Marquesas Language

The Marquesas Islands of French Polynesia are home to the indigenous people who speak the Marquesas Language, also known as Marquesan. The language is related to other Austronesian tongues spoken in Oceania, Southeast Asia, and Madagascar. Marquesan has its own grammar, vocabulary, and pronunciation, making it a distinct language.


writing lead sheetMarquesan Language Origins and Development


Polynesians have lived on the Marquesas Islands for at least two millennia, and during that time the Marquesan language has developed into the modern tongue spoken there. It is related to other languages spoken in Southeast Asia, Madagascar, and Oceania as part of the Austronesian language family.


Marquesan is an exotic language with a rich background that reflects the culture and history of the Marquesan people. European colonization of the islands in the 19th century introduced new languages, including Tahitian and French, both of which have had an impact on the local tongue over time.


Stories, myths, and songs were all passed down orally in Marquesan before the arrival of Europeans. The language was spoken not only in everyday life but also during significant cultural events and rituals such as song and dance competitions.


A written form of Marquesan was introduced in the 19th century by Christian missionaries and has since become the standard. This facilitated the language’s wider dissemination and study, both of which have helped ensure its survival.


With only a few thousand native speakers left, Marquesan is in danger of extinction. Immersion programs, cultural celebrations, and language documentation initiatives are all part of the fight to keep the language alive and well.


Marquesan Language Grammar


There are many different verb tenses, noun categories, and sentence structures in the Marquesan language. Mood, tense, and aspect are all indicated in Marquesan through the use of prefixes and suffixes, as they are in many other Polynesian languages.


There are two types of nouns in Marquesan: common and proper. There are a total of six groups of common nouns that are distinguished by the form and function of the things they denote. One group includes nouns with the characteristics of length and thinness, like sticks and ropes, while another group includes nouns with the characteristics of roundness and flatness, like plates and disks.


Marquesan verbs are also organized into different categories according to their structure and use. Transitive and intransitive verbs are the two most common types. In contrast to intransitive verbs, transitive verbs need an object in order to be used. A complex system of prefixes and suffixes is used to mark verbs for tense, aspect, and mood.


Marquesan grammar has a lot of rules and patterns that need to be learned. Once mastered, however, it’s a window into the rich history of the Marquesas Islands’ language and culture.


cigaretteMarquesan Words and Phrases


Many words and expressions unique to the Marquesas Islands and Polynesian culture are part of the extensive vocabulary of the Marquesan language. The word “tiki” describes a carving style typical of Polynesian art, while “paepae” describes a traditional stone platform for socializing and telling tales.


Marquesan vocabulary has expanded to include many loanwords from other languages, most notably French. Common Marquesan words and phrases include “mairie” (town hall), “tabac” (tobacco), and “gendarmerie” (police station), among others.


Nasalization is a distinctive feature of the Marquesan language. When a vowel is also nasally articulated, it is said to be nasalized. The Marquesan language now has the distinctive, melodic quality typical of Polynesian tongues thanks to this fact.


How to Say Things in the Marquesas Language


The pronunciation of the Marquesan language is distinct due to its cultural and historical background. Marquesan, like many Polynesian languages, has a small set of consonants and a large set of vowels, all of which are nasalized to varying degrees when spoken.


The use of glottal stops is one of the most defining characteristics of Marquesan pronunciation. A glottal stop is a short, sharp sound produced by temporarily stopping the flow of air through the vocal tract. Glottal stops serve multiple functions in Marquesan, including separating syllables and indicating grammatical categories like possession.


The length of vowels is another crucial element of Marquesan pronunciation. The length of a vowel’s pronunciation in Marquesan can alter a word’s meaning. The verb ‘haka’ means ‘to dance,’ while ‘hakaa’ means ‘to sing,’ among other uses.


Marquesan pronunciation relies heavily on nasalization. When a vowel is also nasally articulated, it is said to be nasalized. A tilde () placed over a vowel sign in Marquesan indicates nasalization. The letter “a” in words like “manu” (bird) is nasalized, so the written form is “mnu.”


Marquesan pronunciation is deeply rooted in the rich history and culture of the Marquesas. It has played a significant role in shaping the cultural identity and history of the Marquesan people, reflecting the distinctive environment and traditions of the islands.


The Marquesas Language and Its Cultural Importance


The Marquesan language is intrinsically linked to the traditions, history, and unique character of the Marquesas. Through it, mythology, art, music, and dance have all been kept alive and passed down from generation to generation.


Like other Polynesian music, traditional Marquesan music features intricate rhythms and vocal harmonies. Traditional dances of the Marquesas tell tales of the land, the sea, and the ancestors, and are an integral part of the islands’ cultural identity.


The Marquesan language is significant not only for its cultural value, but also for the role it has played in protecting the islands’ ecosystems and natural resources. Marquesan language transmission of fishing, farming, and land management practices has aided in the conservation of these natural capitals.


With only a few thousand native speakers left, Marquesan is in danger of extinction. Immersion programs, cultural celebrations, and language documentation initiatives are all part of the fight to keep the language alive and well.




The Marquesan language is a rare and intricate branch of the Polynesian language family that has deep roots in the traditions and history of the Marquesas Islands. Its grammar, vocabulary, and pronunciation are all a reflection of the islands’ distinct culture and environment, and the language has played a crucial role in preserving indigenous peoples’ ecological and linguistic knowledge and practices.


Efforts are being made to preserve and promote the Marquesan language despite difficulties such as a decrease in the number of speakers and the influence of other languages. The Marquesan language and culture are being preserved through efforts like language immersion programs, documentation of the language, and the use of Marquesan in cultural events and celebrations.

Our Top FAQ's

The Marquesan language is considered endangered, with only a few thousand speakers remaining. However, efforts are being made to preserve and promote the language through various initiatives.

Marquesan pronunciation is characterized by the use of glottal stops, vowel length, and nasalization. These features reflect the cultural and historical context of the language and play an important role in its unique sound and identity.

The Marquesan language is closely tied to the culture, history, and identity of the Marquesas Islands. It has played an important role in the preservation and transmission of traditional beliefs, practices, and customs, including mythology, art, music, and dance.

Initiatives such as language immersion programs, cultural events and celebrations, and language documentation projects are helping to preserve and promote the Marquesan language. These efforts are crucial in ensuring that the language and culture of the Marquesas Islands continue to thrive for generations to come.

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