The Austronesian languages /ˌɔːstroʊˈniːʒən/ are a language family that is widely dispersed throughout Maritime Southeast Asia, Madagascar and the islands of the Pacific Ocean, with a few members in continental Asia. Austronesian languages are spoken by about 386 million people (4.9%), making it the fifth-largest language family by number of speakers. Major Austronesian languages with the highest number of speakers are Malay (Indonesian and Malaysian), Javanese, and Filipino (Tagalog). The family contains 1,257 languages, which is the second most of any language family.
Similarities between the languages spoken in the Malay Archipelago and the Pacific Ocean were first observed in 1706 by the Dutch scholar Adriaan Reland. In the 19th century, researchers (e.g. Wilhelm von Humboldt, Herman van der Tuuk) started to apply the comparative method to the Austronesian languages, but the first comprehensive and extensive study on the phonological history of the Austronesian language family including a reconstruction of Proto-Austronesian lexicon was made by the German linguist Otto Dempwolff. The term Austronesian itself was coined by Wilhelm Schmidt (German austronesisch, based on Latin auster "south wind" and Greek νῆσος "island"). The family is aptly named, as the vast majority of Austronesian languages are spoken on islands: only a few languages, such as Malay and the Chamic languages, are indigenous to mainland Asia. Many Austronesian languages have very few speakers, but the major Austronesian languages are spoken by tens of millions of people and one Austronesian language, Malay (including both Indonesian and Malaysian variants), is spoken by 250 million people, making it the 8th most spoken language in the world. Approximately twenty Austronesian languages are official in their respective countries (see the list of major and official Austronesian languages).
Different sources count languages differently, but Austronesian and Niger–Congo are the two largest language families in the world by the number of languages they contain, each having roughly one-fifth of the total languages counted in the world. The geographical span of Austronesian was the largest of any language family before the spread of Indo-European in the colonial period, ranging from Madagascar off the southeastern coast of Africa to Easter Island in the eastern Pacific. Hawaiian, Rapa Nui, and Malagasy (spoken on Madagascar) are the geographic outliers of the Austronesian family.
According to Robert Blust (1999), Austronesian is divided in several primary branches, all but one of which are found exclusively on Taiwan. The Formosan languages of Taiwan are grouped into as many as nine first-order subgroups of Austronesian. All Austronesian languages spoken outside Taiwan (including its offshore Yami language) belong to the Malayo-Polynesian branch, sometimes called Extra-Formosan.
Most Austronesian languages lack a long history of written attestation, making the feat of reconstructing earlier stages – up to distant Proto-Austronesian – all the more remarkable. The oldest inscription in the Cham language, the Đông Yên Châu inscription, but with the influence of Indo-European languages, dated to the mid-6th century AD at the latest, is also the first attestation of any Austronesian language.
|Maritime Southeast Asia, Madagascar and parts of Mainland Southeast Asia, Oceania, Sri Lanka, Taiwan and Hainan|
|Linguistic classification||One of the world's primary language families|
|ISO 639-2 / 5||map|
Distribution of Austronesian languages
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 (Ross 2002):
The Austronesian languages tend to use reduplication (repetition of all or part of a word, as in wiki-wiki or agar-agar). Like many East and Southeast Asian languages, most Austronesian languages have highly restrictive phonotactics, with generally small numbers of phonemes and predominantly consonant–vowel syllables.
The Austronesian language family has been established by the linguistic comparative method on the basis of cognate sets, sets of words similar in sound and meaning which can be shown to be descended from the same ancestral word in Proto-Austronesian 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, Formosan languages such as Bunun and Amis all the way south to Māori). 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. Bunun dusa; Amis tusa; Māori rua) require some linguistic expertise to recognise. The Austronesian Basic Vocabulary Database 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 dialect continua, making it difficult to recognize boundaries between branches. The first major step towards high-order subgrouping was Dempwolff’s recognition of the Oceanic subgroup (called Melanesisch by Dempwolff). The special position of the languages of Taiwan was first recognized by Haudricourt (1965), who divided the Austronesian languages into three subgroups: Northern Austronesian (= Formosan), Eastern Austronesian (= Oceanic), and Western Austronesian (all remaining languages).
In a study that represents the first lexicostatistical classification of the Austronesian languages, Dyen (1965) presented a radically different subgrouping scheme. He posited 40 first-order subgroups, with the highest degree of diversity found in the area of Melanesia. 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 (see e.g. Grace 1966), but several of his lower-order subgroups are still accepted (e.g. the Cordilleran languages, the Bilic languages or the Murutic languages).
Subsequently, the position of the Formosan languages as the most archaic group of Austronesian languages was recognized by Dahl (1973), followed by proposals from other scholars that the Formosan languages actually make up more than one first-order subgroup of Austronesian. The seminal article in the classification of Formosan—and, by extension, the top-level structure of Austronesian—is Blust (1999). 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, and is shown below. The Malayo-Polynesian languages are frequently included within Blust's Eastern Formosan branch due to their shared leveling of proto-Austronesian *t, *C to /t/ and *n, *N to /n/, their shift of *S to /h/, and vocabulary such as *lima "five" which are not attested in other Formosan languages.
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 Central Malayo-Polynesian languages are similar to each other not because of close genealogical relationships, but rather because they reflect strong substratum effects from non-Austronesian languages. The second migration was that of the Oceanic languages into Polynesia and Micronesia (Greenhill, Blust & Gray 2008).
In addition to Malayo-Polynesian, thirteen Formosan families are broadly accepted. Debate centers primarily around the relationships between these families. Of the classifications presented here, Blust (1999) links two families into a Western Plains group, two more in a Northwestern Formosan group, and three into an Eastern Formosan group, while Li (2008) also links five families into a Northern Formosan group. Ross (2009) 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 Paiwanic, 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 (Li 2004). 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.
(clockwise from the southwest)
This classification retains Blust's East Formosan, and unites the other northern languages. Li (2008) proposes a Proto-Formosan (F0) ancestor and equates it with Proto-Austronesian (PAN), following the model in Starosta (1995). Rukai and Tsouic are seen as highly divergent, although the position of Rukai is highly controversial.
In 2009, Malcolm Ross proposed a new classification of the Austronesian 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 Tsouic languages, 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.
The protohistory of the Austronesian people can be traced farther back through time than can that of the Proto-Austronesian language. From the standpoint of historical linguistics, the home (in linguistic terminology, Urheimat) of the Austronesian languages is the main island of Taiwan, also known as Formosa; on this island the deepest divisions in Austronesian are found, among the families of the native Formosan languages. According to Robert Blust, the Formosan languages form nine of the ten primary branches of the Austronesian language family (Blust 1999). Comrie (2001:28) 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 genetic 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 Sapir (1968), 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. Li 2006), 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 (Peiros 2004). To get an idea of the original homeland of the Austronesian people, scholars can probe evidence from archaeology and genetics. 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., Melton et al. 1998), while others mirror the linguistic research, rejecting an East Asian origin in favor of Taiwan (e.g., Trejaut et al. 2005). Archaeological evidence (e.g., Bellwood 1997) 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 (Diamond 2000). It is believed that this migration began around 6,000 years ago (Blust 1999). 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 Sagart (2002), is a minority one. As Fox (2004:8) 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 P'eng-hu (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 Chamic languages, derive from more recent migration to the mainland (Thurgood 1999:225).
Genealogical links have been proposed between Austronesian and various families of East and Southeast Asia.
A link with the Austroasiatic languages in an 'Austric' phylum is based mostly on typological evidence. However, there is also morphological evidence of a connection between the conservative Nicobarese languages and Austronesian languages of the Philippines.
A competing Austro-Tai proposal linking Austronesian and Kra-Dai was first proposed by Paul K. Benedict, and is supported by Weera Ostapirat, Roger Blench, and Laurent Sagart, based on the traditional comparative method. Ostapirat (2005) proposes a series of regular correspondences linking the two families and assumes a primary split, with Kra-Dai speakers being the Austronesians who stayed behind in their Chinese homeland. Blench (2004) 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 Hainan Island and back to the mainland from the northern Philippines, and that their distinctiveness results from radical restructuring following contact with Hmong–Mien and Sinitic. An extended version of Austro-Tai was hypothesized by Benedict who added the Japonic languages to the proposal as well.
French linguist and Sinologist Laurent Sagart considers the Austronesian languages to be related to the Sino-Tibetan languages, and also groups the Kra–Dai languages as more closely related to the Malayo-Polynesian languages. 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 Japanese 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 substratum or adstratum. Those who propose this scenario suggest that the Austronesian family once covered the islands to the north as well as to the south. Martine Robbeets (2017) claims that Japanese is genetically related to the "Transeurasian" (= Macro-Altaic) languages, but underwent lexcial influence from "para-Austronesian", a presumed sister language of Proto-Austronesian. The linguist Ann Kumar (2009) proposed that some Austronesians migrated to Japan, possibly an elite-group from Java, and created the Japanese-hierarchical society and identifies 82 plausible cognates between Austronesian and Japanese.
Yoshizu Itabashi (2011) states that he found strong evidence that Japanese and Austronesian are genealogical related. He claims that not only the phonology is similar between them, but also morphology, syntax and common vocabulary. He further states that this evidence may lead to further postulations that there is a strong genealogical connection between Japanese and Austronesian.
It has recently been proposed that the Austronesian and the Ongan protolanguage are the descendants of an Austronesian–Ongan protolanguage (Blevins 2007). But this view is not supported by mainstream linguists and remains very controversial. Robert Blust (2014) rejects Blevins' proposal as far-fetched and based solely on chance resemblances and methodologically flawed comparisons.
Most Austronesian languages have Latin-based writing systems today. Some non-Latin-based writing systems are listed below.
Below is a chart comparing list of numbers of 1-10 and thirteen words in Austronesian languages; spoken in Taiwan, the Philippines, the Mariana Islands, Indonesia, Malaysia, Chams or Champa (in Thailand, Cambodia, and Vietnam), East Timor, Papua, New Zealand, Hawaii, Madagascar, Borneo and Tuvalu.
|Austronesian List of Numbers 1-10||0||1||2||3||4||5||6||7||8||9||10|
|Sakizaya||cacay||tosa||tolo||sepat||lima||enem||pito||walo||siwa||cacay a bataan|
|Nuclear Malayo-Polynesian (MP) languages||0||1||2||3||4||5||6||7||8||9||10|
(sa' / sak)
|Javanese (Ngoko)||nol||siji from sahiji||loro from ka-rwa (ka-ro)||telu||papat||lima||enem||pitu||wolu||sanga||sepuluh|
(both Indonesian and Malaysian)
(cʰɛwaːy / sɛwaːy)
|Tsat (HuiHui)c||sa˧ *
|Benuaq (Dayak Benuaq)||eray||duaq||toluu||opaat||limaq||jawatn||turu||walo||sie||sepuluh|
|Lun Bawang/ Lundayeh||na luk dih||eceh||dueh||teluh||epat||limeh||enem||tudu'||waluh||liwa'||pulu'|
|Proto-Austronesian||*əsa, *isa||*duSa||*təlu||*əpat||*Cau||*balay, *Rumaq||*asu||*zalan||*qaləjaw, *waRi||*baqəRu||*kita, *kami||*anu, *apa||*Sapuy|
|Tagalog||isa||dalawa||tatlo||apat||tao||bahay||aso||daan||araw||bago||tayo / kami||ano||apoy|
|Lun Bawang/ Lundayeh||eceh||dueh||teluh||epat||lemulun/lun||ruma'||uko'||dalan||eco||beruh||teu||enun||apui|
The Tipuns... are certainly descended from emigrants, and I have not the least doubt but that the Amias are of similar origin; only of later date, and most probably from the Mejaco Simas [that is, Miyako-jima], a group of islands lying 110 miles to the North-east.... By all accounts the old Pilam savages, who merged into the Tipuns, were the first settlers on the plain; then came the Tipuns, and a long time afterwards the Amias. The Tipuns, for some time, acknowledged the Pilam Chief as supreme, but soon absorbed both the chieftainship and the people, in fact the only trace left of them now, is a few words peculiar to the Pilam village, one of which, makan (to eat), is pure Malay. The Amias submitted themselves to the jurisdiction of the Tipuns.
Amahai is a nearly extinct Austronesian language spoken in the Moluccas in eastern Indonesia. It might actually be two distinct languages.Aru languages
The Aru languages are a group of a dozen Austronesian languages spoken on the Aru Islands in Indonesia. None are spoken by more than ten thousand people. Although geographically close to Central Maluku languages, they are not part of that group linguistically (Ross 1995).
The languages are: Barakai, Batuley, Dobel, Karey, Koba, Kola, Kompane, Lola, Lorang, Manombai, Mariri, East Tarangan, West Tarangan, UjirBonggi language
Bonggi (Banggi) is an Austronesian language spoken in Sabah, Malaysia.Bukitan language
Bukitan is a Kajang language of West Kalimantan, Indonesia.Dumpas language
Dumpas is a Dusunic language of Malaysia.Emplawas language
Emplawas is an Austronesian language spoken in a single village on Babar Island in South Maluku, Indonesia.Formosan languages
The Formosan languages are the languages of the indigenous peoples of Taiwan, all of which are Austronesian. The Taiwanese aborigines recognized by the government are about 2.3% of the island's population. However, far fewer can still speak their ancestral language because of centuries of language shift. Of the approximately 26 languages of the Taiwanese aborigines, at least ten are extinct, another four (perhaps five) are moribund, and several others are to some degree endangered.
The aboriginal languages of Taiwan have significance in historical linguistics since in all likelihood, Taiwan was the place of origin of the entire Austronesian language family. According to linguist Robert Blust, the Formosan languages form nine of the ten principal branches of the Austronesian language family, while the one remaining principal branch contains nearly 1,200 Malayo-Polynesian languages found outside Taiwan. Although some other linguists disagree with some details of Blust's analysis, a broad consensus has coalesced around the conclusion that the Austronesian languages originated in Taiwan. The theory has been strengthened by recent studies in human population genetics, supporting also the matrilineal nature of the migration.Indigenous people of New Guinea
The indigenous peoples of New Guinea, commonly called Papuans, are Melanesians. There is genetic evidence for two major historical lineages in New Guinea and neighboring islands:
a first wave from the Malay archipelago perhaps 50,000 years ago when New Guinea and Australia were a single landmass called Sahul,
and much later a wave of Austronesian people from the north who introduced Austronesian languages and pigs about 3,500 years ago, and who left a small but significant genetic trace in many coastal Papuan peoples (though only a minority of Austronesian-speaking Papuans have detectable Austronesian ancestry).Linguistically, Papuans speak languages from the many families of non-Austronesian languages which are found only on New Guinea and neighboring islands, as well as Austronesian languages along parts of the coast and recently developed creoles such as Tok Pisin and Papuan Malay.
The people of New Guinea also include more recent immigrants, especially on the Indonesian side of the island, where recent migrants comprise up to half of the population.
The term "Papuan" is used in a wider sense in linguistics and anthropology. In linguistics, "Papuan languages" is a cover term for the diverse mutually unrelated non-Austronesian language families spoken in Melanesia, the Torres Strait Islands and parts of Wallacea. In anthropology, "Papuan" is often used to denote the highly diverse populations of Melanesia and Wallacea prior to the advent of Austronesian-speakers, and the dominant genetic traces of these populations in the current ethnic groups of these areas.Kalabakan language
Kalabakan (Kalabakan Murut) is one of several Sabahan language of Borneo spoken by the Tidong people.Kohin language
Kohin, also known as (Bahasa) Seruyan, is a Barito language of the central Kalimantan, Indonesia.Lahanan language
Lahanan (Lanun) is a Kajang language of Sarawak.Lengilu language
Lengilu is a nearly extinct language of Indonesian Borneo.Minahasan languages
The Minahasan languages are a subgroup of the Austronesian languages spoken by the Minahasa people in northern Sulawesi. These languages are distinct from the Manado Malay language.Naka'ela language
Naka'ela is a possibly extinct Austronesian language spoken in Seram, Indonesia. Usage decreased after speakers moved out of the mountains.Paluan language
Paluan is a language spoken by the Murut people of Borneo. The principal dialects are Paluan (Peluan) itself and Pandewan.Sekapan language
Sekapan is a Kajang language of Sarawak, Malaysia.Sian language
Sian (Sihan) is a Kajang language of Brunei and Sarawak.Sino-Austronesian languages
Sino-Austronesian or Sino-Tibetan-Austronesian is a proposed language family suggested by Laurent Sagart in 1990. Using reconstructions of Old Chinese, Sagart argued that the Austronesian languages are related to the Sinitic languages phonologically, lexically and morphologically. Sagart later accepted the Sino-Tibetan languages as a valid group and extended his proposal to include the rest of Sino-Tibetan. He also placed the Tai–Kadai languages within the Austronesian family as a sister branch of Malayo-Polynesian. The proposal is controversial, but still being debated.Tring language
Tring is one of the languages of Borneo, in Sarawak.
(over 700 languages)
and the Pacific