Are Vietnamese Austronesians
Which languages belong to a language family ?: Part 4 - Austronesian and American languages
by Konstanze Fassbinder
After taking a closer look at the large language families of Asia and Africa in our last two articles, we now turn to the remaining language areas on earth, namely the Pacific region and the American continent.
The Austronesian languages of the PacificThe languages of the Pacific world - from Madagascar in the west to Easter Island in the east - surprisingly, with the exception of Australia and parts of New Guinea, almost all belong to the Austronesian language family. Because of its size and the number of speakers it is also called the Austronesian “macro” or “super family”.
This family of languages includes over 1200 languages, with researchers' estimates varying widely. Around 300 million people speak one of the Austronesian languages. There are a total of 28 Austronesian languages spoken by more than a million speakers. Ten million of them live in the Philippines alone, 17 million in Malaysia and Indonesia and one million in Madagascar.
The distribution of speakers in the Austronesian family, however, is extremely uneven, there is a strong divide from west to east. The Western Australian part of the language family stretches from Madagascar to a north-south dividing line in western New Guinea. The areas here are densely populated and so there are many native speakers. In this area, the largest spoken languages are Indonesian, Malay, Javanese, and Filipino.
The East Australian part of the family is much larger geographically. It includes the entire Pacific island world, i.e. the northern part of Micronesia, Melanesia with the Fiji Islands, the Solomon Islands and New Guinea and Polynesia consisting of Hawaii, Samoa, New Zealand and Easter Island. There is an incredible abundance of languages here, but they are often only spoken by a few people. The total population in the East Australian region is also much smaller.
The Indian languages of AmericaThe languages of the American double continent that are to be listed here are in most cases not those that are spoken there today.
Rather, we consider those languages that existed there before the European settlement since Columbus 1492. Many of these languages no longer exist or are threatened with extinction. Unfortunately, only a small number of them survived.
Except for the Inuit languages in the north, these are exclusively Indian languages. The Indians are originally descended from immigrants of Mongolian origin who came to America from Asia via Alaska 30,000 years ago.
The well-known advanced cultures of the Maya, Aztecs and Incas emerged in Central and South America. Despite the common origin of the tribes, their languages developed far apart, so that the reconstruction of a common, hypothetical source language is hardly possible. The reason for this is that the immigrants came gradually over the millennia and, in some cases, developed very isolated geographically.
When the first Europeans discovered America, it is estimated that around 15 to 20 million people lived on the apparently extremely sparsely populated double continent. The number of languages spoken, on the other hand, was immense compared to today:
It is said that there were around 24 Inuit languages, 350 languages of North American Indians, 100 languages in Mexico and Central America and - hold on tight - around 800 different languages in South America and the Antilles! This makes a total of around 1250 Indian languages, which are classified purely externally according to the above-mentioned metropolitan areas.
Here too, opinions in linguistics diverge:
There are views that there must have been around 150 language families within which the languages were genetically related. However, these are all vague assumptions, as some of these languages are not only unexplored, but also unknown. In addition, many of the languages that still exist are only spoken by a few thousand speakers and are threatened with extinction.
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