Kiribati - Gilbertese  
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  • Kiribati Grammar Sketch (unavailable at the moment)


  • Gilbertese or 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 English, meaning that the language is in no current danger of being swallowed by English.
  • 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 instead.
  • 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 1971).
Online Dictionaries
Other resources
  • Trimoraic Feet in Gilbertese - Research paper presenting evidence for ternary metrical constituents in Gilbertese with the first known in-depth study of prosody in a Micronesian language and a constraint-based analysis of Gilbertese prosody in particular.
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