Marquesan is a collection of East-Central Polynesian dialects, of the Marquesic group, spoken in the Marquesas Islands of French Polynesia. They are usually classified into two groups, North Marquesan and South Marquesan, roughly along geographic lines.
The North Marquesan dialects are spoken on the islands of Ua Pu and Nuku Hiva, and South Marquesan dialects on the islands of Hiva Oa, Tahuata and Fatu Hiva. The dialects of Ua Huka are often incorrectly classified as North Marquesan; they are instead transitional. While the island is in the northern Marquesas group, the dialects show more morphological and phonological affinities with South Marquesan. The North Marquesan dialects are sometimes considered two separate languages: North Marquesan and Tai Pi Marquesan, the latter being spoken in the valleys of the eastern third of the island of Nuku Hiva, in the ancient province of Tai Pi.
The most striking feature of the Marquesan languages is their almost universal replacement of the /r/ or /l/ of other Polynesian languages by a /ʔ/ (glottal stop).
Like other Polynesian languages, the phonology of Marquesan languages is characterized by a paucity of consonants and a comparative abundance of vowels. The consonant phonemes are:
Of this small number of consonants, /ŋ/ is found only in eastern Nuku Hiva (Tai Pi Marquesan), and /f/ is found only in South Marquesan dialects. In writing, the phoneme /ŋ/ is represented by n(g), and /ʔ/ is represented as ‘ or ’.
Unlike Samoan, the /ŋ/ is not an isolated nasal: it is found only in conjunction with a following /k/. So, whereas the Samoan word for "bay" is faga, pronounced ['fa.ŋa], it is hanga in Tai Pi Marquesan, and is pronounced /'ha.ŋka/. (This word is useful to demonstrate one of the more predictable regular consonantal differences between the northern and southern dialects: in North Marquesan, the word is haka, and in South Marquesan, it is hana).
The letter h is used to represent a wide range of sounds, with some authors reporting that, in addition to representing /h/, it also represents a variety of fricatives from /s/ to /x/, along with a number of palatalized or labialized variants. The primary factor in this wide range of sounds appears a result of sandhi. These fricatives are all allophones of the simple /h/.
The vowel phonemes are the same as in other Polynesian languages, long and short versions of each: