Kapingamarangi language

Native to Micronesia
Region Kapingamarangi and Pohnpei islands
Native speakers
3,000 (1995)[1]
Language codes
ISO 639-3 kpg
Glottolog kapi1249[2]

Kapingamarangi is a Polynesian language spoken in the Federated States of Micronesia. It had 3,000 native speakers in 1995.[1] The language is closely related to the Nukuoro language.



The Kapingamarangi language is a language spoken in the Pacific by people from Kapingamarangi, the Pohnpei Island, and in the Pohnrakied village in Pohnpei. Kapingamarangi was first recorded on an expedition in 1557 by Spanish navigator Hernando de Grigalvan (Elbert, 1946). Kapingamarangi, also known as Kirinit, is categorized in the Austronesian language family, along with many other Pacific languages. Kapingamarangi is an atoll, which is located in the state of Pohnpei of the Federated States of Micronesia. In the country of Pohnpei, Kapingamarangi is the southernmost atoll of the country and of the Caroline Islands. The total area of the Kapingamarangi Island is 72 square kilometres (28 sq mi). The western reef rim of the islands gets almost submerged in water when the tides are high. The Kapingamarangi language is spoken not only on the atoll of Kapingamarangi, but also in the village of Pohnrakied, located on the island of Pohnpei. Pohnpei is the largest, highest, most populated, and the most developed island in the Federated States of Micronesia. It is also part of the Caroline Islands group. The island of Pohnpei is administered under the Federated States of Micronesia government.


Kapingamarangi is viewed as another world, even to other cultures located inside of Micronesia. The people of Kapingamarangi live in towns, rather than being scattered out in little hamlets like other additional places located in Micronesia (Elbert, 1946). Kapingamarangi currently has three thousand total speakers: one thousand speakers on the atoll of Kapingamarangi and two thousand speakers in Pohnrakied village on Pohnpei. The people of Kapingamarangi are considered to be of Polynesian ethnicity; the other seven states of the Federated States of Micronesia are categorized as being Micronesian. The only language that is recognized as an official language in Micronesia is English. The language status of Kapingamarangi is "educational", which means that the language is in vigorous use, maintaining standardization and literature throughout a widespread system in institutions of education. The language has been developed to a point that it is used and sustained in people's homes and around the community.[3]



Kapingamarangi has 22 consonants /d, dh, g, gh, p, ph, t, th, k, kh, w, wh, h, hh, m, mh, n, nh, ŋ, ŋh, l, lh/ (Leiber & Dikepa, 1974).


The main vowels in Kapingamarangi are /a/, /e/, /i/, /o/, and /u/. In the Kapingamarangi language, the vowels can be described as long or short vowels. A long vowel means that the vowel sound is stressed more in a word when spoken. The long vowels are written by writing two of the same letters next to each other. Therefore, the Kapingamarangi language is composed of ten vowels (Lieber & Dikepa, 1974).

ex. ʻʻduliʻʻ bird ʻʻduliiʻʻ small, little

Kapingamarangi vowel phonemes have diphthongs because in Kapingamarangi language, it is possible to have any two vowels next to each other. For example, the word eidu which means "spirit" has a diphthong with the letters /e/ and /i/ (Lieber & Dikepa, 1974).

Syllable structure

The syllable structure of the Kapingamarangi language is VV, VVV, VCV, CVV, CCVV, CVCV, and CCVCV (Lieber & Dikepa, 1974). In Kapingamarangi, like most Polynesian languages, it is impossible for a word to end in a consonant, but it is possible for there to be two consonants together, as long as it is the same letter.

Example: The term for un-groomed hair is libgo wwana. In this term, the two (W’s) stand together in the word wwana.


Basic word order

There are three possible word orders in the Kapingamarangi language. The word order of Kapingamarangi is SVO (subject–verb–object), VSO (Verb Subject Object), or OSV (Object Verb Subject), (Elberts, 1948). SVO is the commonly used word order, followed by VSO, and finally OSV is the least used and is a very case in the language. The word order for questions is the same as they are for statements. In research for the grammar of Kapingamarangi, deciphering reasoning or specific uses for the alternative word orders are unsure.

ex. Mee gu noho I dono hale.

He is staying at the house.


Morphology is another pivotal element to understanding the grammar of Kapingamarangi. Morphology is the descriptive analysis of words (Elbert, 1948). The morphology of Kapingamarangi is extremely extensive. The word classes in Kapingamarangi are pronouns, possessives, demonstratives, verbs, nouns, adverbs, adjectives, negatives, particles, conjunctions, and interjections (Elbert, 1948).

Many verbs can take a prefix, but even more verbs take a suffix. For example, a verb may have a prefix like haka- before a word, and a suffix like –ina after a word. Like the English language, adjectives follow nouns, and adverbs follow verbs, adjectives, and/or demonstratives. Negatives in Kapingamarangi immediately precede verbs or verb particles (Elbert, 1948). Conjunctions mark serial relationships, and interjections denote emotion (Elbert, 1948).

The pronouns in Kapingamarangi can be dual (two people), plural (more than two people), inclusive (including the addressee), or exclusive (excluding the addressee). Serial relationships are expressed by the pronoun mo, which means "and" (Elbert, 1948). For example, "David and I" would be, "Kimaua mo David". The pronouns in the Kapingamarangi language are very different from the pronouns in the English language. The pronouns in Kapingamarangi are not gender specific. For example, Kinae means "him or her"; therefore the gender must be translated through the context of a sentence or conversation.


Reduplication is a common concept that appears in the Kapingamarangi language, and is relevant to understanding the grammar of Kapingamarangi. Reduplication is the repetition of a root word (Elbert, 1948). The reduplication of Kapingamarangi can be achieved in two different fashions: partial and full reduplication. The fully reduplicated form is generated by the full repetition of the base form, while partial reduplication is generated by partial repetition of the base form (Lieber & Dikepa, 1974). Reduplication usually depicts continued or repeated action (Elbert, 1948). For example, tapa is a single flash of lightning, while tapatapa is repeated flashing. In Kapingamarangi, reduplication can be done with the first two syllables, or it can be done with the final two syllables. There is only one word in the lexicon of Kapingamarangi that displays a partially reduplicated form; the word baba is the only word that is partially reduplicated, and it reduplicates to the word babaa (Lieber & Dikepa, 1974).



Indigenous vocabulary


The Kapingamarangi language has an influence of English in their community, because English is the official language of the Federated States of Micronesia. Words from the English vocabulary were borrowed and transfigured into the Kapingamarangi lexicon.

Words derived from English:


From Leiber and Dikepa, 1974


  1. n. basket
  2. vi. To smile
  3. n. Fish


  1. vi. To stand, to stop
  2. n. Belt



Kapingamarangi has access to many different materials. One of the materials that the Kapingamarangi language has access to is an online talking dictionary. It is a dictionary where one can enter a word in English and it will automatically translate it to Kapingamarangi. Many words in this dictionary also have a vocal response on how to pronounce the word, which is why it is called a talking dictionary. This is a resource because it not only provides visual correlations between the English and Kapinga translation for a word, but it also has vocal responses so that scholars of Kapingamarangi can hear a word and how to correctly pronounce it.

Kapingamarangi also has access to a variety of books, including dictionaries, books that contain linguistic information, and even books about the atoll of Kapingamarangi. Many native speakers were involved in the translation project that resulted in the Kapingamarangi Bible.[4] These are resources because they are full of information and are highly reliable. Websites like Facebook and YouTube also contain information on Kapingamarangi. The Facebook page is a Micronesia Language Revitalization Workshop page and it contains information about a workshop that was held all throughout Micronesia, including Kapingamarangi. There is a YouTube video of an interview with a speaker who is bilingual in both English and Kapinga and he explains the importance of speaking Kapingamarangi and language revitalization (Heinrich, 2013). There are also selections of poetry in Kapingamarangi (Lewis, Simmons, and Charles, 2013).

Intergenerational transmission

In accordance to intergenerational transmission, it is likely that Kapingamarangi is being transmitted to children, because Kapingamarangi is in revitalization mode, and the number of speakers keeps increasing. Since the language is taught in schools, it is safe to assume that language is being passed down to the next generation. Since Kapingamarangi has so many resources for people to go to, children have access to a variety of resources to assist their education of the language. Kapingamarangi is not endangered, however it is threatened. The language is taught in schools and churches, but is not used in all domains. According to Ethnologue, Kapingamarangi is taught in primary schools. It is also used at home, in the community, and in churches (Lewis, Simmons, and Charles, 2013). The language is at a current growing state, and might become a fully revitalized language in the near future.

See also


  1. 1 2 Kapingamarangi at Ethnologue (18th ed., 2015)
  2. Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin; Bank, Sebastian, eds. (2016). "Kapingamarangi". Glottolog 2.7. Jena: Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History.
  3. http://www.fsmgov.org/info/culture.html
  4. "Its Our Bible". Vimeo. Retrieved 2016-01-22.

Further reading

External links

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