Proto-Polynesian language

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Proto-Polynesian (abbreviated PPn) is the hypothetical proto-language from which all the modern Polynesian languages descend. Historical linguists have reconstructed the language using the comparative method, in much the same manner as with Proto-Indo-European and Proto-Uralic. This same method has also been used to support the archaeological and ethnographic evidence which indicates that the ancestral homeland of the people who spoke Proto-Polynesian was in the vicinity of Tonga, Samoa, and nearby islands.[1]


The phonology of Proto-Polynesian is very simple, with 13 consonants and 5 vowels. Note that *q in Proto-Polynesian most probably was a glottal stop [ʔ].


Bilabial Alveolar Velar Glottal
Voiceless stop *p *t *k *q
Nasal *m *n
Fricative *f *s *h
Trill *r
Lateral *l
Glide *w


Proto-Polynesian had five simple vowels, /a/ /e/ /i/ /o/ /u/, with no length distinction. In a number of daughter languages, successive sequences of vowels came together to produce long vowels and diphthongs, and in some languages these sounds later became phonemic.[2]

Sound correspondences

Proto-Polynesian *p *t *k *q *m *n *w *f *s *h *l *r
Tongan p t k ʔ m n ŋ v f h l Ø
Niuean Ø
 ? ʔ/Ø h h/Ø l/Ø
Proto-Nuclear-Polynesian *p *t *k *m *n *w *f *s *l
Sāmoan p t ʔ Ø m n ŋ v f s Ø l
East Futunan k ʔ/Ø
Tikopian Ø ɾ
Nukuoroan h l
Proto-Eastern-Polynesian *p *t *k *ʔ/Ø *m *n *w *f *h *l
Rapa Nui p t k ʔ/Ø m n ŋ v v/h h Ø ɾ
MVA, Rarotongan Ø ?/v ʔ
Tuamotuan f/h/v h
Māori w wh/h
Tahitian ʔ ʔ v f/v/h
N. Marquesan k k h ʔ
S. Marquesan ʔ n f/h
Hawaiian k w h/w l


The following is a table of some sample vocabulary as it is represented orthographically in various languages.[3] All instances of <ʻ> represent a glottal stop, IPA /ʔ/. All instances of 'ng' and Samoan 'g' represent the single phoneme /ŋ/. The letters 'r' in all cases represents voiced alveolar tap /ɾ/, not /r/.

Polynesian vocabulary
Proto-Polynesian Tongan Niuean Sāmoan Rapa Nui Tahitian Māori Rarotongan S. Marquesan Hawaiian English
*taŋata tangata tangata tagata tangata ta'ata tangata tangata ʻenata kanaka man
*sina hina hina sina hina hinahina hina ʻina hina grey-haired
*kanahe kanahe kanahe ʻanae 'anae kanae kanae ʻanae mullet
*tiale siale tiale tiale tiare tiare tīare tiare kiele flower
*waka vaka vaka vaʻa vaka va'a waka vaka vaka waʻa canoe
*fafine fafine fifine fafine vi'e/vahine vahine wahine vaʻine vehine wahine woman
*matuqa mātu'a motua matua matuʻa metua matua metua, matua motua makua parent
*rua ua ua lua rua rua [4] rua rua ʻua lua two
*tolu tolu tolu tolu toru toru toru toru toʻu kolu three


  1. Kirch, Patrick Vinton; Roger Green (2001). Hawaiki, Ancestral Polynesia: An Essay in Historical Anthropology. Cambridge University Press. pp. 99–119. ISBN 978-0-521-78309-5.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  2. Rolle, Nicholas (2009). "The Phonetic Nature of Niuean Vowel Length". Toronto Working Papers in Linguistics (TWPL): 31.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  3. Hockett, C.K. (May 1976), "The Reconstruction of Proto Central Pacific", Anthropological Linguistics, 18 (5): 187–235<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  4. Archaic: the modern Tahitian word for two is piti, due to the practice of pi'i among Tahitians, a form of linguistic taboo. However, the cognate remains in the second-person dual pronounʻōrua, roughly translated you two.

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