The Languages of Island Melanesia

Eva Lindström, Angela Terrill, Ger Reesink and Michael Dunn

in Population Genetics, Linguistics, and Culture History in the Southwest Pacific

Published in print September 2007 | ISBN: 9780195300307
Published online September 2007 | e-ISBN: 9780199790142 | DOI:

Series: Human Evolution Series

 							The Languages of Island Melanesia

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This chapter provides an overview of the Papuan and the Oceanic languages (a branch of Austronesian) in Northern Island Melanesia, as well as phenomena arising through contact between these groups. It shows how linguistics can contribute to the understanding of the history of languages and speakers, and what the findings of those methods have been. The location of the homeland of speakers of Proto-Oceanic is indicated (in northeast New Britain); many facets of the lives of those speakers are shown; and the patterns of their subsequent spread across Island Melanesia and beyond into Remote Oceania are indicated, followed by a second wave overlaying the first into New Guinea and as far as halfway through the Solomon Islands. Regarding the Papuan languages of this region, at least some are older than the 6,000-10,000 ceiling of the Comparative Method, and their relations are explored with the aid of a database of 125 non-lexical structural features. The results reflect archipelago-based clustering with the Central Solomons Papuan languages forming a clade either with the Bismarcks or with Bougainville languages. Papuan languages in Bougainville are less influenced by Oceanic languages than those in the Bismarcks and the Solomons. The chapter considers a variety of scenarios to account for their findings, concluding that the results are compatible with multiple pre-Oceanic waves of arrivals into the area after initial settlement.

Keywords: Papuan languages; Oceanic languages; Austronesian languages; historical linguistics; Proto-Oceanic; Northern Island Melanesia; Comparative Method; linguistic structural features

Chapter.  16506 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Evolutionary Biology

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