THE ORIGINS OF THE AUSTRONESIAN LANGUAGES

Several hundred million people speak Austronesian languages. These speakers reside in Taiwan, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, and as far away as Madagascar, and in islands in the Pacific Ocean. Yet the fact that such a large and geographically extended population speaks the same language family is intriguing.

One hypothesis that has contributed to the debate is the notion that rice farming in China migrated to Taiwan, at which point and place, the Austronesian languages developed, and then migrated throughout the extended regions, approximately 4,000 years ago.

However, a detailed genetic analysis has indicated that migration may have occured much earlier than 4,000 years ago. At the time of the ice age, approximately 11,500 years ago, the rise in sea levels and a gross change in the landscapes of Southeast Asia and the Pacific may have altered the demographics of the larger region and thus may have motivated large scale migration or separation.

At this point, the Indonesian population may have traveled (approximately 8,000 years ago), thus contributing to the DNA spread throughout Southeast Asia and the Pacific islands.

The branches of Austronesian languages are trackable back to Taiwan, as is a minor set of DNA factors, approximately 4,000 years ago. It is probable that the speakers constituted an elite or prestigious group, and hence, the language and social networks may have then forced the spread of the languages. Otherwise, language prestige may have appeared through adherence to a certain religion or a particular social thought.