Rapa Nui language

rapa nui language

The current native population on Easter Island is bilingual, easily speaking both Spanish and Rapa Nui, which is the language commonly used by the islanders in their colloquial and family settings. Spanish is used to interact with the visitants and the island dwellers from continental Chile.

The Vananga Rapanui (the Rapanui way of speaking) is a Polynesian root language, and it is spoken exclusively by the Rapanui, with a total of less than 3,000 speakers worldwide, who all live mainly in Easter Island. In spite of this root language and of the fact that it is very akin to Tahitian and Marquesan, the Rapa Nui language is independent and indigenous, because, once again, the island’s isolation caused unique characteristics in its language.


The Rapa Nui language has only ten consonants and five vowels, which makes it difficult to learn because many different words are written or sound very similar. On the other hand, Rapa Nui phonology is very similar to the New Zealand Maori, which has led to speculation that the first navigators to colonize Easter Island could be the same one who arrived in New Zealand.

Presently, what is known as modern Rapa Nui is very influenced by Tahitian. Furthermore, it has undergone big transformations due to foreign contact, generating loanwords from English, French and Spanish, in addition to incorporating words that identify recent inventions such as the airplane or car, which have been introduced directly into the language.

With the passage of time and the influence from these foreign languages, the Rapa Nui language was in danger of extinction. In the 1960s, Spanish was of great relevance because of the arrival of the Chilean administration and, with it, the Spanish speaking population: interracial marriages and the increase in tourism caused many young Rapa Nui to grow up as Spanish speaking natives, leaving aside learning their mother tongue.

Fortunately for the language, in the last decades, the Rapanui people have experienced an ethnic reaffirmation which has made them appraise and appreciate themselves as an indigenous people. This self-assessment has generated a culture that reinforces, among other things, the association of language to its own identity.

Rapa Nui Dictionary

Iorana -> Hello / Good morning / Good bye

Pehe koe? -> How are you?

Riva riva -> Very good

Ana hanga koe -> Please

Mauru-ur -> Thank you

To’oku ingoa ko… -> My name is…

To’oku henua ko… -> I’m from…

Éé -> Yes

Ina -> No

E hia moni…? -> How much is …?



Leave a Comment