Reefs – Santa Cruz languages

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Reef Islands – Santa Cruz
Reefs – Santa Cruz
Solomon Islands
Linguistic classificationAustronesian

The Reef Islands – Santa Cruz languages (usually shortened to Reefs – Santa Cruz, abbreviated RSC) are a small language family comprising the languages of the Santa Cruz Islands and Reef Islands:


The debate in Oceanic linguistics dated from the Second International Conference on Austronesian Linguistics in 1978, where two opposing papers were presented. Peter Lincoln argued that the Reefs – Santa Cruz languages were Oceanic,[2] while Stephen Wurm argued that they were Papuan languages.[3]


These languages were only definitively classified as part of the Oceanic subgroup of the Austronesian family after a series of papers that refuted the three major arguments for classifying them as either primarily Papuan languages or at least heavily influenced by a Papuan substrate.

  • Malcolm Ross and Åshild Næss (2007) demonstrated regular sound correspondences between RSC and Proto-Oceanic.[4]
  • Åshild Næss (2006) showed that the "multiple noun classes" in RSC do not resemble Papuan-style gender systems, but do have parallels in other Oceanic languages of nearby Vanuatu.[5]
  • Finally, Åshild Næss and Brenda H. Boerger (2008) showed that the complex verbal structures of RSC are derived by normal erosion of verb morphology and grammaticalization of verb serialization commonly found in many Oceanic languages, and thus do not reflect a Papuan substrate.[6]

Ross and Næss (2007) offer a retrospective conclusion:

How then did it come about that Stephen Wurm thought the RSC [Reefs – Santa Cruz] languages were Papuan? In small measure because the reconstruction of POc had in the 1970s not progressed to where it is today. In larger measure because the typological features he found in the RSC languages had yet to be documented in other Oceanic languages. And because the RSC languages had undergone phonological changes which rendered some cognates unrecognisable and led eventually to the replacement of others.


  1. ^ Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin, eds. (2017). "Reefs–Santa Cruz". Glottolog 3.0. Jena, Germany: Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History.
  2. ^ Lincoln, Peter C. "Reefs – Santa Cruz as Austronesian". Second International Conference on Austronesian Linguistics: Proceedings. Pacific Linguistics. pp. 929–967.
  3. ^ Wurm, Stephen. "Reefs – Santa Cruz: Austronesian, but ... !". Second International Conference on Austronesian Linguistics: Proceedings. Pacific Linguistics. pp. 969–1010.
  4. ^ Ross, Malcolm and Åshild Næss (2007). "An Oceanic Origin for Aiwoo, the Language of the Reef Islands?". Oceanic Linguistics. 46 (2): 456–498. doi:10.1353/ol.2008.0003.
  5. ^ Næss, Åshild (2006). "Bound Nominal Elements in Äiwoo (Reefs): A Reappraisal of the 'Multiple Noun Class Systems'". Oceanic Linguistics. 45: 269–296. doi:10.1353/ol.2007.0006.
  6. ^ Næss, Åshild and Brenda H. Boerger (2008). "Reefs – Santa Cruz as Oceanic: Evidence from the Verb Complex". Oceanic Linguistics. 47: 185–212. doi:10.1353/ol.0.0000.

Further reading[edit]

  • Cashmore, C. (1972) Vocabularies of the Santa Cruz Islands, British Solomon Islands Protectorate.