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Words for canoes: Continuity and change in oceanic sailing craft

Anne Di Piazza

JPS, Vol 124, No 4 pg (445-460)


This article aims to reconstruct prehistoric Oceanic canoes by analysing four technological traits and their associated lexical terms: masts (movable versus fixed), stays (fore and back running stays), steering devices (steering paddle versus steering oars) and method of coming about (shunting versus tacking). By tracing the histories of cognates and/or semantic fields related to these terms, the study demonstrates that the shunting manoeuvre was known at the Proto-Oceanic stage, but no specific rig type can be reconstructed for that time period. The canoe of the Proto Central Pacific speakers used the shunting Oceanic lateen rig. The tacking Oceanic spritsail rigged canoe was a later Proto Polynesian innovation and served for the settlement of East Polynesia.


Oceanic canoes, historical linguistics, maritime history, Oceanic lateen, Oceanic spritsail

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