Proto-Oceanic language

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Proto-Oceanic (abbr. POc) is a proto-language that language comparatists since Otto Dempwolff have proposed as the probable common ancestor to the group of Oceanic languages. Proto-Oceanic is itself an Austronesian language and so therefore a descendant of the Proto-Austronesian language (PAN), the common ancestor of the Austronesian languages.

Proto-Oceanic was probably spoken about 4200 years ago, in the Bismarck Archipelago, east of Papua New Guinea. Archaeologists and linguists currently agree that its community more or less coincides with the Lapita culture.

Linguistic characteristics[edit]

The methodology of comparative linguistics, together with the relative homogeneity of Oceanic languages, make it possible to reconstruct with reasonable certainty the principal linguistic properties of their common ancestor, Proto-Oceanic. Like all scientific hypotheses, these reconstructions must be understood as obviously reflecting the state of science at a particular moment in time; the detail of these reconstructions is still the object of much discussion among Oceanicist scholars.


The phonology of POc can be reconstructed with reasonable certainty.[1] Proto-Oceanic had five vowels: *i, *e, *a, *o, *u, with no length contrast.

Twenty-three consonants are reconstructed. When the conventional transcription of a protophoneme differs from its value in the IPA, the latter is indicated:

Labiovelar Bilabial Alveolar Palatal Velar Uvular
Stop Voiceless *pw /pʷ/ *p *t *c *k *q
Prenasalized *bw /ᵐbʷ/ *b /ᵐb/ *d /ⁿd/ *j /ᶮɟ/ *g /ᵑɡ/
Nasal *mw /mʷ/ *m *n /ɲ/
Fricative *s
Rhotic Flap[2] *R /ɾ/
Trill *r
Prenasalized *dr /ⁿr/
Lateral *l
Glide *w *y /j/

Basic word order[edit]

Many Oceanic languages of New Guinea, Vanuatu, the Solomon Islands, and Micronesia are SVO, or verb-medial, languages. SOV, or verb-final, word order is considered to be typologically unusual for Austronesian languages, and is only found in some Oceanic languages of New Guinea and to a more limited extent, the Solomon Islands. This is because SOV word order is very common in some non-Austronesian Papuan languages in contact with Oceanic languages. In turn, most Polynesian languages, and several languages of New Caledonia, have the VSO word order. Whether Proto-Oceanic had SVO or VSO is still debatable.


  1. ^ See Ross, Pawley, Osmond (1998: 15).
  2. ^ The consonant *R has been recently reconstructed as an alveolar flap by François (2011), p.141.


  • François, Alexandre (2011), "Where *R they all? The history and geography of *R loss in Southern Oceanic", Oceanic Linguistics, 50 (1): 142–199, doi:10.1353/ol.2011.0009
  • Lynch, John; Malcolm Ross; Terry Crowley (2002). The Oceanic languages. Richmond, Surrey: Curzon. ISBN 978-0-7007-1128-4. OCLC 48929366.
  • Ross, Malcolm D. (1988). Proto-Oceanic and the Austronesian languages of Western Melanesia. Canberra: Australian National University. ISBN 978-0-85883-367-8. OCLC 20100109.
  • Ross, Malcolm D. (1998). Andrew Pawley; Meredith Osmond, eds. The lexicon of Proto-Oceanic: Volume 1, Material Culture. Canberra: Australian National University. ISBN 978-0-85883-507-8. OCLC 40267977.
  • Ross, Malcolm D. (2003). Andrew Pawley; Meredith Osmond, eds. The lexicon of Proto-Oceanic: Volume 2, The Physical Environment. Canberra: Australian National University. ISBN 978-0-85883-507-8. OCLC 40267977.

External links[edit]