Native toFrench Polynesia
RegionAustral Islands
Ethnicity8,000 (1987)[1]
Native speakers
3,000 (2007 census)[1]
L2 speakers: 2,000 (no date)[1]
Language codes
ISO 639-3aut

Austral (Reo Tuha'a pae) is an endangered Polynesian language or a dialect continuum that is spoken by approximately 8,000 people (1987). It is spoken only on the Austral Islands and the Society Islands of French Polynesia. The language is also referred to as Tubuai-Rurutu, Tubuai, Rurutu-Tupuai, or Tupuai. In structure, it is similarly compared to Tahitian.[2]


Those who originally spoke Austral were the Tubuaians, the people of Tubuai. Because there is no recorded history of its earlier discovery (before European colonization), there is no precise time or date of the initial inhabitance of Tubuai. However, some[who?] say that the indigenous people started to occupy the island around the year 1000, as this time saw a major increase of habitation in the Polynesian islands.[clarification needed][citation needed]

Centuries later, around 1777, James Cook landed on the island. Subsequently, Europeans made their way to this Polynesian isle to settle. Although the Tubuaians created their own society and culture, the Europeans' objective was to convert the islanders to their beliefs. In the end, European influence had a negative effect on the Austral culture and population. It caused the island to decrease from a population of 3000 to 300 over a course of years because of the emergence of new diseases and the introduction of alcohol.[citation needed]

Some traditional practices, beliefs, and languages have been lost or have struggled to survive.[3] The languages of the Austral area still lack official recognition, as of 2015.[4]

Genetic classification

Austral is sorted into the Austronesian family,[5] which contains a majority of the Pacific languages. This family is divided into 15 subcategories, starting with Austronesian and ending with Tahitic.[6] Specifically, it is broken down into Austronesian, Central-Eastern Malayo-Polynesian, Eastern Malayo-Polynesian, Oceanic, Central-Eastern Oceanic, Remote Oceanic, Central Pacific, East Fijian-Polynesian, Polynesian, Nuclear, East, Central, and Tahitic.


The Austral language is classified as "threatened" in the Catalogue of Endangered Languages.[7] With less than 6% of the French Polynesian population speaking Austral, its Ethnologue status is also deemed to be "shifting".[8] This means that the language is staying only within one generation and not being taught to their descendants. Another cause of the Austral language dissipation is that those who speak Austral are now speaking Tahitian. This alteration took place because Tahitian is better known and is spoken by more people in the region, while Austral is seen as futile as only a low percentage of people speak it.[9]


There are four dialects in the Austral language: Ra'ivavae, Rimatara, Rurutu, and Tubuai (also known as Tupuai). Each of these are spoken in their corresponding islands: Raivavae, Rimatara, and Rurutu, except for the Tubuai dialect: it is extinct, replaced by Tahitian.[4]


The phonology of the dialects of the Austral language varies significantly. The Rurutu and Ra'ivavae dialects, for example, have only eight consonant phonemes, making it relatively difficult to understand even for speakers of Tahitian, another Polynesian language. The Ra'ivavae dialect is also unusual in that its rhotic consonant has evolved into a voiced velar stop consonant, similar to the hard "g" sound in English.[4]

Consonants in Rurutu[10][4]
Labial Alveolar Glottal
Nasal m n
Plosive p t ʔ
Fricative f v
Lateral r
Consonants in Ra'ivavae[4]
Labial Alveolar Velar Glottal
Nasal m n
Plosive p t g ʔ
Fricative v h

All dialects have the same five vowels (a, e, i, o, u, with long variants) similar to practically all Polynesian languages.[4]

Sample verbs

Austral verbs[11]
English Austral
To say parau
To know ʔite
To choose maʔiti
To see naanaa
To think manaʔo
To work ʔatapu


  1. ^ a b c Austral at Ethnologue (19th ed., 2016)
  2. ^ "Tubuai-Rurutu facts". Retrieved 2018-09-28.
  3. ^ Bacchet, P. (6 March 2017). "Tubuai: The Island of Contrast". Retrieved 2 October 2018.
  4. ^ a b c d e f Charpentier, Jean-Michel; François, Alexandre (2015). Atlas Linguistique de Polynésie Française — Linguistic Atlas of French Polynesia (in French and English). Mouton de Gruyter & Université de la Polynésie Française. ISBN 978-3-11-026035-9.
  5. ^ "Austronesian". Retrieved 2018-09-28.
  6. ^ "Austral". Ethnologue. Retrieved 2018-09-28.
  7. ^ Lee, Nala Huiying (17 March 2015). "Assessing levels of endangerment in the Catalogue of Endangered Languages (ELCat) using the Language Endangerment Index (LEI)" (PDF). Retrieved 3 October 2018.
  8. ^ "Language Status". Ethnologue. Retrieved 2018-09-28.
  9. ^ "Austral". Ethnologue. Retrieved 2018-10-19.
  10. ^ Trudgill, Peter (2004). "Linguistic and social typology: The Austronesian migrations and phoneme inventories" (PDF). Linguistic Typology. 8 (3). doi:10.1515/lity.2004.8.3.305. S2CID 120353858.
  11. ^ "Verbix Languages Languages/Austral". Retrieved 2018-10-19.