The Polynesian languages are a group of related languages spoken in the region known as Polynesia. They are considered to be a part of the Austronesian language group, belonging to the Eastern Malayo-Polynesian branch of that family. They fall into two groups: Tongic and Nuclear Polynesian.
There are approximately forty Polynesian languages. The most prominent of these are Tahitian, Samoan, Tongan, Maori, and Hawaiian.
Because the Polynesian islands were settled relatively recently (starting around 2,000 years ago), their languages retain strong commonalities. There are two broad subgroups: Tongan and Niuean are considered part of the Tongic division and all others are considered part of the Nuclear Polynesian division.
Examples of words remaining similar across different languages include the word for "sky" (Maori and Rapanui: rangi; Samoan and Tongan: langi; Hawaiian: lani; North Marquesan: ‘aki; South Marquesan: ‘ani) and the word for "house" (Maori: whare; Rapanui: hare;Tahitian: fare, Samoan: fale, Hawaiian hale, N. Marq. ha'e, South Marquesan fa'e). Certain correspondences can be noted between different Polynesian languages. For example, the Maori sounds K, R, T and Ng correspond to ‘ (‘okina), L, K and N in Hawaiian -- as such, the Maori word tangata ("people") is kanaka in Hawaiian, and Maori roa ("long") becomes Hawaiian loa. The Hawaiian name for kava is ‘awa.
Although none of the modern Polynesian languages allow consonant clusters, this tendency appears to be have developed well after the early settlement of the islands. For example, when reconstructing the proto-Marquesan word for "man", using the South Marquesan word ‘enata and kenana or ‘enana from North Marquesan, the reconstructed original word is *kenanda. (This word may be related to the previously mentioned tangata in Maori and kanaka in Hawaiian, although if that is the case, comparative Polynesian linguistics would lead to the conclusion that the word should appear in Marquesan as takata/tenata.) The syllable-initial phoneme nd- is common in Fijian, the Melanesian language most closely related to the Polynesian languages. Other syllable-initial clusters of the Proto-Polynesian language appear to include *mb-, *kt-, and *ŋk-.
Some Polynesian languages have been greatly affected by European colonization. Both Maori and Hawaiian, for example, have lost much ground to English, and have only recently been able to make progress towards restoration.
Spoken in: Polynesia
Central Eastern Malayo-Polynesian
Nuclear Polynesian languages
East Nuclear Polynesian languages