Austronesian language


The Austronesian languages (, , , ) are a , widely spoken throughout , , the islands of the and (by ). There are also a number of speakers in . They are spoken by about 386 million people (4.9% of the ). This makes it the fifth-largest language family by number of speakers. Major Austronesian languages include ( and ), , and (). According to some estimates, the family contains 1,257 languages, which is the second most of any language family. In 1706, the Dutch scholar first observed similarities between the languages spoken in the and by peoples on islands in the . In the 19th century, researchers (e.g. , ) started to apply the to the Austronesian languages. The first extensive study on the history of the was made by the German linguist . It included a reconstruction of the lexicon. The term Austronesian was coined by . The word is derived from the German ''austronesisch'', which is based on ' "south" and ' ("island"). The family is aptly named, because most Austronesian languages are spoken by island dwellers. Only a few languages, such as and the , are to mainland Asia. Many Austronesian languages have very few speakers, but the major Austronesian languages are spoken by tens of millions of people. For example, Malay is spoken by 250 million people. This makes it the eighth . Approximately twenty Austronesian languages are in their respective countries (see the ). By the number of languages they include, Austronesian and are the two largest language families in the world. They each contain roughly one-fifth of the world's languages. The geographical span of Austronesian was the largest of any language family before the spread of in the colonial period. It ranged from off the southeastern coast of Africa to in the eastern Pacific. , , , and (spoken on Madagascar) are the geographic outliers. According to (1999), Austronesian is divided into several primary branches, all but one of which are found exclusively in . The of Taiwan are grouped into as many as nine first-order subgroups of Austronesian. All Austronesian languages spoken outside Taiwan (including its offshore ) belong to the (sometimes called ''Extra-Formosan'') branch. Most Austronesian languages lack a long history of written attestation. This makes reconstructing earlier stages—up to distant Proto-Austronesian—all the more remarkable. The oldest inscription in the , the dated to the mid-6th century AD at the latest, is the first attestation of any Austronesian language.

Typological characteristics


The Austronesian languages overall possess inventories which are smaller than the world average. Around 90% of the Austronesian languages have inventories of 19-25 sounds (15-20 consonants and 4-5 vowels), thus lying at the lower end of the global typical range of 20-37 sounds. However, extreme inventories are also found, such as () with 43 consonants, or () with only 7 consonants. The canonical root type in is disyllabic with the shape CV(C)CVC (C = consonant; V = vowel), and is still found in many Austronesian languages. In most languages, consonant clusters are only allowed in medial position, and often, there are restrictions for the first element of the cluster. There is a common to reduce the number of consonants which can appear in final position, e.g. , which only allows the two consonants /ŋ/ and /ʔ/ as finals, out of a total number of 18 consonants. Complete absence of final consonants is observed e.g. in , and many . Unlike in the , are extremely rare in Austronesian languages. Exceptional cases of tonal languages are and a few languages of the , and subgroups.


Most Austronesian languages are with a relatively high number of es, and clear morpheme boundaries. Most affixes are es ( ''ber-jalan'' 'walk' < ''jalan'' 'road'), with a smaller number of es ( ''titis-án'' 'ashtray' < ''títis'' 'ash') and es ( ''tavete'' 'work (noun)' < ''tavete'' 'work (verb)'). is commonly employed in Austronesian languages. This includes full reduplication ( ''anak-anak'' 'children' < ''anak'' 'child'; ''nipe-nipe'' 'caterpillar' < ''nipe'' 'snake') or partial reduplication ( ''taktakki'' 'legs' < ''takki'' 'leg', ''at-atu'' 'puppy' < ''atu'' 'dog').


It is difficult to make generalizations about the languages that make up a family as diverse as Austronesian. Very broadly, one can divide the Austronesian languages into three groups: Philippine-type languages, Indonesian-type languages and post-Indonesian type languages: *The first group includes, besides the languages of the , the Austronesian languages of Taiwan, Sabah, North Sulawesi and Madagascar. It is primarily characterized by the retention of the original system of , where typically three or four verb voices determine which the "subject"/"topic" expresses (it may express either the actor, the patient, the location and the beneficiary, or various other circumstantial roles such as instrument and concomitant). The phenomenon has frequently been referred to as ''focus'' (not to be confused with the of that term in linguistics). Furthermore, the choice of voice is influenced by the of the participants. The word order has a strong tendency to be verb-initial. *In contrast, the more innovative Indonesian-type languages, which are particularly represented in Malaysia and western Indonesia, have reduced the voice system to a contrast between only two voices (actor voice and "undergoer" voice), but these are supplemented by morphological devices (originally two: the more direct *''-i'' and more oblique *''-an/- ən''), which serve to modify the semantic role of the "undergoer". They are also characterized by the presence of preposed clitic pronouns. Unlike the Philippine type, these languages mostly tend towards verb-second word-orders. A number of languages, such as the , , , and several Sulawesi languages seem to represent an intermediate stage between these two types. *Finally, in some languages, which Ross calls "post-Indonesian", the original voice system has broken down completely and the voice-marking affixes no longer preserve their functions.


The Austronesian language family has been established by the linguistic comparative method on the basis of , sets of words similar in sound and meaning which can be shown to be descended from the same ancestral word in according to regular rules. Some cognate sets are very stable. The word for ''eye'' in many Austronesian languages is mata (from the most northerly Austronesian languages, such as and all the way south to ). Other words are harder to reconstruct. The word for ''two'' is also stable, in that it appears over the entire range of the Austronesian family, but the forms (e.g. dusa; tusa; Māori rua) require some linguistic expertise to recognise. The gives word lists (coded for cognateness) for approximately 1000 Austronesian languages.


The internal structure of the Austronesian languages is complex. The family consists of many similar and closely related languages with large numbers of , making it difficult to recognize boundaries between branches. The first major step towards high-order subgrouping was Dempwolff's recognition of the subgroup (called ''Melanesisch'' by Dempwolff). The special position of the languages of Taiwan was first recognized by (1965), who divided the Austronesian languages into three subgroups: Northern Austronesian (= ), Eastern Austronesian (= ), and Western Austronesian (all remaining languages). In a study that represents the first classification of the Austronesian languages, (1965) presented a radically different subgrouping scheme. He posited 40 first-order subgroups, with the highest degree of diversity found in the area of . The Oceanic languages are not recognized, but are distributed over more than 30 of his proposed first-order subgroups. Dyen's classification was widely criticized and for the most part rejected, but several of his lower-order subgroups are still accepted (e.g. the , the or the ). Subsequently, the position of the Formosan languages as the most archaic group of Austronesian languages was recognized by (1973), followed by proposals from other scholars that the Formosan languages actually make up more than one first-order subgroup of Austronesian. (1977) first presented the subgrouping model which is currently accepted by virtually all scholars in the field, with more than one first-order subgroup on Taiwan, and a single first-order branch encompassing all Austronesian languages spoken outside of Taiwan, viz. .


The Malayo-Polynesian languages are—among other things—characterized by certain sound changes, such as the mergers of (PAN) *t/*C to (PMP) *t, and PAN *n/*N to PMP *n, and the shift of PAN *S to PMP *h. There appear to have been two great migrations of Austronesian languages that quickly covered large areas, resulting in multiple local groups with little large-scale structure. The first was Malayo-Polynesian, distributed across the Philippines, Indonesia, and Melanesia. The second migration was that of the into Polynesia and Micronesia.

Primary branches on Taiwan (Formosan languages)

In addition to , thirteen are broadly accepted. The seminal article in the classification of Formosan—and, by extension, the top-level structure of Austronesian—is . Prominent Formosanists (linguists who specialize in Formosan languages) take issue with some of its details, but it remains the point of reference for current linguistic analyses. Debate centers primarily around the relationships between these families. Of the classifications presented here, links two families into a Western Plains group, two more in a Northwestern Formosan group, and three into an Eastern Formosan group, while also links five families into a Northern Formosan group. splits Tsouic, and notes that Tsou, Rukai, and Puyuma fall outside of reconstructions of Proto-Austronesian. Other studies have presented phonological evidence for a reduced Paiwanic family of , Puyuma, Bunun, Amis, and Malayo-Polynesian, but this is not reflected in vocabulary. The Eastern Formosan peoples Basay, Kavalan, and Amis share a homeland motif that has them coming originally from an island called ''Sinasay'' or ''Sanasay'' . The Amis, in particular, maintain that they came from the east, and were treated by the Puyuma, amongst whom they settled, as a subservient group.

Blust (1999)

(clockwise from the southwest) * * * * Sao: Brawbaw and Shtafari dialects * Central Western Plains ** ; old : Taokas and Poavosa dialects ** : Papora, Hoanya dialects
* : Taai and Tungho dialects * Kulun * * Truku/Taroko * Northern (Kavalanic languages) ** : Trobiawa and Linaw–Qauqaut dialects ** ** , or Ketangalan * Central () ** ** * * Mantauran, Tona, and Maga dialects of are divergent (outside Formosa)

Li (2008)

This classification retains Blust's East Formosan, and unites the other northern languages. proposes a Proto-Formosan (F0) ancestor and equates it with (PAN), following the model in Starosta (1995). Rukai and Tsouic are seen as highly divergent, although the position of Rukai is highly controversial. * F0: Proto-Formosan = Proto-Austronesian ** *** Mantauran *** Maga–Tona, Budai–Labuan–Taromak * F1: ''(unnamed branch)'' ** *** *** Southern Tsouic **** **** * F2: ''(unnamed branch)'' ** *** Northwestern (Plains) **** –Kulon– **** Western ***** ***** West Coast (–––Taokas) *** **** **** (= C'uli') **** ** *** – *** –– *** ** ? Southern ncertain*** **** Isbukun **** Northern and Central (Takitudu and Takbanuaz) ***

Ross (2009)

In 2009, proposed a new classification of the Formosan language family based on morphological evidence from various Formosan languages. He proposed that the current reconstructions for Proto-Austronesian actually correspond to an intermediate stage, which he terms "Proto-Nuclear Austronesian". Notably, Ross' classification does not support the unity of the , instead considering the Southern Tsouic languages of Kanakanavu and Saaroa to be a separate branch. This supports Chang's (2006) claim that Tsouic is not a valid group. : Formosan * (Mantauran and Tona–Maga dialects are divergent) * Subdivisions not addressed, apart from being separate from Tsou.

Major languages


From the standpoint of , the place of origin (in linguistic terminology, ') of the Austronesian languages () is most likely the , also known as Formosa; on this island the deepest divisions in Austronesian are found, among the families of the native . According to , the Formosan languages form nine of the ten primary branches of the Austronesian language family (). noted this when he wrote:
... the internal diversity among the... Formosan languages... is greater than that in all the rest of Austronesian put together, so there is a major split within Austronesian between Formosan and the rest... Indeed, the genetic diversity within Formosan is so great that it may well consist of several primary branches of the overall Austronesian family.
At least since , writing in 1949, linguists have generally accepted that the chronology of the dispersal of languages within a given language family can be traced from the area of greatest linguistic variety to that of the least. For example, English in North America has large numbers of speakers, but relatively low dialectal diversity, while English in Great Britain has much higher diversity; such low linguistic variety by Sapir's thesis suggests a more recent origin of English in North America. While some scholars suspect that the number of principal branches among the Formosan languages may be somewhat less than Blust's estimate of nine (e.g. ), there is little contention among linguists with this analysis and the resulting view of the origin and direction of the migration. For a recent dissenting analysis, see . The can be traced farther back through time. To get an idea of the original homeland of the populations ancestral to the Austronesian peoples (as opposed to strictly linguistic arguments), evidence from archaeology and may be adduced. Studies from the science of genetics have produced conflicting outcomes. Some researchers find evidence for a proto-Austronesian homeland on the Asian mainland (e.g., ), while others mirror the linguistic research, rejecting an East Asian origin in favor of Taiwan (e.g., ). Archaeological evidence (e.g., ) is more consistent, suggesting that the ancestors of the Austronesians spread from the South Chinese mainland to Taiwan at some time around 8,000 years ago. Evidence from historical linguistics suggests that it is from this island that seafaring peoples migrated, perhaps in distinct waves separated by millennia, to the entire region encompassed by the Austronesian languages . It is believed that this migration began around 6,000 years ago . However, evidence from historical linguistics cannot bridge the gap between those two periods. The view that linguistic evidence connects Austronesian languages to the Sino-Tibetan ones, as proposed for example by , is a minority one. As states:
Implied in... discussions of subgrouping [of Austronesian languages] is a broad consensus that the homeland of the Austronesians was in Taiwan. This homeland area may have also included the (Pescadores) islands between Taiwan and China and possibly even sites on the coast of mainland China, especially if one were to view the early Austronesians as a population of related dialect communities living in scattered coastal settlements.
Linguistic analysis of the Proto-Austronesian language stops at the western shores of Taiwan; any related mainland language(s) have not survived. The only exceptions, the , derive from more recent migration to the mainland .

Hypothesized relations

Genealogical links have been proposed between Austronesian and various families of East and .


A link with the in an '' is based mostly on typological evidence. However, there is also morphological evidence of a connection between the conservative and Austronesian languages of the Philippines.


A competing proposal linking Austronesian and was first proposed by , and is supported by Weera Ostapirat, , and Laurent Sagart, based on the traditional . proposes a series of regular correspondences linking the two families and assumes a primary split, with Kra-Dai speakers being the people who stayed behind in their Chinese homeland. suggests that, ''if'' the connection is valid, the relationship is unlikely to be one of two sister families. Rather, he suggests that proto-Kra-Dai speakers were Austronesians who migrated to Island and back to the mainland from the northern Philippines, and that their distinctiveness results from radical restructuring following contact with and . An extended version of Austro-Tai was hypothesized by Benedict who added the to the proposal as well.


French linguist and considers the Austronesian languages to be related to the , and also groups the as more closely related to the . He also groups the Austronesian languages in a recursive-like fashion, placing Kra-Dai as a sister branch of Malayo-Polynesian. His methodology has been found to be spurious by his peers.


Several linguists have proposed that is genetically related to the Austronesian family, cf. Benedict (1990), Matsumoto (1975), Miller (1967). Some other linguists think it is more plausible that Japanese is not genetically related to the Austronesian languages, but instead was influenced by an Austronesian or . Those who propose this scenario suggest that the Austronesian family once covered the islands to the north as well as to the south. (2017) claims that Japanese genetically belongs to the "Transeurasian" (= ) languages, but underwent lexical influence from "para-Austronesian", a presumed sister language of . The linguist Ann Kumar (2009) proposed that some Austronesians migrated to Japan, possibly an elite-group from , and created the Japanese-hierarchical society and identifies 82 plausible cognates between Austronesian and Japanese.


proposed that the Austronesian and the protolanguage are the descendants of an Austronesian–Ongan protolanguage. But this view is not supported by mainstream linguists and remains very controversial. Robert Blust rejects Blevins' proposal as far-fetched and based solely on chance resemblances and methodologically flawed comparisons.

Writing systems

Most Austronesian languages have -based writing systems today. Some non-Latin-based writing systems are listed below. * ** *** - used to write and . *** - used to write several . *** - used to write and several . *** - once used to write the . *** - used to write . *** - used to write . *** - used to write the and several neighbouring languages like . *** (''Kaganga'') - used to write the . *** - used to write the . *** - used to write and . *** - used to write the , and several languages of . *** - used to write the . *** - used to write the . *** - once used to write the . *** - once used to write various . *** - used to write the . ** - used to write . * ** - used to write , and as well as several smaller neighbouring languages. ** - used to write , , , , , and others. ** - once used to write several dialects of . * - once used to write the but the project is no longer active. * - used to write the but it was not widely used. * - used to write the . * - used to write the , a secret language based on . * (Caroline Island script) - used to write the (Refaluwasch). * - possibly used to write the . * - used in , , , , , , , , and many other Austronesian languages.

Comparison charts

Below are two charts list of numbers of 1-10 and thirteen words in Austronesian languages; spoken in , the , the , , , or (in , , and ), , , , , , , , , and .

See also

* * * * *



* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Further reading

*Bengtson, John D.
The "Greater Austric" Hypothesis
Association for the Study of Language in Prehistory. * *Blust, R. A. (1983). ''Lexical reconstruction and semantic reconstruction: the case of the Austronesian "house" words''. Hawaii: R. Blust. *Cohen, E. M. K. (1999). ''Fundaments of Austronesian roots and etymology''. Canberra: Pacific Linguistics. *Marion, P., ''Liste Swadesh élargie de onze langues austronésiennes,'' éd. Carré de sucre, 2009 *Pawley, A., & Ross, M. (1994). ''Austronesian terminologies: continuity and change''. Canberra, Australia: Dept. of Linguistics, Research School of Pacific and Asian Studies, The Australian National University. *Sagart, Laurent, Roger Blench, and Alicia Sanchez-Nazas (Eds.) (2004). ''The peopling of East Asia: Putting Together Archaeology, Linguistics and Genetics''. London: RoutledgeCurzon. . * *Tryon, D. T., & Tsuchida, S. (1995). ''Comparative Austronesian dictionary: an introduction to Austronesian studies''. Trends in linguistics, 10. Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter. *Wittmann, Henri (1972). "Le caractère génétiquement composite des changements phonétiques du malgache."
Proceedings of the International Congress of Phonetic Sciences
' 7.807-10. La Haye: Mouton. *Wolff, John U., "Comparative Austronesian Dictionary. An Introduction to Austronesian Studies", ''Language'', vol. 73, no. 1, pp. 145–56, Mar 1997, ISSN 0097-8507

External links

Blust's Austronesian Comparative DictionarySwadesh lists of Austronesian basic vocabulary words
(from Wiktionary'
Swadesh-list appendix
Summer Institute of Linguistics site showing languages (Austronesian and Papuan) of Papua New Guinea.
Spreadsheet of 1600+ Austronesian and Papuan number names and systems – ongoing study to determine their relationships and distribution
* *[ 南島語族分布圖] {{DEFAULTSORT:Austronesian Languages Sino-Austronesian languages