Oceanic languages

Last updated
Linguistic classification Austronesian
Proto-language Proto-Oceanic
Glottolog ocea1241
Oceanic languages.svg
The branches of Oceanic (The bottom four could be grouped under one branch, -Central Eastern Oceanic)
The black ovals at the northwestern limit of Micronesia are the non-Oceanic Malayo-Polynesian languages Palauan and Chamorro. The black circles inside the green circles are offshore Papuan languages.

The approximately 450 Oceanic languages are a branch of the Austronesian languages. The area occupied by speakers of these languages includes Polynesia, as well as much of Melanesia and Micronesia. Though covering a vast area, Oceanic languages are spoken by only two million people. The largest individual Oceanic languages are Eastern Fijian with over 600,000 speakers, and Samoan with an estimated 400,000 speakers. The Gilbertese (Kiribati), Tongan, Tahitian, Māori, Western Fijian and Tolai (Gazelle Peninsula) languages each have over 100,000 speakers. The common ancestor which is reconstructed for this group of languages is called Proto-Oceanic (abbr. "POc").



The Oceanic languages were first shown to be a language family by Sidney Herbert Ray in 1896 and, besides Malayo-Polynesian, they are the only established large branch of Austronesian languages. Grammatically, they have been strongly influenced by the Papuan languages of northern New Guinea, but they retain a remarkably large amount of Austronesian vocabulary. [1]

Lynch, Ross, & Crowley (2002)

According to Lynch, Ross, & Crowley (2002), Oceanic languages often form linkages with each other. Linkages are formed when languages emerged historically from an earlier dialect continuum. The linguistic innovations shared by adjacent languages define a chain of intersecting subgroups (a linkage), for which no distinct proto-language can be reconstructed. [2]

Lynch, Ross, & Crowley (2002) propose three primary groups of Oceanic languages:

The "residues" (as they are called by Lynch, Ross, & Crowley), which do not fit into the three groups above, but are still classified as Oceanic are:

Ross & Næss (2007) removed Utupua–Vanikoro, from Central–Eastern Oceanic, to a new primary branch of Oceanic: [3]

Blench (2014) [4] considers Utupua and Vanikoro to be two separate branches that are both non-Austronesian.

Ross, Pawley, & Osmond (2016)

Ross, Pawley, & Osmond (2016) propose the following revised rake-like classification of Oceanic, with 9 primary branches. [5] :10


Non-Austronesian languages

Roger Blench (2014) [4] argues that many languages conventionally classified as Oceanic are in fact non-Austronesian (or "Papuan", which is a geographic rather genetic grouping), including Utupua and Vanikoro. Blench doubts that Utupua and Vanikoro are closely related, and thus should not be grouped together. Since each of the three Utupua and three Vanikoro languages are highly distinct from each other, Blench doubts that these languages had diversified on the islands of Utupua and Vanikoro, but had rather migrated to the islands from elsewhere. According to Blench, historically this was due to the Lapita demographic expansion consisting of both Austronesian and non-Austronesian settlers migrating from the Lapita homeland in the Bismarck Archipelago to various islands further to the east.

Other languages traditionally classified as Oceanic that Blench (2014) suspects are in fact non-Austronesian include the Kaulong language of West New Britain, which has a Proto-Malayo-Polynesian vocabulary retention rate of only 5%, and languages of the Loyalty Islands that are spoken just to the north of New Caledonia.

Blench (2014) proposes that languages classified as:

Word order

Word order in Oceanic languages is highly diverse, and is distributed in the following geographic regions (Lynch, Ross, & Crowley 2002:49).

See also

Related Research Articles

Melanesia Subregion of the Pacific Ocean

Melanesia is a subregion of Oceania extending from New Guinea island in the southwestern Pacific Ocean to the Arafura Sea, and eastward to Tonga.

Polynesian languages Language family

The Polynesian languages form a language family spoken in geographical Polynesia and on a patchwork of outliers from south central Micronesia to small islands off the northeast of the larger islands of the southeast Solomon Islands and sprinkled through Vanuatu. Linguistic taxonomists classify them as a subgroup of the much larger and more varied Austronesian family, belonging to the Oceanic branch of that family. Polynesians share many unique cultural traits that resulted from only about 1000 years of common development, including common linguistic development, in the Tonga and Samoa area through most of the first millennium BC.

Pacific Islander Indigenous peoples of the Pacific Islands

Pacific Islanders, Pasifika, or Pasefika, are the peoples of the Pacific Islands. It is a geographic and ethnic/racial term to describe the inhabitants and diaspora of any of the three major sub-regions of Oceania. It is also sometimes used to describe inhabitants of the Pacific islands.

Polynesians form an ethnolinguistic group of closely related people who are native to Polynesia, an expansive region of Oceania in the Pacific Ocean. They trace their early prehistoric origins to Island Southeast Asia and form part of the larger Austronesian ethnolinguistic group with an Urheimat in Taiwan. They speak the Polynesian languages, a branch of the Oceanic subfamily of the Austronesian language family.

Lapita culture Neolithic archaeological culture in the Pacific

The Lapita culture is the name given to a prehistoric Pacific Ocean people who left evidence of their livelihood on several Pacific Islands, by way of ceramic constructs that range in date from about 1600 BCE to about 500 BCE. Some archaeologists believe that the Lapita are the ancestors of historic cultures in Polynesia, Micronesia, and some coastal areas of Melanesia. Others believe that these are two distinct cultures that evolved separately within shared areas. The historically recognized characteristic of the Lapita culture is the distinctive geometric dentate-stamped pottery.

Santa Cruz Islands

The Santa Cruz Islands are a group of islands in the Pacific Ocean, part of Temotu Province of the nation of Solomon Islands. They lie approximately 250 miles (400 km) to the southeast of the Solomon Islands archipelago. The Santa Cruz Islands lie just north of the archipelago of Vanuatu, and are considered part of the Vanuatu rain forests ecoregion.

Melanesians Broad ethnolinguistic classification

Melanesians are the predominant and indigenous inhabitants of Melanesia, in a wide area from Maluku Islands and New Guinea to as far east as the islands of Vanuatu and Fiji. Most speak either one of the many languages of the Austronesian language family, especially ones in the Oceanic branch, or from one of the many unrelated families of Papuan languages. Other languages are the several creoles of the region, such as Tok Pisin, Hiri Motu, Solomon Islands Pijin, Bislama, and Papuan Malay.

Central–Eastern Oceanic languages

The over 200 Central–Eastern Oceanic languages form a branch of the Oceanic language family within the Austronesian languages.

Located in the central Pacific Ocean, Fiji's geography has made it both a destination and a crossroads for migrations for many centuries.

Central–Eastern Malayo-Polynesian languages Proposed subgroup of the Austronesian language family

The Central–Eastern Malayo-Polynesian (CEMP) languages form a proposed branch of the Malayo-Polynesian languages consisting of over 700 languages.

The Huon Gulf languages are Western Oceanic languages spoken primarily in Morobe Province of Papua New Guinea. They may form a group of the North New Guinea languages, perhaps within the Ngero–Vitiaz branch of that family.

Temotu Province Province in Lata, Solomon Islands

Temotu is the easternmost province of Solomon Islands. The province was formerly known as Santa Cruz Islands Province. It consists, essentially, of two chains of islands which run parallel to each other from the northwest to the southeast. Its area is 895 square kilometres.

Southern Oceanic languages Subgroup of the Oceanic branch of the Austronesian language family

The Southern Oceanic languages are a linkage of Oceanic languages spoken in Vanuatu and New Caledonia. It was proposed by Lynch, Ross, and Crowley in 2002 and supported by later studies. They consider it to be a linkage rather than a language group with a clearly defined internal nested structure.

The Tu'i Pulotu is believed to be the head of an ancient group of people that settled in Pulotu (Fiji) during the Lapita period. It was said that the Tui Pulotu originally came from the Fiji Islands and led the Pacific Islands from the early BC era to the first 800 years AD. Many people tried to associate Pulotu with Burotu because of the different pronunciations within Tonga, Samoa and Fiji. And we all know that Burotu in Fiji was the Burotukula which used to be seen near Matuku in Lau.

Proto-Oceanic is a proto-language that historical linguists since Otto Dempwolff have reconstructed as the hypothetical common ancestor of the Oceanic subgroup of the Austronesian language family. Proto-Oceanic is a descendant of the Proto-Austronesian language (PAN), the common ancestor of the Austronesian languages.

Utupua Island

Utupua Island is an island in the Santa Cruz Islands, located 66 km to the Southeast of the main Santa Cruz group, between Vanikoro and Santa Cruz proper. This island belongs administratively to the Temotu Province of the Solomon Islands.

Temotu languages

The Temotu languages, named after Temotu Province of the Solomon Islands, are a branch of Oceanic languages proposed in Ross & Næss (2007) to unify the Reefs – Santa Cruz languages with the Utupua - Vanikoro languages.

Polynesia Subregion of Oceania

Polynesia is a subregion of Oceania, made up of more than 1,000 islands scattered over the central and southern Pacific Ocean. The indigenous people who inhabit the islands of Polynesia are termed Polynesians, sharing many similar traits including language family, culture, and beliefs. Historically, they had a strong tradition of sailing and using stars to navigate at night. The largest country in Polynesia is New Zealand.

Solomon Islands (archipelago)

The Solomon Islands are an archipelago in the western South Pacific Ocean, located northeast of Australia. They are in the Melanesia subregion and bioregion of Oceania. The archipelago forms much of the territory of Solomon Islands, while the northwestern islands are within the Autonomous Region of Bougainville, in eastern Papua New Guinea. It forms the eastern boundary of the Solomon Sea.

The family of Northwest Solomonic languages is a branch of the Oceanic languages. It includes the Austronesian languages of Bougainville and Buka in Papua New Guinea, and of Choiseul, New Georgia, and Santa Isabel in Solomon Islands.


  1. Mark Donohue and Tim Denham, 2010. Farming and Language in Island Southeast Asia: Reframing Austronesian History. Current Anthropology, 51(2):223–256.
  2. The Wave model is more appropriate than the Tree model for representing such linkages: see François, Alexandre (2014), "Trees, Waves and Linkages: Models of Language Diversification" (PDF), in Bowern, Claire; Evans, Bethwyn (eds.), The Routledge Handbook of Historical Linguistics, London: Routledge, pp. 161–189, ISBN   978-0-41552-789-7 .
  3. Ross, Malcolm and Åshild Næss (2007). "An Oceanic Origin for Äiwoo, the Language of the Reef Islands?". Oceanic Linguistics. 46 (2): 456–498. doi:10.1353/ol.2008.0003. hdl: 1885/20053 .
  4. 1 2 Blench, Roger. 2014. Lapita Canoes and Their Multi-Ethnic Crews: Might Marginal Austronesian Languages Be Non-Austronesian? Paper presented at the Workshop on the Languages of Papua 3. 20-24 January 2014, Manokwari, West Papua, Indonesia.
  5. Ross, Malcolm; Pawley, Andrew; Osmond, Meredith (eds). The lexicon of Proto Oceanic: The culture and environment of ancestral Oceanic society. Volume 5: People: body and mind. 2016. Asia-Pacific Linguistics (A-PL) 28.