The Austronesian languages are a family of languages widely dispersed throughout the islands of Southeast Asia and the Pacific, with a few members spoken on continental Asia. Madagascar. Austronesian has ten primary subgroups, nine of them found in Taiwan (the Formosan languages, unrelated to Chinese) and one ancestral to all other members of the family (Malayo-Polynesian languages). Austronesian is one of the largest language families in the world, both in terms of number of languages (1244 according to Ethnologue) and in terms of the geographical extent of the homelands of its languages (from Madagascar to Easter Island).
The name comes from the Greek word Austronesia, meaning "southern islands".
The Formosan languages are spoken on the island of Taiwan, and some neighbouring islands. The Malayo-Polynesian languages are scattered across the huge area described above. The Malayo-Polynesian (MP) languages are divided into two major subgroups, the Western MP and the Central-Eastern MP. Western has 300 million speakers; Eastern has about 1 million speakers.
Comparative reconstruction, confirmed by archaeology, has shown that the original homeland of the linguistic ancestors of all these languages was in south-eastern China, from which they emigrated to the island of Taiwan. On this island the deepest divisions in Austronesian are among families of native Formosan languages. The older term 'Malayo-Polynesian' is sometimes still used for the entire non-Taiwanese branch of Austronesian.
Some linguists believe the Tai languages probably deserve a place within an expanded version of this family, though others favor the Sino_Tibetan family to include them. Yet others have attempted to show a genetic relationship between Austronesian and Austroasiatic languages, forming an Austric superfamily. Neither the Austro-Tai, nor the Austric superfamilies have gained general acceptance in the linguistic community.
The Malayo-Polynesian languages tend to use reduplication (repetition of all or part of a word - such as wiki-wiki) to express an intensification, and all Austronesian languages have a low entropy; that is, the text is quite repetitive in terms of the frequency of sounds. The majority also lack consonant clusters (e.g., [str] or [mpt] in English). Most also have only a small set of vowels, five being a common number.
- Ethnologue report for Austronesian. (http://www.ethnologue.com/show_family.asp?subid=106)
- Comparative vocabulary data from 280 Austronesian Languages. (http://language.psy.auckland.ac.nz)
- Austronesian Language Resources (http://www-personal.umich.edu/~rustyb/112/austronesian.htm)