Grammar Sketch (unavailable
at the moment)
Kiribati (sometimes Kiribatese, a mixture of both) is a language from the
Austronesian family, part of the Oceanian branch and of the Nuclear
Micronesian subbranch. It is a verb object subject language.
About 105,000 people speak Gilbertese, 98,000 of whom live in Kiribati,
about 97.2% of the entire population. The others are the inhabitants of Nui
(Tuvalu), Rabi (Fiji), Mili (Marshall Islands) and some other islands where
I-Kiribati have been relocated (Solomon Islands and Vanuatu) or emigrated
(New Zealand and Hawaii mainly).
- Description of the language as Gilbertese or Kiribatese is
sometimes considered a relic of colonial days by some I-Kiribati
(the people of Kiribati). But as Kiribati is itself a rendition for
"Gilberts", most people do not care. The official description is
Taetae ni Kiribati, or 'the Kiribati language'.
- Unlike many in the Pacific region, the Kiribati language is far
from extinct, and just about all speakers use it daily. Only 30% of
Kiribati speakers are fully bilingual with
meaning that the language is in no current danger of being swallowed
- The Kiribati language has two main dialects: the Northern
dialect and the Southern dialect. 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 both vocabulary and pronunciation.
- The Kiribati language is written in the Latin alphabet, and has
been since the 1840s, when Hiram Bingham Jr, a missionary, first
translated the Bible into Kiribati. Previously, the language was
unwritten. Bingham had only a typewriter with a broken "S" so it
does not occur in the language and "ti" is used for that sound
- 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 (only heard 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 creation of new words. The Gilbertese word for
airplane is te wanikiba, "the canoe that flies".
- Catholic missionaries would later arrive at the islands in 1888
and translate the Bible independently of Bingham, resulting in
differences (Bingham wrote Jesus as "Iesu", while the Catholics
wrote "Ietu") that would only be resolved in the 20th century (No
's' in the Kiribati alphabet). The best English-Kiribati Dictionary
has been published by Father Ernest Sabatier in 1954: Dictionnaire
Gilbertin-Français, 900p. (edited by South Pacific Commission in