The Beautiful Rapa Nui Language - Part 1

By Stacey
Feb 29, 2016 · 3 min

Easter Island is also known as Rapa Nui Island, and it’s here that you’ll hear the Rapa Nui language.

The Beautiful Rapa Nui Language - Part 1 | One Hour Translation

Easter Island is also known as Rapa Nui Island, and it’s here that you’ll hear the Rapa Nui language. Tahitian sailors gave this territory its name because they thought it resembled a Polynesian island known as Rapa Iti (meaning Little Rapa), and so it was named Rapa Nui, which means Great Napa.

Although greater Napa is not very large, just 163.6 km², it’s considerably larger than Little Rapa, which is only 40 km².

Today, Rapa Nui is part of Chile, and home to a population of around 4000 people. A small number of these people speak Rapa Nui, although most of the inhabitants speak Spanish. Interestingly, right up to the 1990s, people were not allowed to speak their native language, with Spanish being the only language taught in schools.

The Rapa Nui Language – A Polynesian Language

The Rapa Nui language is part of the group of Polynesian languages which are widely spoken across this region. Although this language is morphologically similar to Marquesan, which is spoken in French Polynesia on the Marquesas Islands, it’s actually chronologically similar to Maori, which is New Zealand’s native language.

The Rapa Nui language is a fascinating one in that it consists of only 10 consonants and five vowels, so it should be an easy language to learn, or perhaps that’s what makes it difficult to learn? Also, when counting, numerals are preceded by the sound ka - so counting looks a little like this –ka tahi (one), ka rua (two), ka toru (three), and so on.

Rapa Nui Island and the Moais

Rapa Nui Island is actually a volcano, renowned for its 887 stone statues spread across the island: these statues are known as moai. Most of these statues were sculpted from volcanic stone and erected between the years 1100 and 1680 AD by the early inhabitants of this island. It’s still not known what the intentions were behind the carving of these cultures; however, it may be that they’ve been used for religious purposes, with each statue representing the deceased head of a family ancestry line.

Easter Island is a fascinating island to visit, with beautiful landscape and, of course, the moais to visit. If Easter Island is on your travel agenda, it would certainly pay you to go online and learn some simple phrases prior to your travels.

Rapa Nui Translations

One Hour Translation has a worldwide community of more than 15,000 highly-qualified, professional translators, covering more than 75 languages, and this includes Rapa Nui translations. You can be assured that with all your translations both to and from Rapa Nui you’ll have a professional translator assigned to your project.

A Simple Language – or Is It?

Because there are only 10 consonants and five vowels in the Rapa Nui language, it means that many words are written or sound very similar. And because the phonology of the Rapa Nui language is so similar to the New Zealand Maori language, it leads us to speculate that perhaps the first people to colonise Easter Island might be the same ones who arrived in New Zealand.

At the moment, the language we know as Rapa Nui is highly influenced by Tahitian. In addition, and due to foreign contact, it’s undergone huge transformations - generating loanwords from French, English and Spanish. It’s also incorporated words that identify recent inventions such as the motor vehicle or airplane, which have been directly introduced into this language.

With the influence from these foreign languages and the passing of time, the Rapa Nui language became very close to extinction. Spanish became very important in the 1960s due to the arrival of the Chilean administration, and with this administration came the Spanish-speaking population. The increase in tourism and interracial marriages caused many young people to grow up as Spanish speaking natives, thus ignoring their mother tongue. 

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