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Austronesian and Papuan Linguistics


Admission requirements

The course is open for students without linguistic background, but knowledge of basic linguistic terminology is assumed and some background in historical linguistics and linguistic typology is advantageous.


Together, the Austronesian (~1200 languages) and Papuan (~800 languages) represent about a third of the world’s languages. While the Austronesian family is an established genealogical unit, the term Papuan is generally used as a cover term for numerous language groups spoken on New Guinea and surroundings that are not Austronesian. Areas where the families meet include south-eastern Indonesia, also referred to as East Nusantara. This course introduces the student to this fascinating linguistic contact zone which roughly runs from Flores to New Guinea, including the Moluccas and Halmahera. We consider the languages in the region from two distinct angles:
(a) Genealogical: in this area, we find both Austronesian and Papuan languages. What is the evidence for these classifications? What are the assumptions and procedures used for genetic classification in general, and how do they apply to the languages of this region?
(b) Typological: what are typical structural features of Austronesian languages? How do they compare to typical features of Papuan languages, if such exist?
By relating the genealogical and typological observations we can observe that structural characteristics of languages have diffused across language family boundaries. The study of such areal distributions of structural characteristics helps to reconstruct possible scenario’s of ancient and more recent contact between groups of speakers. The area we will focus on is Eastern Indonesia, a linguistically rich zone where Austronesian and Papuan languages have been in contact for millennia.

Course objectives

By the end of this course, the student is able to…

  • recognise the types of evidence used for the genealogical classification of Austronesian and Papuan languages

  • evaluate the validity of various types of evidence

  • carry out a basic historical reconstruction task using primary data from the area

  • understand the typological variety found in the Austronesian family and Papuan language groups

  • present a typological comparison of one or more features found in languages of the area

Mode of instruction

The course combines lectures with independent research on selected topics.

Assessment method

  1. Oral presentations of 2 research assignments during the course (each 25%)
    1. A research essay (min. 5 pages) on the basis of one of the oral presentations (50%)


Course materials will be listed and / or made available through Blackboard.

Reading list

The reading list will contain
(i) readings on Austronesian and Papuan historical reconstruction,
(ii) case studies relating to an Austronesian and a Papuan subgroup,
(iii) basic readings on the typology of Austronesian and Papuan languages,
(iv) typological case studies on Austronesian and Papuan languages.
Full details of the reading list will be posted on Blackboard a couple of weeks before the course starts.

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