Linguistic classificationAustronesian
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 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 than 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


  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. ^ a b 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.