What Languages Are Spoken In Kiribati?

A beach typical of Kiribati.
A beach typical of Kiribati.

Kiribati is a small country, which is mainly composed of islands, 33 atolls, reef islands, and it is located in the central region of the Pacific Ocean. The total population in the country according to the 2015 census is about 110,000 people. While several people in Kiribati speak Kiribati, also known as Gilbertese, the official language in the country is English.

De Facto National Language Of Kiribati

The British colonizers who left the country after Kiribati gained independence in 1979 were responsible for introducing the English language used in the country. The English language is the de facto national language in the country and it is widely use in the capital city of Tarawa. Apparently, the use of English is also widespread in other parts of the country and is also used in most schools of Kiribati as the medium of instruction. Events and official ceremonies held in the country usually use the English language for communication purposes. Most citizens on the island use English as well to communicate with foreigners who visit Kiribati.

Indigenous Languages Of Kiribati

Kiribati (Gilbertese) Language

Kiribati or Gilbertese language is an official dialect spoken by people native to the country. The natives use the language daily, and almost 90% of the people in the country understand and speak fluent Kiribati. Although the Kiribati people speak and understand the language, some old people in the country at times speak more challenging Kiribati, which perplexes the younger generation. The dominant nature of the language is unlike several other languages that have over the recent past disappeared with the advent of globalization. Surprisingly, while over 80% of people in the island are fluent in English, they also understand their native languages. It is imperative to explain that the language is unique as it follows a ‘verb-object-subject’ format. Due to the interaction with other islands, the language is also spoken in regions like Fiji, Solomon Islands, Mili, and Nui.

The Enduring Kiribati Language

While English is an official language in Kiribati, it appears that the Kiribati language, also known as Gilbertese, is dominant. The dominant nature of the Kiribati language can be linked to the fact that several people in the country are I-Kiribati and as such speak the language. Besides, it is also worth noting that while English is used in official activities and schools, Kiribati is spoken by families at home and in social places. Moreover, the natives, especially in remote areas at times, use a mixture of English and Kiribati. One of the notable issues that one cannot fail to notice is the fact that the Kiribati language regardless of the several influences from neighboring islands and globalization, has retained in its authentic nature. This is unlike many languages in the world, which have been replaced either by English or by other dominant languages or have since lost their originality to become a blend.


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