|Taetae ni Kiribati|
|(120,000 cited 1988-2010)|
|Latin script (Kiribati alphabet)|
Official language in
|Regulated by||Kiribati Language Board|
The word Kiribati, the current name of the islands, is the local adaptation of the previous European name "Gilberts". Early European visitors, including Commodore John Byron, whose ships happened on Nikunau in 1765, had named some of the islands the Kingsmill or Kings Mill Islands but in 1820 they were renamed, in French, les îles Gilbert by Adam Johann von Krusenstern, after Captain Thomas Gilbert, who, along with Captain John Marshall, had passed through the islands in 1788. 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', but the common name is te taetae n aomata, or 'the language of the people'.
The first complete description of this language was in Dictionnaire gilbertin-français of Father Ernest Sabatier (981 pp, 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 some other languages 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.
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.
1 Sometimes when reflecting Proto-Micronesian /t/.
2 Sometimes when reflecting Proto-Micronesian /k/.
|Nasal||m m:||m?||n n:||? ?:|
Quantity is distinctive for vowels and nasal consonants but not for the remaining sounds so that ana /ana/ (third person singular article) contrasts with aana /a:na/ ('its underside') as well as anna /an:a/ ('dry land'). Other minimal pairs include:
|te ben /tepen/||ripe coconut||te been /tepe:n/||pen|
|ti /ti/||we||tii /ti:/||only|
|on /on/||full||oon /o:n/||turtles|
|te atu /atu/||bundle||te atuu /atu:/||head|
|tuanga /twa?a/||to tell||tuangnga /twa?:a/||to tell him/her|
Any noun can be formed from a verb or an adjective by preceding it with the definite article "te".
Nouns can be marked for possession (by person and number). Plurality is only marked in some nouns by lengthening the first vowel.
Biological gender can be marked by adding mm'aane (male) or aiine (female) to the noun.
For human nouns, the linker 'n' may be used.
The article 'te' is neither definite or indefinite, it just marks that the next word is a noun and that it's singular, although it can be translated as "the" most times. The plural article is optional since there are many other ways to express plurality, namely in demonstratives, numerals, etc.
|Personal article||te (tem, ten, teng)||nei|
The personal articles are used before personal names. The masculine form is 'te' before names beginning with <i, u, w, b', ng>, 'tem' before <b, m>, 'ten' before <a, e, o, n, r, t> and 'teng' before <k, (ng)>.
Pronouns have different forms according to case: nominative (subject), accusative (object), emphatic (vocatives, adjunct pronouns), genitive (possessives).
The basic 'aei' simply means "this", 'anne" is "that", 'arei' is "that over there" and are used after the noun. 'Aikai' is "these" and so on. The masculine "teuaei" means "this man", the feminine "neiei" means "this woman", and the inanimate "te baei" means "this thing". There's only feminine singular. The human plural serves for mixed groups. 
"Ngkai" is "now", "ngkanne" is "then" and "ngkekei" is "later". "Ikai" is "here", "ikanne" is "there" and "ikekei" is "over there".
Any adjective can also be an intransitive verb. Transitive verbs can be formed by the circumfix ka- (...) -a creating a causative ver, e.g. "uraura" (to be red) becomes "kaurauraa" (to redden). Tense is marked by adverbs. However, the default interpretation of the unmarked (by adverbs) verb is a past tense. Below is a list of verbal particles:
There are no verbs corresponding to English "to be", so a stative verb must be used or a zero copula strategy:
Te tia mm'akuri teuaarei.
A workman that man.
That man is a workman.
However there's a locative copula verb "mena":
E mena iaon te taibora te booro.
The ball is on the table
There's also no corresponding verb to "to have", instead an existential verb meaning "there to be" is used - iai.
Reduplication is used to mark aspect.
Adjectives can also be formed by reduplication with the meaning of "abundant in [adj.]" - "karau" (rain), "kakarau" (rainy).
The main negator is the particle "aki" placed before the verb. The negator "aikoa" is for counterexpected situations.
Gilbertese uses classifiers for counting with numerals like southeast Asian languages (Chinese, Vietnamese, etc.). These classifiers are suffixes to the numerals: -ua (general, for objects), -man (animate beings), -kai (plants, land, fish hooks), -ai (fish, elongated objects), -waa (transportation), -baa (leaves, flat objects) among many others. It is a decimal system with -bwi as a "10 counting" suffix. Zero ("akea") is just the word for 'nothing'.
|Root||With -ua classifier|
The Kiribati language is written in the Latin script, which was introduced in the 1840s when Hiram Bingham Jr, a missionary, first translated the Bible into Kiribati. Previously, the language was unwritten. Long vowels and consonants are represented by doubling the character, and a few digraphs are used for the velar nasals (/? ?:/) and velarized bilabials (i.e. /p? m?/).
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 the Kiribati 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.
Ao ti teuana aia taetae ka-in aonaba ma aia taeka ngkekei. Ao ngke a waerake, ao a kunea te tabo teuana ae aoraoi n te aba are Tina; ao a maeka iai. Ao a i taetae i rouia ni kangai, Ka-raki, ti na karaoi buatua, ao ti na kabuoki raoi. Ao aia atibu boni buatua, ao aia raim boni bitumen. Ao a kangai, Ka-raki, ti na katea ara kawa teuana, ma te taua, ae e na rota karawa taubukina, ao ti na karekea arara ae kakanato; ba ti kawa ni kamaeaki nako aonaba ni kabuta. Ao E ruo Iehova ba E na nora te kawa arei ma te taua arei, ake a katei natiia aomata. Ao E taku Iehova, Noria, te botanaomata ae ti teuana te koraki aei, ao ti teuana aia taetae; ao aei ae a moa ni karaoia: ao ngkai, ane e na aki tauaki mai rouia te b'ai teuana ae a reke nanoia iai ba a na karaoia. Ka-raki, ti na ruo, ao tin a kakaokoroi aia taetae iai, ba a aonga n aki atai nako aia taeka. Ma ngaia are E kamaeia nako Iehova mai iai nako aonaba ni kabuta: ao a toki ni katea te kawa arei. Ma ngaia are e aranaki ka Babera; ba kioina ngke E bita aia taetae ka-in aonaba ni kabaneia iai Iehova: ao E kamaeia nako Iehova mai ai nako aonaba ni kabuta.
(Now the whole world had one language and a common speech. As people moved eastward, they found a plain in Shinar and settled there.
They said to each other, "Come, let's make bricks and bake them thoroughly." They used brick instead of stone, and tar for mortar. Then they said, "Come, let us build ourselves a city, with a tower that reaches to the heavens, so that we may make a name for ourselves; otherwise we will be scattered over the face of the whole earth."
But the Lord came down to see the city and the tower the people were building. The Lord said, "If as one people speaking the same language they have begun to do this, then nothing they plan to do will be impossible for them. Come, let us go down and confuse their language so they will not understand each other."
So the Lord scattered them from there over all the earth, and they stopped building the city. That is why it was called Babel--because there the Lord confused the language of the whole world. From there the Lord scattered them over the face of the whole earth. Book of Genesis 11:1-9)