Since there are no closed syllables and no consonant clusters in the Rapanui language (Du Feu 1996:186), there is no necessity for glyphs that represent single consonants or combinations of consonants. In the first row of the syllabary below, the plain vowels /a/, /e/, /i/, /o/ and /u/ are represented by a group of glyphs that are very common in the inscriptions and are of a relatively simple structure. These signs are also used for syllables starting with consonant /h/ or the glottal stop – alternatively it could be said that /h/ and the glottal stop were not written. As the latter has been omitted or dealt with very confusingly in the vocabularies, I have opted to leave it out of the transliterations as well (at least for the time being). Stress patterns and vowel length which have sometimes been noted, are also left out as they are not essential for the presentation of the transliteration either.

Apart from these diversions and the use of /ng/ for /ŋ/ and /v/ for /b/, the text of the transliterations will follow Fuentes' spelling (1960), as his is the most comprehensive vocabulary at the moment. The spelling of words that are missing in Fuentes will be taken from Churchill (1912) and Englert (1978), respectively.


Basic signs and their phonetic values

Added: 2010-11-10  Modified: 2017-07-16

(h)e

(h)i

(h)a

nga

(h)o

(h)u

nge

 ngi

 ngo

 ?ngu

ka

ke

 ma

  me

  mi

ko

ku

 mo

  mu

  na

  ne

pi

  no

  nu

  ra

 re

   ri

pa

pe

po

 pu

  ro

 ru

ta

 te

   ti

to

 tu

va

 ve

vi

vo

vu

 ki

a

 ni

(h)

ng

k

m

n

p

r

t

v

e

i

o

u

Transliteration conventions

(C)V-syllabary

A number of syllables lack a corresponding glyph which means that these have not been identified with a minimum degree of certainty. For relatively rare syllables such as /ngo/, /vi/, and /vo/, this is something to be expected, but more frequently used ones such as /mu/, /ni/, and /nu/ require further investigation. A solution may possibly be found in certain defective writing strategies, for example, the use of the no-sign for ngo as in the spelling of mahingo. "family", as mahino (fig. 1).


Fig. 1

 hi-nga  he  kai     (tae)

                         ma-hi-no

Disyllabic signs

The majority of the glyphs of the rongorongo  inscriptions are monosyllabic. i.e., they represent vowels or consonant-vowel combinations. A small group of signs consists of two syllables and are for the most part of the CVV-type – with two different vowels. In the same way as most of the syllabic signs, these glyphs seem to function primarily as word signs, sometimes even in more than one meaning. For example, sign 3.4 is used both as directional particle mai, "toward", and as interrogative maai, "for whom?"

As can be seen, some glyphs deviate from the CVV pattern. The most important of these is negator ina (VCV) (fig. 3.3). Other exceptions are ao (VV), "power", "authority" (fig. 3.1), which is also used for haho, "outside", hare (CVCV) (fig. 3.2), a sign which is very rare in the inscriptions on wood, and riva (CVCV) (fig. 3.3). Possibly, the latter is not an elementary sign but a composite of syllabic signs for /ri/ and /va/, perhaps combined into a laughing mouth as illustration of its meaning "good".


Fig. 2

 ao

hare

tua

ina

?roto

kai

mai

nui

riva

rou

tou

 vae

nei

?

Fig. 3.1

2

3

4

5

6

7

8

9

10

11

12

13

14

The "birdhead" signs tou and tua (figs. 3.10-11) both have shortbeaked equivalents (figs. 4.1-2), similar to the ta-sign. The tua-syllable appears almost exclusively as part of the word matua, "parent", whereas tou is used as component of the personal pronouns maatou and taatou and independently as tohu, "curse", "to curse". The phonetic value of the sign in fig. 3.14 – which is likely of the CVCV type – is still undetermined. From the contexts in which it appears it can be deduced that it means something like "praise", "to praise".

2

Fig. 4.1

tou  

tua

(not present

in Rapanui)