|Maritime Southeast Asia, Oceania, Madagascar, Taiwan|
|Linguistic classification:||one of the world's major language families, with several proposed relations to other language families|
|ISO 639-2 / 5:||map|
The western Malayo-Polynesian languages.
The branches of the Oceanic languages:
Admiralties and Yapese
Western Oceanic & Meso-Melanesian
MicronesianSunda–Sulawesi languages Palauan and Chamorro. The black circles in with the green are offshore Papuan languages.
The Austronesian languages are a language family widely dispersed throughout the islands of Southeast Asia, Madagascar and the Pacific, with a few members on continental Asia, that are spoken by about 386 million people. It is on par with Indo-European, Niger–Congo, Afroasiatic and Uralic as one of the best-established ancient language families. Otto Dempwolff, a German scholar, was the first researcher to extensively explore Austronesian using the comparative method. Another German scholar, Wilhelm Schmidt, coined the German word austronesisch which comes from Latin auster "south wind" plus Greek nêsos "island". The name Austronesian was formed from the same roots. 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, is spoken by 180 million people, making it the 8th most spoken language in the world. Twenty or so Austronesian languages are official in their respective countries (see the list of Austronesian languages).
Different sources count languages differently, but Austronesian and Niger–Congo are the two largest language families in the world, 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, Rapanui, 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.
- 1 Structure
- 2 Lexicon
- 3 Classification
- 4 Major languages
- 5 Austronesian comparison chart
- 6 History
- 7 Distant relations
- 8 Writing systems
- 9 See also
- 10 Notes
- 11 References
- 12 Further reading
- 13 External links
It is difficult to make generalizations about the languages that make up a family as diverse as Austronesian. Speaking very broadly, the Austronesian languages can be divided into three groups of languages: Philippine-type languages, Indonesian-type languages and post-Indonesian type (Ross 2002). The first group is characterized by relatively strong verb-initial word order and Philippine-type voice alternations. This phenomenon has frequently been referred to as focus. However, the relevant literature is beginning to avoid this term. Many linguists feel that the phenomenon is better described as voice, and that the terminology creates confusion with more common uses of the word focus within linguistics.
The Austronesian languages tend to use reduplication (repetition of all or part of a word, such as wiki-wiki or agar-agar), and, like many East and Southeast Asian languages, most 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 rusya, lusha; Amis tusa; Māori tua, rua) require some linguistic expertise to recognise. The Austronesian Basic Vocabulary Database gives word lists (coded for cognacy) 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. However, it is clear that the greatest genealogical diversity is found among the Formosan languages of Taiwan, and the least diversity among the islands of the Pacific, supporting a dispersal of the family from Taiwan or China. The first comprehensive classification to reflect this was Dyen (1965).
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 Lee (2008)[citation not found] also links five families into a Northern Formosan group. The Austronesian Basic Vocabulary Database (2008) accepts Northern, rejects Eastern, links Tsouic and Rukai (two highly divergent languages), and links Malayo-Polynesian with Paiwan in a Paiwanic group. Ross (2009)[citation not found] 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 (Taylor 1888).
(clockwise from the southwest)
- Thao (AKA Sao. Brawbaw, Shtafari dialects)
- Central Western Plains
- Northern (Kavalanic)
- Central (Ami)
- (Mantauran, Tona, and Maga dialects are divergent)
This classification retains Blust's East Formosan, and unites the other northern languages. Li 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.
- F0: Formosan = Austronesian
- Maga–Tona, Budai–Labuan–Taromak
Austronesian Basic Vocabulary Database (2008)
This investigation keeps Li's Northern Formosan, but breaks up Blust's East Formosan, and suggests Paiwan may be the closest to Malayo-Polynesian. It also unites Tsouic and Rukai, the two most divergent languages in Li.
This is an obvious, low-level grouping
These groups are linked with an estimated 97% probability.
- Thao (AKA Sao. Brawbaw, Shtafari dialects)
- Western Plains
- Saisiyat (Taai, Tungho dialects)
- Pazeh (AKA Kulun)
Another low-level grouping
- Nataoran (North Amis)
Tsou and Rukai are connected with moderate confidence, estimated at 85% probability.
- Siraya (Taivoan, Makatao dialects)
Malayo-Polynesian and Paiwan are linked with a low level of confidence (74%).
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.
- (Mantauran and Tona–Maga dialects are divergent)
- Subdivisions not addressed, apart from Saaroa–Kanakanabu being separate from Tsou.
Austronesian comparison chart
|Aklanon||isaea, sambilog, uno||daywa, dos||tatlo, tres||ap-at, kwatro||tawo||baeay||ayam||niyog||adlaw||bag-o||kita||ano||kaeayo|
|Pangasinan||sakey||dua, duara||talo, talora||apat, apatira||too||abong||aso||niyog||ageo||balo||sikatayo||anto||pool|
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 recent origin of North American English in Great Britain. 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 especially 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. Paul K. Benedict extended the Austric proposal to include the Tai–Kadai and Hmong–Mien families, but this has not been followed by other linguists.
A competing Austro-Tai proposal linking Austronesian and Tai–Kadai is supported by Weera Ostapirat, Roger Blench, and Laurent Sagart, and is based on the traditional comparative method. Ostapirat (2005) proposes a series of regular correspondences linking the two families and assumes a primary split, with Tai–Kadai 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-Tai–Kadai 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. Sagart's 2005 proposal (Sagart 2005), which may have some support from human population genetics (Li 2005)[citation not found], is that proto-Tai–Kadai was an early Austronesian language that may have back-migrated from northeastern Taiwan to the southeastern coast of China. The apparently cognate words in Tai–Kadai and Austronesian might be explained either as commonly inherited vocabulary, or as loanwords from this hypothetical (but perhaps Malayo-Polynesian) language into proto-Tai–Kadai. (The latter explanation would imply contact rather than a genetic relationship between Tai-Kadai and Austronesian.) Sagart also suggests that Austronesian, in which he includes Tai–Kadai, is ultimately related to the Sino-Tibetan languages and probably has its origin in a Neolithic community of the coastal regions of prehistoric North China or East China.
French linguist and Sinologist Laurent Sagart considers the Austronesian languages to be related to the Sino-Tibetan languages, and also groups the Tai–Kadai languages as more closely related to the Malayo-Polynesian languages. He also groups the Austronesian languages in a recursive-like fashion, placing Tai–Kadai as a sister branch of Malayo-Polynesian.
A few linguists[who?] have proposed that Japanese may be a distant relative of the Austronesian family, but this is rejected by all mainstream linguistic specialists. The evidence for any sort of connection is slight, and many linguists think it is more plausible that Japanese might have instead been influenced by Austronesian languages, perhaps by an Austronesian substratum. Those who propose this scenario suggest that the Austronesian family once covered the islands to the north of Formosa (western Japanese areas such as the Ryūkyū Islands and Kyūshū) as well as to the south. However, there is no genetic evidence for an especially close relationship between speakers of Austronesian languages and speakers of Japonic languages, so if there was any prehistoric interaction between them, it is likely to have been one of simple cultural exchange without significant ethnic mixing. In fact, genetic analyses consistently show that the Ryukyuans between Taiwan and the main islands of Japan are genetically less similar to the Taiwanese aborigines than are the Japanese, which suggests that if there was any interaction between proto-Austronesian and proto-Japonic, it occurred on the mainland prior to the extinction of Austronesian languages on mainland China and the introduction of Japonic to Japan, not in the Ryukyus. More commonly, Japanese is placed in the Altaic language family, though this has never been satisfactorily demonstrated.
Most Austronesian languages have Latin-based writing systems today. Some non-Latin-based writing systems are listed below.
- Jawi alphabet (Arabic-based)
- Sorabe alphabet (Arabic-based)
- Cham alphabet
- Kawi script
- Woleai script (Caroline Island script)
- Rongorongo (possibly used to write the Rapa Nui language)
- Austronesian Formal Linguistics Association
- Austronesian peoples
- List of Austronesian languages
- List of Austronesian regions
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- Blust's Austronesian Comparative Dictionary
- Austronesian Basic Vocabulary Database – ABVD (contains over 650 Austronesian Languages)
- Swadesh lists of Austronesian basic vocabulary words (from Wiktionary's Swadesh-list appendix)
- Summer Institute of Linguistics site showing languages (Austronesian and Papuan) of Papua New Guinea.
- Austronesian Language Resources (defunct? moved?) (Archived November 22, 2004 at the Wayback Machine)
- Spreadsheet of 1600+ Austronesian and Papuan number names and systems – ongoing study to determine their relationships and distribution
- Languages of the World: The Austronesian (Malayo-Polynesian) Language Family
- Introduction to Austronesian Languages and Culture (video) (Malayo-Polynesian) Language Family on YouTube