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Austronesian and Papuan Linguistics


Admission requirements

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


Course subject: Overview of recent developments in Austronesian and Papuan linguistics.

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.

We consider the Austronesian and Papuan languages from two distinct angles:
(a) Genealogical: What is the evidence for family 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 focus on is Eastern Indonesia, a linguistically rich zone where Austronesian and Papuan languages have been in contact for millennia.

Course objectives

  1. To recognise the types of evidence used for the genealogical classification of Austronesian and Papuan languages.
    1. To be able to evaluate the validity of various types of evidence.
    2. To understand how historical reconstruction is done either by carrying out a basic reconstruction task using primary data from the area, or by studying an article reporting on such work.
    3. To understand the typological variety found in the Austronesian family and Papuan language groups.
    4. To present a historical and typological comparison of one or more features found in languages of the area.


The timetable will be available on Blackboard at least one week before the course starts.

Mode of instruction

The course combines lectures and student presentations about selected topics.

Course Load

time spent on attending lectures: 28 hours
time for studying the compulsory literature: 90 hours
time to prepare the two presentations: 40 hours
time to write a paper (including reading/research): 122 hours

Assessment Method

Oral presentations of 2 research assignments during the course: each 25%
A written paper, which may be based on one of the oral presentations: 50%

Resit: students who fail the course may resit the written paper.


Blackboard will be used to provide students with an overview of current affairs, as well as specific information about (components of) the course.

Reading list

To be announced at the beginning of the course.


Enrolment in uSis is obligatory. If you have any questions, please contact the student administration, tel. 071 5272144 or mail:

Registration Studeren à la carte and Contractonderwijs

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MA Linguistics departmental office, P.N. van Eyckhof 4, room 102C. Tel. 071 5272144;