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  • Linguistic atlas of French Polynesia/Atlas linguistique de la Polynésie française by Jean-Michel Charpentier and Alexandre François
  • Mary Walworth
Jean-Michel Charpentier and Alexandre François. 2015. Linguistic atlas of French Polynesia/Atlas linguistique de la Polynésie française. Berlin and Tahiti: Walter de Gruyter and Université de la Polynésie française. 2557 pp. e-ISBN (PDF) 978-3-11-026035-9, e-ISBN (EPUB) 978-3-11-037691-3. Open Access:

French Polynesia covers a large geographic area with a high level of linguistic diversity. However, very few general linguistic studies have been conducted to provide meaningful language documentation for the region. The Linguistic atlas of French Polynesia is, therefore, a long awaited and much needed work that offers the first comprehensive overview of the linguistic diversity of French Polynesia, and provides new lexical data for several language varieties spoken in this region that are understudied and underdocumented.

The Atlas, completed and published after Charpentier's death in 2014, was a collaborative effort between two accomplished Oceanic linguists. Jean-Michel Charpentier, an experienced author of linguistic atlases (see Charpentier 1982), managed the preparation of the fieldwork and the data collection. This included the choice of locations, the careful selection of semantic values, the design of the collection methods, community outreach and the finding of speakers, the review and implementation of existing language materials, and analyses of the individual and overarching linguistic situations. Alexandre François organized the data into a usable database to create 2,250 thematic maps, edited and prepared the final manuscript, and managed the collection of supplementary and missing data from area linguists after the passing of Charpentier. The descriptive text in the first section of the book was written primarily by Charpentier, and then appended by François.

The primary objectives of the Atlas are to present the linguistic diversity of French Polynesia—diversity that the authors quite rightly state has been underestimated—and to call attention to the region's complex sociolinguistic history. The target audience is both linguists and nonlinguists, with a specific focus on reaching local teachers, local language conservation groups, young French Polynesians, and anyone else with a vested interest in the Eastern Polynesian languages of French Polynesia. The authors set out to achieve their goals through the book's two major sections. The first consists of short descriptive chapters that detail the development and collection of data for the Atlas, as well as the sociolinguistic history of French Polynesia. The authors first discuss the process of Tahitianization through religion, economy, education, and the centralization of political activism and cultural revitalization. They then describe the Francization of the region and summarize multilingualism in each of the language communities they identify. The second part of the Atlas presents the collected lexical data. These data, comprising 2,250 semantic values in 20 "communalects,"1 are organized according to five major themes: the human body and natural functions, the environment, material culture, health and body [End Page 299] care, and the individual and society. Each semantic value is illustrated using a trilingually headed map in Tahitian, English, and French.

The Atlas includes an impressive number of languages from a large geographic area, compiling lexical equivalents of 2,250 semantic entries in 20 different communalects. These communalects represent 20 different locations (five in the Marquesas, nine in the Tuamotus, one in the Gambiers, three in the Australs, as well as the islands of Rapa Iti, Tahiti, and Maupiti), some of which are remote and have low speaker numbers, making it difficult to locate speakers. Beyond its breadth of lexical representation and physical space, the Atlas also provides an excellent account of the complex overarching linguistic situation of French Polynesia through a thorough explanation of the centralization of Tahiti by the French and the layered dominant influences of French and Tahitian in the outer regions as a result of that centralization. Furthermore, the Atlas is the first published study to acknowledge the multitude of lects in French Polynesia, and to take notice of the blurry line between language and dialect in the region. Beyond these general innovations, several other outstanding...


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pp. 299-303
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