In linguistics, Melanesian is an obsolete term referring to the Austronesian languages of Melanesia: that is, the Oceanic, Eastern Malayo-Polynesian, or Central–Eastern Malayo-Polynesian languages apart from Polynesian and Micronesian. A typical classification of the Austronesian languages ca. 1970 would divide them into something like the following branches:[1]

Phylogenetic affiliations

It is now known that the Melanesian languages do not form a genealogical node: they are at best paraphyletic, and very likely polyphyletic; like Papuan, the term is now used as one of convenience, and sometimes placed in scare quotes.[2] Although the term was at least in the beginning partially racial rather than linguistic, the Melanesian and other Central–Eastern Malayo-Polynesian languages are typologically similar, due to being the Austronesian languages most heavily restructured under the influence of various Papuan language families.[3]

In terms of phylogenetic affiliation, “Melanesian languages” thus refer to a heterogenous set of language families:

Languages of Melanesia

Most of the languages of Melanesia are members of the Austronesian language family or one of the many Papuan families. By one count, there are 1,319 languages in Melanesia, scattered across a small amount of land. The proportion of 716 sq. kilometers per language is by far the most dense rate of languages in relation to land mass in the earth, almost three times as dense as in Nigeria, a country famous for its high number of languages in a compact area.[4]

In addition to this large number of indigenous languages, there are also a number of pidgins and creoles. Most notable among these are Indonesian, Tok Pisin, Hiri Motu, Solomon Islands Pijin, Bislama, and Papuan Malay.


  1. ^ Merritt Ruhlen, 1991, A Guide to the World's Languages, p 165
  2. ^ As for example in The Austronesians: Historical and Comparative Perspectives (eds. Bellwood, Fox, & Tryon, 1995)
  3. ^ Mark Donohue, 2007. The Papuan language of Tambora. Oceanic Linguistics 46(2):520–537.
  4. ^ M. Lynn Landweer and Peter Unseth. 2012. An introduction to language use in Melanesia. International Journal of the Sociology of Language 214:1-3.