Pacific settlement and Austronesian languages.

Greenhill, S.J. & R.D. Gray

Department of Psychology, University of Auckland, New Zealand;

This is the abstract of a talk I gave at Doom ’07 – The Annual New Zealand Phylogenetics Meeting at Whakapapa, New Zealand.

The settlement of the Pacific is one of the greatest population movements in the last 10,000 years, and lead to the settlement of the region bounded by Taiwan, Hawaii, Easter Island (Rapanui), New Zealand, and Madagascar. This Austronesian expansion brought with it (and developed along the way) a distinctive Lapita cultural complex and what has become the largest language family in the world, with over 1,000 languages.

There are a number of scenarios describing this Austronesian expansion as either a rapid tree-like spread from Taiwan beginning around 6000 BP, or expansion from a deeper Island South-East Asia origin around 13,000 BP. Over the last few years we have built a large comparative database of linguistic information from these languages (Austronesian Basic Vocabulary Database) and have begun using phylogenetic methods on it.

We will present results from some large analyses of lexical data from over 300 languages, and demonstrate the power of this data at resolving these questions.

Words for hand from ABVD

A picture from Google Earth, showing the Austronesian words meaning “hand”. Data from the Austronesian Basic Vocabulary Database