Malayo-Polynesian Family
of Languages

Malay Visayan Batak Balinese


Also known as Austronesian, the Malayo-Polynesian Family is made up of over 1000 languages spread throughout the Indian and Pacific Oceans as well as South East Asia. Although covering a large geographical area, the languages are remarkably uniform in structure.

The most common are Malay and Indonesian (which are actually dialects of a single language). Malay was written in the Arabic script until the 20th Century when the Latin alphabet was adopted.



This family includes the languages of Indonesia: Javanese, Sundanese, Madurese (all from Java), Batak, Acehnese (Sumatra), Balinese (Bali), Tetun (Timor). The languages of the Philippines (Tagalog, Ilocano, Visayan). The many non-Chinese languages of Taiwan (like Amis, Atayal, Paiwan, Tsou). These languages are found in Indo-China: Cham is spoken in Vietnam. It was the language of a pre-Vietnamese Hindu Chamba Empire. The present speakers are Muslim. In the Pacific, languages like Maori (New Zealand), Fijian, Tahitian, Rapa Nui (Easter Island), Chamorro (Cham), and Hawaiian.

An interesting exception is Malagasy, which is spoken in Madagascar, a large island off the coast of southern Africa. Its nearest linguistic relative is spoken in Borneo. Over 1500 years ago, people from the islands of Indonesia migrated in boats across the Indian Ocean to Madagascar. Here, they picked up African culture, but their language gives away their origins.

These languages have fairly simple noun and verb forms. Malay has no inflections for tense or case. Plurals are made by doubling the word (ANAK - child, ANAK ANAK - children). This is called Reduplication and is commonly used to enhance grammatical meanings. Passive forms of verbs are commonly used (let the guide be followed rather than follow the guide).

Javanese has a special vocabulary used to and by chiefs. Some peoples have secret languages used only by certain trades, like fishermen and miners. Balinese has three formal registers. The word eat is NAAR in the lowest formality, NEDA in the middle formailty, NGADJENGANG in the most formal. In Cham, men and women's speech differs.

The possessive pronouns (my / our) are more complex than the noun forms and have differing forms depending on the item possessed. In some of the Pacific languages, the possessive pronouns have a form for alienable possesion (something that is possessed temporarily like a car or book), and a form for inalienable possession (something that is always possessed like body parts).

Ilocano has three words for this: one for visible objects, one for things not in view and another for things that no longer exist.

Some languages have two forms of the personal pronoun, we. One form is used if it includes the person or people addressed (inclusive) and another form if the person addressed is not included (exclusive).

Melanesian has three forms of the personal pronouns: dual (AIJUMRAU - we two), trial (AIJUMTAI - we three), and plural (AIJAM - we).

The Pacific languages are characterised by few consonants and vowels. Hawaiian has only 8 consonants (H, K, L, M , N, P, W and the glottal stop) and 5 vowels (A, E, I, O, U). There is a preference for open syllables (like in the names of the islands FI JI and TA HI TI).

Tagalog and Maori have a Verb-Subject-Object word order. Malagasay has the word order Verb-Object-Subject.

The speakers of this language family are thought to have originated in southern China (the Yellow River valleys) and migrated via Taiwan into the islands of the Philippines (about 2500BC), Indonesia and out into the Pacific (about 1000BC).

Formosan Branch
Amis : Atayal : Paiwan : Tsou
Western Branch
Indonesian : Malay : Javanese : Sundanese
Madurese : Tagalog : Visayan : Malagasy : Achinese
Batak : Acehnese : Buginese : Balinese : Ilocano : Bikol
Igorot : Maranao : Pampangan : Pangasinan : Jarai
Rhade : Cham
Micronesian Branch
Marshallese : Gilbertese : Chamorro : Ponapean
Yapese : Palau : Trukese : Nauruan
Melanesian Branch
Fijian : Motu : Yabim
Polynesian Branch
Maori : Uvea : Samoan : Tongan : Niuean
Rarotongan : Tahitian : Tuamotu : Marquesan
Hawaiian : Rapa Nui

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