Proto-Oceanic language

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Proto-Oceanic (abbr. POc) is a proto-language that language comparatists — particularly after Otto Dempwolff's works — have proposed as the probable common ancestor to the group of Oceanic languages. Proto-Oceanic is itself an Austronesian language, and 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 the POc-speaking community more or less coincides with the Lapita culture.

Linguistic characteristics of Proto-Oceanic[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; in particular, 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 5 vowels: *i, *e, *a, *o, *u, with no length contrast.

23 consonants are also 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/


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.


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