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Marshallese people and language


Marshall Islanders are known throughout the Pacific and the world for their friendly and peaceful nature. Sharing with family and friends, a warm welcome for the stranger, and caring consideration for others are values inherent to the Marshallese culture. The people have nurtured these values over the centuries. Cooperation and caring are necessary elements of survival on these small islands, surrounded by the sea.


The concept of family and community thus remain inextricably intertwined in Marshallese society. People still consider grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins and far-flung relatives among their closest family. The strong family ties contribute to close-knit communities rooted in the values of caring, kindness and respect.

Time has also introduced new elements into the culture. While the local population is mostly indigenous, there are many mixed German, Japanese and American Marshallese.

Marshallese Language

Both Marshallese and English are the official languages of the Marshall Islands. Marshallese belongs to the Austronesian Language Family, the most geographically widespread language family in the world. Of the Austronesian languages, Marshallese is a member of the Malayo Polynesian group, a group which contains 880 different languages. In the Marshalls, two major dialects have emerged, one in the Ralik chain and one in the Ratak chain of atolls. The differences between the two dialects is minor.

Rainbows are a common sight in Majuro. Local legend tells that the expression "iaKwe!" (You are a rainbow) once developed into the traditional Marshallese greeting, "Iokwe yuk," which means "Love to You." You can find other pronunciations in our basic Marshallese phrasebook.

A formal linguistic classification of Marshallese is as follows:




Eastern Malayo-Polynesian;


Central-Eastern Oceanic;

Remote Oceanic;


Micronesian Proper;