What Languages Are Spoken In The Marshall Islands?

The official flag of the Marshall Islands.
The official flag of the Marshall Islands.

The Marshall Island is one of the Pacific Ocean's island countries. It is situated slightly on the western part of the International Date Line. The island is one of the larger Micronesian group of islands, spreading over 25 coral atolls having about 1,150 individual islands and islets. The Marshall Islands has a population of slightly over 53,000 people as of 2011 with over 65% of the population living in the capital Majuro and Ebeye. Most of the other islands are sparsely populated partly because of the lack of employment and underdevelopment. The majority of the population is Marshallese who are of Micronesian origin while a part of the population has some recent Asian ancestry. The official languages spoken on the Marshall Island are English and Marshallese.

Official Languages Of The Marshall Islands


Marshallese language, commonly referred to as Ebon by the locals, is one of the two official languages spoken in the Marshall Islands. It is also the most popular language in the country with over 53,000 people speaking and/or understanding it. It is a Micronesian language, a member of the Eastern Oceanic subgroup of the Austronesia languages. The closest languages to the Marshallese language are the other Micronesian languages such as Nauruan and Chuukese. Marshallese language is divided into Ralik and Ratak dialects. Ralik is mainly spoken by residents of the western Ratak Chain while Ratak is spoken by the residents of eastern Ratak Chain. The two dialects differ mainly lexically but are mutually intelligible.

Marshallese enjoys use on the island as the primary language and the language of business and commerce. It is also spoken in countries such as Nauru and the United States. Marshallese language stands out among the other Micronesian languages in that it has tens of thousands of speakers, unlike the other Micronesian languages which have fewer speakers. There is even a dictionary and a bible published in Marshallese. Worth noting about the language is that it has a large consonant inventory with each consonant having some type of secondary articulation.


Although both English and Marshallese are spoken on the Island, only a fraction of the population speaks English as the first language. English is mainly spoken by the expatriates and tourists visiting the island. It is also used in businesses, especially in transactions that involve a non-Marshallese speaker who does not understand the language. The English language might have been brought to the island by British Captain William Marshall who explored the area in 1788. However, the language gained popularity on the island during the four decades of its administration by the US. Pidgin English, which has become a lingua franca in the west-central Pacific, is also spoken by some of the residents of Marshall Island. English language is given less attention in the country compared to Marshallese and exists as an official language mainly in theory.

Other Languages Spoken In The Marshall Islands

The presence of Spanish, Americans, Japanese and other Pacific Islanders on Marshall Island means some Marshall Islanders often learn more than one language. There are a considerable number of Japanese speakers who arrived on the island in the recent past. Migrants from neighboring islands such as Nauru have also influenced the language spoken on the island. However, their numbers are insignificant with the majority preferring to speak Marshallese language.


More in Society