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  • Mangarevan Doublets:Preliminary Evidence for Proto-Southeastern Polynesian
  • Steven Roger Fischer

The Mangarevan language of the Gambier Islands, situated between Tahiti and Easter Island, displays one of the largest collections of doublets among the forty-odd Polynesian languages. These doublets indicate a pre-Proto-Central Eastern settlement of the island from the Marquesas via the Eastern Tuamotus. They also witness a later Proto-Central Eastern intrusion on the island of similar provenience. The cumulative weight of evidence suggests that Proto-Southeastern Polynesian, a hitherto unrecognized language that seemingly comprised Proto-Eastern Polynesian's first differentiation, was spoken by the first settlers of the Eastern Tuamotus, Mangareva, Pitcairn, Henderson, and Rapanui.

1. Introduction

Mangarevan is the Eastern Polynesian language of the approximately 1,100 inhabitants of the Gambier Islands, located 1,650 km. southeast of Tahiti, just north of the Tropic of Capricorn at 134° 45´ W. and 20° 20´ S.1 A barrier reef 65 km. in length encloses the Gambiers' ten islands on all but the group's southern flank. Some archaeologists now believe that "Polynesians had explored, found and settled the Oceanic area of ... Mangareva, Pitcairn and Henderson by 800 A.D." (Green 1998:88; cf. Green 2000a:74). In 1797, Capt. James Wilson of the Duff, conveying members of the (London) Missionary Society to Tahiti, became the first-documented European to encounter the group, which he named after English admiral James Gambier. Father Honoré Laval of the Catholic Order of the Sacred Hearts (SSCC) missioned in the group from 1834 to 1871, when the French government declared the Gambiers to be its "protectorate" and seized full control. Ten years later, in 1881, France annexed the Gambiers. [End Page 112]

2. Linguistic Source Material

There are three significant lexicons for early Mangarevan. Most important is Father Laval's dictionary, ostensibly compiled in the 1830s and 1840s and evidently preserved only in an English edition (Tregear 1899).2 (Laval's original manuscript, as well as Tregear's personal copy of this sent to him by Bishop Tepano Jaussen of Tahiti,3 have apparently both disappeared.) Much of Laval's work was incorporated into a later lexicon compiled mainly by SSCC priest Cyprien Lyaousseau (Lyaousseau 1877). One generation later, this furnished most of the material, much of it verbatim, for the lexicon generally ascribed to Mangareva's priest Vincent-Ferrier Janeau (Janeau 1908).

Each French lexicographer, including Laval, almost everywhere transcribed Mangarevan ʔ with "h." (As neither /ʔ/ nor /h/ occur in French phonology, native French speakers have difficulty distinguishing between these sounds.) Indeed, the French believed ʔ to be a weak h: "L'h est toujours aspirée d'une façon souvent imperceptible pour une oreille peu exercée" (Janeau 1908:7). In fact, there is no h in indigenous Mangarevan; h in Modern Mangarevan occurs only in very recent Tahitian borrowings. Often the French sources omit glottal stop altogether, as in the causative 'aka series, given as [aka], though Janeau (Dictionnaire, p. 31) does note: "... tous les mots qui commencent par aka, pourraient s'écrire haka avec h." As Hiroa (1938:12-13) remarked,4 glottal stop was not only mistranscribed—it was often ignored. And occasionally French compilers inserted an h in words containing no glottal. It has been pointed out (anonymous reviewer) that a prior knowledge of Tahitian would have predisposed the French missionaries to hear Mangarevan glottal stop as a "kind of h," because h would be its most common Tahitian correspondent. Any linguist must be cautious when citing Mangarevan items from the abovementioned lexicons and other early French sources and their derivations.

The French and Tregear used "g" for ŋ. In this paper, ŋ is used.

3. Linguistic Research

Marshall (1956:72) included Mangarevan among his proposed "East Central Eastern" dialects of the "Polynesian language," whose other group members were Marquesan, tuamotuan, and Rapan. The validity of a Marquesic subgroup of Eastern Polynesian languages, as distinct from a Tahitic subgroup, was argued ten years later by both Green (1966) and Pawley (1966), who endorsed Mangarevan's position in the former. Green, in particular, asserted that Mangarevan must be a Marquesic language derived from Proto-Central Eastern which, in turn, derived from Proto-Eastern Polynesian.

Until now, the...


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