Austronesian Languages

Why Study Austronesian Languages?

The Austronesian languages form one of the world’s largest language families, considering the number of languages included and the number of geographic locations in which they are spoken. The Austronesian languages are spoken in most of the Indonesian archipelago: the Philippines, Madagascar, the island groups of the Central and South Pacific, Malaysia and in many parts of Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, and Taiwan. Major Austronesian languages include: Cebuano, Tagalog, Ilocano, Hiligaynon, Bicol, Waray-Waray, Kapampangan and Pangasinan, which are spoken in the Philippines; Malay, Javanese, Sundanese, Madurese, Minangkabau, the Batak languages, Acehnese, Balinese, and Buginese, which are spoken in western Indonesia; and Malagasy, which is spoken in Madagascar. Each of these languages has more than a million speakers, with approximately 386 million speakers worldwide in total.

One of the most interesting linguistic processes that the Austronesian languages tend to employ is reduplication, which is either a phonological process in which sequences of vowels, consonants, syllables or moras are repeated, or a morphological process in which the root, a part of the root or even the whole word is repeated with no change or with a small change. For the most part, reduplication changes the grammatical function of a given word or creates new words. For instance, one of the reasons reduplication is employed in Tagalog, the Austronesian language upon which the national variety of the Philippines “Filipino” is based, is to emphasize or strengthen the meaning of a simple word. For example, adjectives with the prefix ma- undergo reduplication to express the plural: mabúti (“good.SG”) à mabubúti (“good.PL”).

Other interesting facts, research and more on the Austronesian languages will be presented at the AFLA conference, so we welcome you to join us in learning more on this incredible language family!