old, the new, the in-between: Comparative aspects of Hispanisation on the Marianas and Easter Island (Rapa Nui). In T. Stolz, D. Bakker, R.S. Palomo (eds) Hispanisation: The Impact of Spanish on the Lexicon and Grammar of the Indigenous Languages of Austronesia and the Americas. Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter, pp. 167–201.
- Jauncey, Dorothy (2011). Tamambo, the language of west Malo, Vanuatu. Pacific Linguistics 622. Canberra: Pacific Linguistics. hdl:1885/29991. ISBN 9780858836334.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)
|Rapa Nui language test of Wikipedia at Wikimedia Incubator|
- Englert's Rapa Nui dictionary: Internet Archive version from 2007-10-16
- Mirror of Englert's Rapa Nui dictionary: 
- Rapa Nui Swadesh vocabulary list (Wiktionary)
- Rapa Nui words from the Austronesian Basic Vocabulary Database
- Miki Makihara (Queens College), has several papers on contemporary Rapa Nui language and language revival efforts
- A grammar of Rapa Nui by Paulus Kieviet (Language Science Press, 2017; free download)