Kiribati: Me and My Language

Name: Donna Tekanene Reiher
Preferred language name(s): Taetae ni Kiribati
Alternative names: Kiribati language, Gilbertese
Language classification: Micronesian, Austronesian
Geographical areas where spoken: Kiribati, Solomon, Fiji and Tuvalu
Approximate number of speakers: 120,000
Other languages spoken in the community: English 
Official language(s) in your country: English and Kiribati
Other language(s) in your country: English
Does your language have a widely accepted writing system? Yes
If yes, what materials are written? Newspaper, Government document, a few Educational Materials, Bible, Books


Language Background

The Kiribati language comes from the Austronesian family language. It first appeared in writing by the Rev. Hiram Bingham, a missionary who traveled from Hawaii to Kiribati. English and Kiribati is the official language in Kiribati. Kiribati Kiribati language is for verbal communication whereas English is mostly used for written communication. For example, Parliament meetings /discussion are in the Kiribati language, however, all laws/regulations are documented in English.

Kiribati used to be a British colony and during that time, Kiribati together with Tuvalu were known as the Gilbert and Ellice Islands, during separation (independence) the Tuvaluan people of Nui Island maintained the Kiribati language. Also during colonisation, several Kiribati people were moved to Rabi, Fiji and Wagina, Solomon Islands, to this day  they still speak the Kiribati language.

I believe that language can tell many great stories, knowledge, experience and culture which my ancestors have lived by in the old days. Although the entire population in Kiribati speaks the language, the language gradually changes with time. Some words have been replaced with English words, e.g house is called ‘umwa’ but now everyone calls it ‘auti’. My language is under-documented and with the influence of economy development, it is easy to replace Kiribati words with English and this may endanger the language as spoken by our ancestors. I am very grateful for this opportunity to be apart of the LDTC to help document my language and search for true meanings of words which are rarely used in Kiribati nowadays

What have other sources said about your language?

Reported # of speakers Vitality Assessment 70,000 NA 116280  Vigorous  120000  Far from extinct


at the University of Hawai'i at Mānoa