One of the largest language
families in the world, stretching from Madagascar
to Easter Island
. It includes almost all the languages of Indonesia
, the Philippines
, and Micronesia
. With more than 1200 members it is second only to the Niger-Congo
The term Austronesian is the preferred one; it was formerly referred to as Malayo-Polynesian. Also formerly the regional terms Melanesian, Micronesian and so on were used as if they were genetic subdivisions, but in fact this is not so. A better subdivision is between Western and Eastern branches. Melanesia here refers to Solomon Islands and Vanuatu, but for the most part the languages of New Guinea are unrelated.
Bahasa Indonesia, also known as Indonesian and Malay and Malay-Indonesian, is by far the largest language of the family.
The Austronesian family originated on the island of Taiwan, where the deepest divisions still exist between branches of the aboriginal languages (unrelated to Chinese); all non-Taiwanese members of the family belong to a single branch, whose expansion in the last few thousand years into the islands to the south and then across the Pacific can be tracked with some accuracy, as it has been found that archaeological evidence of settlement can be matched with sound changes as branches diverge, and with the existence or non-existence of words for items, such as animals that were not carried into Polynesia. One people from Borneo crossed the Indian Ocean and settled Madagascar. The term Malayo-Polynesian is sometimes used for the non-Taiwanese branch.
Evidence of the recent spread is in considerable uniformity of vocabulary. For example,
- the numeral 'five' is lima in Indonesian, Javanese, Balinese, Tetum (of East Timor), Tagalog (of the Philippines), Fijian, Samoan, and Hawaiian; it is rima in Maori and Rapa Nui (of Easter Island).
- the pronoun 'I' is aku in Indonesian and Javanese, ako in Tagalog, a'u in Hawaiian and Samoan, au in Fijian, Maori, and Rapa Nui, and ahy in Malagasy (of Madagascar).
- 'fish' is ikan in Indonesian, Tetum, and Sundanese, ika in Maori, Fijian, and Rapa Nui, i'a in Hawaiian and Samoan, and ek in Marshallese.
Some grammatical features are shared across a lot of the range. In Philippine languages one of four actants is selected as topic and placed at the front of the sentence, with the verb agreeing in type of topic: see under typology for schematic details. In Indonesian either subject or object can be topic, and the verb takes meng- or di- respectively. There is a slight preference for object topics. In Polynesian languages, such as Maori, the two verb forms are usually called active and passive, with passive formed by a suffix like -ia, but the preference for the passive indicates this might be better regarded as object focus also. In Malagasy has been fixed as VOS. In Tongan (and I'm not sure of which others) the object focus construction has been reworked into an ergative system.
It is common to have inclusive and exclusive pronouns in the first person plural ('we' meaning either 'I and you' or 'I and they'). There is often number marking other than just singular and plural: dual and sometimes either trial or paucal ('you two', 'you three' or 'you few').
Partial or full reduplication is sometimes used to mark plurality or intensity, such as Indonesian mangga-mangga 'mangoes'.