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The route chosen by Louis de Freycinet through the Western Pacific  took the Uranie into the geographic centre of the archipelago of the Carolines. He did not stop, but passed sufficiently close to the isolated island of Pulusuk and, on the following day, to the islands of the Poluwat and Pulap atolls, to trade with the islanders. They came out to meet the Uranie in their outrigger proas and had no trouble keeping up with her whilst the bargaining was completed to everyone’s satisfaction. Every one of the diarists was impressed by the Carolinians, and these first impressions were reinforced on Guam when they met a group from Satawal, an isolated ‘low’ (but by Carolinian standards large – 1.3 sq km) island located some 75 km east of the Lamotrek atoll and 300 km west of the path taken by the Uranie.  The islanders were on their way to visit their very recently established settlement on Saipan and took Bérard, Arago and Gaudichaud with them as far as Tinian, collecting them on their return a few days later. Thanks to these contacts and the extensive studies of the central Carolines already made by Don Luis de Torres, the Uranie expedition was able to bring back to Europe a considerable amount of information about a people whose home islands they had seen only in passing. It including information on linguistics, a secondary field of study for the voyage and the subject of the final and never-to-be completed volume of Louis de Freycinet’s massive ‘Voyage autour du Monde’.

Figure 1.The route of the Uranie from south to north through the Caroline Islands. The northern segment of the track is pointing directly towards Guam, still 800 km away. The modern boundary in the Federated States of Micronesia between Yap and Chuuk states runs runs approximately along the 144th East meridian but this does no reflect cultural realities.

Even today there is very little information easily available about the languages of the Carolines. An undated word listed designed for use by medics visiting Chuuk was found on the website of the Universityof Hawaii’s Center for Pacific Islands Studies but could but be re-accessed and there is also a wide-ranging but very incomplete multilingual word list on a site of the Micronesian Comparative Dictionary, which appears to have been compiled by specialists mainly interested in reconstructing the proto-Micronesian language. As far as can be determined from an Internet search, the two main indigenous languages of the Carolines, Chuukese and Ponapean, are comparatively healthy, with several tens of thousands of speakers each, but the language of the third of the three ‘high’ islands, Kosrae is considered threatened, with fewer than ten thousand speakers. Other Carolinian languages listed on the site of the Endangered Languages Project include Ulithian (3075 speakers), Woleian (1650), Satawalen (400), Puluwatese (1360) and a language simply known as ‘Carolinian’ spoken on Saipan. This last must surely be the language spoken by the descendants of those settlers from Satawal who were just installing themselves on Saipan when the Uranie visited Guam.

Because of de Freycinet’s failure to complete his ‘Linguistics’ volume, the diary kept by the assistant surgeon and naturalist Joseph-Paul Gaimard is one of the principal surviving records of the expedition’s linguistic studies. On p. 408-409 Gaimard set out what he called a “Petit vocabulaire de l’Ile de Lamursec”, and followed that , on pp. 442 – 452, with a much more comprehensive “Vocabulaire des Iles Carolines”. Unfortunately, he gave no details as regards his sources. The first list, from ‘Lamursec’, may have been compiled from his own interactions with the islanders from Satuwal, considered to be part of the same polity; the second and much longer list certainly includes words copied directly from documents prepared by Don Luis de Torres and may have been obtained entirely in this way. Don Luis was a major source for what Gaimard was able to say about the Chamorro language of Guam, and had himself visited Woleia, about 250 km west of Lamotrek. What he wrote down was probably essentially Woleian.

Figure 2. Left : The ‘beautiful tatoo’ of Puluwat.  Marginal drawing by Jacques Arago in Gaimard’s diary, p380. Right : The Satawal aristocrat behind the settlement on Saipan, as drawn by Jacques Arago. Reproduced with permission. Library of Guam.

Culturally, the inhabitants of the eastern reaches of what is now Yap State, one of the four Federated States of Micronesia, have today much more in common with their neighbours in the western part of Chuuk State than they do with the people of Yap itself, and it is probable that this  comment could have been made with even greater force in the early 1800s. The drawings made by Arago of members of the ‘navigator’ aristocracy of Puluwat and Satawal show almost identical tattoos, and notes made by Gaimard from his conversations with Don Luis document the very direct links between  Lamotrek and Woleia. Despite the distances involved, there was clearly much coming and going between the islands, and their languages, or dialects, would be expected to be very similar also. Despite this, where they overlap the two vocabularies provided by Gaimard show major differences, even in such basic matters as the naming of the numerals.

English                              ‘Lamursec’                                           ‘Carolin’

head                                  malec                                                 rouméï,  roumaï;  simoié

hair                                    laneremuy                                         alourméï;  alérouméï;  timoé

forehead                            nooy                                                   manhoï

eyebrows                           fati                                                      satou;  fatal;  fateul;  fati

eye                                     vetay                                                  métal;  metaï;  messaï

nose                                    poti                                                     poiti;  poitīnĕ; poitil; podi

mouth                                 colog                                                  e-houai

tooth                                   ñguy                                                   ni; gni; ni-i

lip                                        tulivay                                                tilouéï; tilouel; tiliaoual; alisséōu

cheek                                  tepay                                                  tepal; aïssapal; aouss-pai

beard                                   atey                                                    alouzai; alissel

ear                                       taligui                                                 rapélépréï; rapélépéréï; oufoi

nape                                    oguey                                                 lougourounhéï; lougoulouhouel; lougoul-houéï

chest                                   obouy                                                 loupaï; oupoual; oupouéï; oiti

belly                                     sacay                                                  ségaï; oubouoï

umbilicus                            pusey                                                  pouzéï; poujé; pougoi-ie

shoulder                             efaray                                                evaraï; avaraï; efaraï

right arm                            pay copay                                          rapélépéï; chapélépéï; gapilépeï

left arm                               pay mongay                                      rapélépéï; chapélépéï; gapilépeï

elbow                                  apit                                                   rapélépéï; apélépélépéï

hand                                   paramdemert                                   galéïma; pranéma; pralémal; pélalipéï

thumb                                atelipai                                               catoulēppèné; catoulépal

backside                             pulove                                                louĕtti

buttock                               safilafi                                                pourouéï; pouroul; palipaliaouati

thigh                                    ofoy                                                  rapélépréï; rapélépéréï; oufoi

knee                                    pugoy                                               pougouéï; pougoué

leg                                      perai                                                  braléparéï

foot                                     para parra perray                            paraparépréï; paraparalépéréï; pérapéral

nail                                       cuyi                                                 coul; cuï

man                                     mal                                                  mal; marr; mérer

woman                               fayfil                                                  rabout;  faifid

child                                  sariquit                                               sari;  tarimar;  oligat

little child                          sariquit                                               sarikid

water (drinking)                curuc                                                  rall;  ralou;  ralu

sea                                    toad                                                    tātti; amorouc

coconut tree                      liac                                                      roau

coconut                              roo                                                      tohōhō; rō; cho-o

coconut shell                     tagac                                                  maribirip

hen                                    maluc                                                 moa; maluk; baluk

sun                                     alo                                                      alet; yal

cloud                                   yaan                                                   sarōnnĕ; ieng; iengué; maniling

night                                    bòn                                                     poum

1                                           yot                                                      iot; hiot[1]

2                                           ruec                                                    ru; rou; ru

3                                           eli                                                        Iel; Iēli; iol; hiel

4                                           san                                                      fan; fel; fang

5                                           lima                                                    līmmĕ; lībĕ; nīmmĕ; lim

6                                           golo                                                    hol; hol

7                                           fia                                                       fiz; fus; fis

8                                           guali                                                   oual; ouānĕ; ouhānĕ; hual

9                                           tiva                                                     tihou; tihu

10                                         seic                                                     sèk; sièkĕ; seg

11                                         yota                                                    seg-macéōū; seg-maceo

20                                         ruic                                                     ruèk; mentéruèkĕ; rouek; ruheg

30                                         senic                                                   sérik; sélik; élig

40                                         faic                                                     fahik

50                                         limil                                                     limèk; némèkĕ

60                                         goloec                                                holik; oulik; oulèk

70                                         fiov                                                     fizik

80                                         gualic                                                 oualik

90                                         tiguic                                                  tihouèkĕ

100                                      sebuc                                                  siapogou; siapougou; iapougou

200                                      reupud                                               rouapougou

300                                      felepud                                              iélépougou; élépougou; sélépougou

400                                      fapud                                                  fapougou

500                                      limapud                                              limmapougou; nimmapougou

600                                      golopud                                             houlapougou

700                                      ficipud                                                fizipougou

800                                      gualipud                                             oualépougou

900                                      tivapud                                               touapougou

1000                                    sangres                                              sānrēssĕ;cenrēssĕ; zellé

2000                                    ruangres                                            ruanrēssĕ

No doubt some of the differences between the second and third columns in this tabulation can be attributed to subjective differences in the way sounds were heard by the people who wrote them down. Don Luis had a Spanish father and a Chamorro mother, and if it was indeed Gaimard who first compiled the ‘Lamursec’ vocabulary it is not surprising that differences occur, as they do in various transcriptions, including Gaimard’s. of Chamorro. Not everything, however, can be explained away in this fashion, and it is surprising that the names of such common, and vital, items as drinking water and coconut trees should be so different in the two lists. Another difference is that the words in the third column are often significantly longer than those in the second, even where the basic root is the same in both. Don Luis, brought up speaking Chamorro, would have had a better ear for linguistic complexities but might also have unconsciously added a Chamorro overlay.

One item, however, is strikingly similar in both lists and far beyond. The word ‘lima’, five, does not only, in its essentials, occur in both, but also in Malay, Indonesian, Chamorro, Tagalog (Filipino) and Samoan. That this one numeral, and no other, should be common to such a broad swathe of Malayo-Polynesian languages is impressive but perhaps not surprising. The people who took the word from Asia out into the Pacific did, after all, have five fingers on each hand, and five toes on each foot.