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Greater North Borneo languages

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Greater North Borneo
Historically: most of Borneo and Sumatra, western Java and Mainland Southeast Asia Nowadays: Throughout Maritime Southeast Asia
Linguistic classificationAustronesian
Glottolognort3253  (partial match)

The Greater North Borneo languages are a proposed subgroup of the Austronesian language family. The subgroup historically covers languages that are spoken throughout much of Borneo (excluding the southeastern area where the Greater Barito languages are spoken) and Sumatra, as well as parts of Java, and Mainland Southeast Asia. The Greater North Borneo hypothesis was first proposed by Robert Blust (2010) and further elaborated by Alexander Smith (2017a, 2017b).[1][2][3] The evidence presented for this proposal are solely lexical.[4] Despite its name, this branch has been now widespread within the Maritime Southeast Asia region.

The proposed subgroup covers some of the major languages in Southeast Asia, including Malay/Indonesian and related Malayic languages such as Minangkabau, Banjar and Iban; as well as Sundanese and Acehnese. In Borneo itself, the largest non-Malayic GNB language in terms of the number of speakers is Central Dusun, mainly spoken in Sabah.[5]

Since Greater North Borneo also includes the Malayic, Chamic, and Sundanese languages, it is incompatible with Alexander Adelaar's Malayo-Sumbawan hypothesis.[6][7]



Blust connects the GNB expansion with the migration of Austronesian speakers into Maritime Southeast Asia. According to Blust, when Austronesian speakers came from the north through the Philippines, they split into three groups: one that went into Borneo, one that went into Sulawesi, and one that went into the Moluccas.[8] After landing in Borneo, the first group was further split into two: one that moved along the northwestern coast facing the South China Sea, and another one that moved along the eastern coast. The language variety spoken by the northwestern group eventually developed into the Greater North Borneo languages.[9]



Blust (2010)


Robert Blust proposed a set of lexical innovations that defined Greater North Borneo. One of these innovations is *tuzuq replacing Proto-Malayo-Polynesian *pitu for 'seven'.[1] The following subgroups are included:

While Blust assumed that all languages of Borneo other than those in Greater Barito subgroup with GNB,[1] he does not attempt to explicitly classify several languages, including those with insufficient available data.[10][11]

Smith (2017a, 2017b)


Smith recognizes an independent Central Sarawak branch within Greater North Borneo, combining the Melanau, Kajang and Punan–Müller-Schwaner languages.[12] Additionally, he also excludes Moklenic from GNB and places it all the way up as one of the primary branches of Malayo-Polynesian.[3]

Proto-Kayanic, Proto-Punan, Proto-Müller-Schwaner, Proto-Land Dayak, and Proto-Kenyah have also been reconstructed in Smith (2017a).[13]

Austroasiatic influence


According to Roger Blench (2010),[14] Austroasiatic languages were once spoken in Borneo. Blench cites Austroasiatic-origin vocabulary words in modern-day Bornean branches such as Land Dayak (Bidayuh, Dayak Bakatiq, etc.), Dusunic (Central Dusun, Bisaya, etc.), Kayan, and Kenyah, noting especially resemblances with the Aslian languages of peninsular Malaysia. As further evidence for his proposal, Blench also cites ethnographic evidence such as musical instruments in Borneo shared in common with Austroasiatic-speaking groups in mainland Southeast Asia.

Blench (2010) claims that lexical forms shared among Bornean and Austroasiatic languages include 'rain', 'to die', 'back (of body)', 'flying lemur', 'monkey', 'barking deer', 'lizard', and 'taro'.

Kaufman (2018) presents further evidence of words in various Austronesian languages of Borneo that are of likely Austroasiatic origin.[15]

See also



  1. ^ a b c Blust 2010, pp. 44, 47.
  2. ^ Smith 2017a, p. 346–364.
  3. ^ a b Smith 2017b, p. 459–460.
  4. ^ Blust 2010, p. 68.
  5. ^ Blust 2013, p. 65.
  6. ^ Blust 2010, p. 81.
  7. ^ Adelaar 2005.
  8. ^ Blust 2010, p. 45.
  9. ^ Blust 2010, p. 48.
  10. ^ Blust 2010, pp. 52–53.
  11. ^ Smith 2017a, p. 28.
  12. ^ Smith 2017a, p. 319.
  13. ^ Smith 2017a, p. 49–50.
  14. ^ Blench, Roger (2010). "Was there an Austroasiatic Presence in Island Southeast Asia prior to the Austronesian Expansion?". Bulletin of the Indo-Pacific Prehistory Association. 30. doi:10.7152/bippa.v30i0.10637.
  15. ^ Kaufman, Daniel. 2018. Between mainland and island Southeast Asia: Evidence for a Mon-Khmer presence in Borneo. Ronald and Janette Gatty Lecture Series. Kahin Center for Advanced Research on Southeast Asia, Cornell University. (handout / slides)



Further reading

  • Adelaar, Alexander; Himmelmann, Nikolaus, eds. (2005). The Austronesian Languages of Asia and Madagascar. London: Routledge. ISBN 9780700712861.
  • Blust, Robert; Smith, Alexander D. (2014). A Bibliography of the Languages of Borneo (and Madagascar). Phillips, Maine: Borneo Research Council. ISBN 9781929900152.
  • Lobel, Jason William (2016). North Borneo Sourcebook: Vocabularies and Functors. University of Hawaii Press. ISBN 9780824857790.