Austric languages

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Southeast Asia, Pacific Islands, South Asia, East Asia, Madagascar
Linguistic classificationproposed language family

The Austric languages are a proposed language family that includes the Austronesian languages spoken in Taiwan, Maritime Southeast Asia, the Pacific Islands, and Madagascar, as well as the Austroasiatic languages spoken in Mainland Southeast Asia and South Asia. A genetic relationship between these language families is seen as plausible by some scholars, but remains unproven.[1][2]

Additionally, the Kra–Dai languages, Hmong–Mien languages, and Japonic languages are included by some linguists.[3]


The Austric macrofamily was first proposed by the German missionary Wilhelm Schmidt in 1906. He showed phonological, morphological, and lexical evidence to support the existence of an Austric phylum consisting of Austroasiatic and Austronesian.[4][a] Schmidt's proposal had a mixed reception among scholars of Southeast Asian languages, and received only little scholarly attention in the following decades.[5]

Research interest into Austric resurged in the late 20th century,[6] culminating in a series of articles by La Vaughn H. Hayes who presented a corpus of Proto Austric vocabulary together with a reconstruction of Proto Austric phonology,[7] and by Lawrence Reid, focussing on morphological evidence.[8]


Reid list the following pairs as "probable" cognates between Proto-Austroasiatic and Proto-Austronesian.[9]

Gloss ashes dog snake belly eye father mother rotten buy
Proto-Austroasiatic *qabuh *cu(q) *[su](l̩)aR *ta?al/*ti?al *mə(n)ta(q) *(qa)ma(ma) *(na)na *ɣok *pə[l̩]i
Proto-Austronesian *qabu *asu *SulaR *tiaN *maCa *t-ama *t-ina *ma-buRuk *beli

Among the morphological evidence, he compares reconstructed affixes such as:[10]

  • *pa- 'causative' (Proto-Austroasiatic, Proto-Austronesian)
  • *<um> 'agentive' (Proto-Austroasiatic, Proto-Austronesian)
  • *<in> 'instrumental' (Proto-Austroasiatic), 'nominalizer' (Proto-Austronesian).

Extended proposals[edit]

The first extension to Austric was first proposed Wilhelm Schmidt himself, who speculated about including Japanese within Austric, mainly because of assumed similarities between Japanese and the Austronesian languages.[11] While the proposal about a link between Austronesian and Japanese still enjoys some following as a separate hypothesis, the inclusion of Japanese was not adopted by later proponents of Austric.

In 1942, Paul K. Benedict provisionally accepted the Austric hypothesis and extended it to include the Kra–Dai (Thai–Kadai) languages as an immediate sister branch to Austronesian, and further speculated on the possibility to include the Hmong–Mien (Miao–Yao) languages as well.[12] However, he later abandoned the Austric proposal in favor of an extended version of the Austro-Tai hypothesis.[13]

Sergei Starostin adopted Benedict's extended 1942 version of Austric (i.e. including Kra–Dai and Hmong–Mien) within the framework of his larger Dené–Daic proposal, with Austric as a coordinate branch to Dené–Caucasian, as shown in the tree below.[14]







sensu lato



In the second half of the last century, Paul K. Benedict raised a vocal critique of the Austric proposal, eventually calling it an 'extinct' proto-language.[15][13]

Hayes' lexical comparisons, which were presented as supporting evidence for Austric between 1992 and 2001, were criticized for the greater part as methodologically unsound by several reviewers.[16][17] Robert Blust, a leading scholar in the field of Austronesian comparative linguistics, pointed out "the radical disjunction of morphological and lexical evidence" which characterizes the Austric proposal; while he accepts the morphological correspondences between Austronesian and Austroasiatic as possible evidence for a remote genetic relationship, he considers the lexical evidence unconvincing.[18]

A 2015 analysis using the Automated Similarity Judgment Program (ASJP) did not support the Austric hypothesis. In this analysis, the supposed "core" components of Austric were assigned to two separate, unrelated clades: Austro-Tai and Austroasiatic-Japonic.[19] Note however that ASJP is not widely accepted among historical linguists as an adequate method to establish or evaluate relationships between language families.[20]


See also[edit]


  1. ^ The terms "Austroasiatic" and "Austronesian" were in fact both coined by Schmidt. The previous common designations "Mon-Khmer" and "Malayo-Polynesian" are still in use, but each with a scope that is more limited than "Austroasiatic" and "Austronesian".


Works cited[edit]

  • Benedict, Paul K. (1942). "Thai, Kadai, and Indonesian: A New Alignment in Southeastern Asia". American Anthropologist. 4 (44): 576–601. doi:10.1525/aa.1942.44.4.02a00040.
  • ——— (1976). "Austro-Thai and Austroasiatic". In Jenner, Philip N.; Thompson, Laurence C.; Starosta, Stanley (eds.). Austroasiatic Studies, Part I. Honolulu: University of Hawai‘i Press. pp. 1–36. JSTOR 20019153.
  • ——— (1991). "Austric: An 'Extinct' Proto-language". In Davidson, Jeremy H. C. S. (ed.). Austroasiatic Languages: Essays in Honour of H. L. Shorto. London: School of Oriental and African Studies. p. 7–11.
  • Blust, Robert (2013). The Austronesian Languages (revised ed.). Australian National University. hdl:1885/10191. ISBN 978-1-922185-07-5.
  • Diffloth, Gerard (1990). "What Happened to Austric?" (PDF). Mon–Khmer Studies. 16–17: 1–9.
  • ——— (1994). "The lexical evidence for Austric so far". Oceanic Linguistics. 33 (2): 309–321. doi:10.2307/3623131.
  • van Driem, George (2001). Languages of the Himalayas. Vol. 1. Leiden: BRILL. ISBN 9004120629.
  • ——— (2005). "Sino-Austronesian vs. Sino-Caucasian, Sino-Bodic vs. Sino-Tibetan, and Tibeto-Burman as default theory" (PDF). In Yadava, Yogendra P. (ed.). Contemporary Issues in Nepalese Linguistics. Linguistic Society of Nepal. pp. 285–338. ISBN 978-99946-57-69-8.
  • Hayes, La Vaughn H. (1992). "On the Track of Austric, Part I: Introduction" (PDF). Mon–Khmer Studies. 21: 143–77.
  • ——— (1997). "On the Track of Austric, Part II: Consonant Mutation in Early Austroasiatic" (PDF). Mon–Khmer Studies. 27: 13–41.
  • ——— (1999). "On the Track of Austric, Part III: Basic Vocabulary Correspondence" (PDF). Mon–Khmer Studies. 29: 1–34.
  • ——— (2000). "The Austric Denti-alveolar Sibilants". Mother Tongue. 5: 1–12.
  • ——— (2001). "On the Origin of Affricates in Austric". Mother Tongue. 6: 95–117.
  • Holman, Eric W. (2011). "Automated Dating of the World's Language Families Based on Lexical Similarity". Current Anthropology. 52 (6): 841–875. doi:10.1086/662127.
  • Jäger, Gerhard (2015). "Support for linguistic macrofamilies from weighted sequence alignment". PNAS. 112 (41): 12752–12757. Bibcode:2015PNAS..11212752J. doi:10.1073/pnas.1500331112. PMC 4611657. PMID 26403857.
  • Reid, Lawrence A. (1994). "Morphological evidence for Austric" (PDF). Oceanic Linguistics. 33 (2): 323–344. doi:10.2307/3623132.
  • ——— (1999). "New linguistic evidence for the Austric hypothesis". In Zeitoun, Elizabeth; Li, Paul Jen-kuei (eds.). Selected Papers from the Eighth International Conference on Austronesian Linguistics. Taipei: Academia Sinica. pp. 5–30.
  • ——— (2005). "The current status of Austric: A review and evaluation of the lexical and morphosyntactic evidence". In Sagart, Laurent; Blench, Roger; Sanchez-Mazas, Alicia (eds.). The peopling of East Asia: putting together archaeology, linguistics and genetics. London: Routledge Curzon.
  • ——— (2009). "Austric Hypothesis". In Brown, Keith; Ogilvie, Sarah (eds.). Concise Encyclopaedia of Languages of the World. Oxford: Elsevier. pp. 92–94.
  • Schmidt, Wilhelm (1906). "Die Mon–Khmer-Völker, ein Bindeglied zwischen Völkern Zentralasiens und Austronesiens ('[The Mon–Khmer Peoples, a Link between the Peoples of Central Asia and Austronesia')". Archiv für Anthropologie. 5: 59–109.
  • ——— (1930). "Die Beziehungen der austrischen Sprachen zum Japanischen ('The connections of the Austric languages to Japanese')". Wiener Beitrag zur Kulturgeschichte und Linguistik. 1: 239–51..
  • Shorto, H. L. (1976). "In Defense of Austric". Computational Analyses of Asian and African Languages. 6: 95–104.
  • Solnit, David B. (1992). "Japanese/Austro-Tai By Paul K. Benedict (review)". Language. 68 (1): 188–196. doi:10.1353/lan.1992.0061. ISSN 1535-0665.

Further reading[edit]

  • Blazhek, Vaclav. 2000. Comments on Hayes "The Austric Denti-alveolar Sibilants". Mother Tongue V:15-17.
  • Blust, Robert. 1996. Beyond the Austronesian homeland: The Austric hypothesis and its implications for archaeology. In: Prehistoric Settlement of the Pacific, ed. by Ward H.Goodenough, ISBN 978-0-87169-865-0 DIANE Publishing Co, Collingdale PA, 1996, pp. 117–137. (Transactions of the American Philosophical Society 86.5. (Philadelphia: American Philosophical Society).
  • Blust, Robert. 2000. Comments on Hayes, "The Austric Denti-alveolar Sibilants". Mother Tongue V:19-21.
  • Fleming, Hal. 2000. LaVaughn Hayes and Robert Blust Discuss Austric. Mother Tongue V:29-32.
  • Hayes, La Vaughn H. 2000. Response to Blazhek's Comments. Mother Tongue V:33-4.
  • Hayes, La Vaughn H. 2000. Response to Blust's Comments. Mother Tongue V:35-7.
  • Hayes, La Vaughn H. 2000. Response to Fleming's Comments. Mother Tongue V:39-40.
  • Hayes, La Vaughn H. 2001. Response to Sidwell. Mother Tongue VI:123-7.
  • Larish, Michael D. 2006. Possible Proto-Asian Archaic Residue and the Statigraphy of Diffusional Cumulation in Austro-Asian Languages. Paper presented at the Tenth International Conference on Austronesian Linguistics, 17–20 January 2006, Puerto Princesa City, Palawan, Philippines.
  • Reid, Lawrence A. 1996. The current state of linguistic research on the relatedness of the language families of East and Southeast Asia. In: Ian C. Glover and Peter Bellwood, editorial co-ordinators, Indo-Pacific Prehistory: The Chiang Mai Papers, Volume 2, pp . 87-91. Bulletin of the Indo-Pacific Prehistory Association 15. Canberra: Australian National University.
  • Sidwell, Paul. 2001. Comments on La Vaughn H. Hayes' "On the Origin of Affricates in Austric". Mother Tongue VI:119-121.
  • Van Driem, George. 2000. Four Austric Theories. Mother Tongue V:23-27.

External links[edit]