In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Austronesian Linguistics

  • Introduction
  • Textbooks
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Linguistics Austronesian Linguistics
Alexander Adelaar
  • LAST REVIEWED: 18 August 2022
  • LAST MODIFIED: 29 November 2017
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199772810-0055


Austronesian linguistics is the linguistic study of languages belonging to the Austronesian language family. The more than 1,200 Austronesian languages occupy a vast area. Traditionally, they are spoken in the Pacific in the area bounded by Hawaii in the northeast, Taiwan in the northwest, Easter Island in the southeast, New Zealand in the southwest, and Wallis Island in the south. In Southeast Asia they are spoken in the Philippines, in Brunei Darussalam, and in most parts of Indonesia, Malaysia, and East Timor. Minorities speaking Austronesian languages are also found in some regions in Vietnam, Kampuchea, southern Thailand, and coastal South Burma. Much farther to the west, speakers of Austronesian languages are found in Madagascar and the island of Mayotte (Comoros), along the East African coast. Australian languages, the Austro-Asiatic (Orang Asli) languages in the Malay Peninsula, and the Papuan languages in and around New Guinea do not belong to the Austronesian language family. Genetically, the Austronesian language family has several primary branches. Most of these consist of only one or several of the twenty or so Austronesian languages of Taiwan (the so-called Formosan languages). Only one branch, Malayo-Polynesian, includes all other Austronesian languages. Historically, the Austronesian language family is commonly believed to have originated in Taiwan, whence its members spread to other parts of Southeast Asia, to the Pacific, and to Madagascar (see Blust 2013, cited under Textbooks).


The study of Austronesian linguistics has been greatly facilitated in the early 21st century by the appearance of some fairly comprehensive textbooks. One of the more recent of these, Blust 2013, gives a solid overview of most fields of interest regarding Austronesian languages in general, with a slight bias toward historical linguistics. Adelaar and Himmelmann 2011 and Lynch, et al. 2002 also have historical information but are more typologically oriented and cover complementary parts of the Austronesian-speaking region. Lynch 1998 is also limited in geographical scope, aiming at a wide readership and including Papuan languages.

  • Adelaar, Alexander, and Nikolaus P. Himmelmann, eds. 2011. The Austronesian languages of Asia and Madagascar. 2d ed. Routledge Language Family. London: Routledge.

    A basic reference work and introduction to Austronesian languages outside the Pacific, emphasizing typological diversity.

  • Blust, Robert A. 2013. The Austronesian languages. Rev. ed. A-PL 008. Open Access Monographs. Canberra: Asia-Pacific Linguistics, Australian National Univ.

    A basic reference work and introduction, treating the main aspects of synchronic linguistics (sound systems, lexicon, morphology, syntax) and historical linguistics (classification, sound change, reconstruction, culture history). It also gives information on the geography, demography, ecology, and sociolinguistics of Austronesian languages.

  • Lynch, John. 1998. Pacific languages: An introduction. Honolulu: Univ. of Hawai‘i Press.

    An elementary introduction for a wide readership to the Austronesian and non-Austronesian languages in the Pacific.

  • Lynch, John, Malcolm Ross, and Terry Crowley. 2002. The Oceanic languages. Richmond, UK: Curzon.

    A basic reference work and introduction to Austronesian languages in the Pacific, emphasizing typological diversity.

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