The Austric Substratum Influences and Cultural Influences in Japan: Aereal Hybridity and Cultural Contact

Author: Dave Ryan Mikhail Go (Ateneo de Manila University)
Speaker: Dave Ryan Mikhail Go
Topic: Linguistic Anthropology
The (SCOPUS / ISI) SOAS GLOCAL CALA 2019 General Session


In 2015, an analysis by the Automated Similarity Judgment Program grouped the Japonic languages with Austroasiatic languages. Furthermore, in 2014, Vovin argued that Japanese and its proto-language had similarities with Tai-Kadai languages as well, and suggestive of a Southeast Asian origin. Other theories have also proposed that Japanese may have had Austronesian substratum influences. This is due to phonological similarities and the geographical proximity of the Japanese archipelago to Taiwan and the Pacific Islands. Furthermore, there are similar cultural aspects that can be found with the Japanese and different Southeast Asian ethnic groups, such as teeth blackening, the presence of similar-looking spirit houses, rice as a staple, architecture built on stilts, a prominent female deity in myths, similar animist beliefs, a previous form of bilateral kinship, etc. In terms of language families, the Austric superfamily, proposed by Wilhelm Schmidt and Paul K. Benedict, includes the Austronesian, Tai-Kadai, Austroasiatic and Hmong-Mien language families with Japonic languages sometimes included. In genetic studies, ethnic groups speaking these languages predominantly carry the Y-DNA haplogroup O-M175 (along with the Sino-Tibetan peoples). With regard to Japanese genetics, Hammer (2005) found out that 20.1% carried O-M122 (a descendant of O-M175). In terms of the Yayoi historical period, there is evidence of wet rice cultivation, which came from southeastern China, the proposed urheimat of the Austric peoples, and theories proposing dual origins for the Yayoi peoples, namely the Korean/Altaic origins from the Liao River, and migration waves from Southern China as shown through linguistic and archeological evidence. Therefore, the research aims to study the dual origins of the Japonic peoples and their languages, mainly focusing on the Austric influences. Furthermore, the study will build upon the Nusantao theory of Solheim, which aims to explain cultural similarities among Southeast Asian networks and archeological findings as evidence of migratory networks, and linguistic theories, including those of Bellwood, Benedict and Vovin. With that, there will be an analysis on the constructed proto-languages and their similarities according to the Austric theory. The paper also aims to consider the Japanese language to be an aereal hybrid language, rather than a creole, containing an Austric substratum and a Korean or Altaic superstratum. Based on the framework of linguistics, anthropology and history, the research aims to look at the effects of migratory waves on language and culture, and add to a growing literature challenging the traditional notion of a homogenous Japan.


Benedict, Paul K. (1989). Japanese-Austro/Tai. Ann Arbor: Karoma.

Benedict, Paul K. (1976). “Austro-Thai and Austroasiatic.” In: Philip N. Jenner, Laurence C. Thompson, and Stanley Starosta, eds., Austroasiatic Studies, Part I, pp. 1–36. Honolulu: University of Hawai‘i Press.

Blust, Robert. (1996). Beyond the Austronesian homeland: The Austric hypothesis and its implications for archaeology. In: Prehistoric Settlement of the Pacific, ed. by Ward H.Goodenough, Collingdale, PA: DIANE Publishing Co, 1996, pp. 117–137.

Francis-Ratte, Alexander T. (2016). Proto-Korean-Japanese: A New Reconstruction of the Common Origin of the Japanese and Korean Languages. Ph.D. Dissertation, Columbus, OH: Ohio State University.

Hammer, Michael F. (2005). “Dual origins of the Japanese: common ground for hunter-gatherer and farmer Y chromosomes.” The Japan Society of Human Genetics and Springer-Verlag. Springer Science + Business Media via Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology. 51 (1): 47–58.

Jäger, Gerhard. (2015, September 24) “Support for linguistic macrofamilies from weighted sequence alignment.” PNAS. 112 (41), 12752–12757, doi: 10.1073/pnas.1500331112.
Martin, Samuel E. (1987). The Japanese Language Through Time. New Haven & London: Yale University Press.

Ostapirat, Weera (2004). ‘Kra-dai and Austronesian: Notes on Phonological Correspondences and Vocabulary Distribution’. In: Sagart, L., Blench E., & Sanchez-Mazas, A. (eds.) The Peopling of East Asia: Putting together Archeology, Linguistics and Genetics, London: Routledge-Curzon, pp. 107-131.

Sagart, Laurent (2001). ‘Malayo-Polynesian features in the AN-related vocabulary in Kadai’. Perspectives on the Phylogeny of East Asian Languages-Périgueux, Aug. 29-31, 2001.

Sagart, Laurent (2004). ‘The higher phylogeny of Austronesian and the position of Tai-Kadai’. Oceanic Linguistics. 43 (2): 411-444.

Sagart, Laurent 2005. ‘Tai-Kadai as a subgroup of Austronesian’. In: In: Sagart, L., Blench E., & Sanchez-Mazas, A. (eds.) The Peopling of East Asia: Putting together Archeology, Linguistics and Genetics, London: Routledge-Curzon, pp. 177-181.

Schmidt, Wilhelm. (1930). “’Die Beziehungen der austrischen Sprachen zum Japanischen’, ‘The connections of the Austric languages to Japanese’.” Wiener Beitrag zur Kulturgeschichte und Linguistik. 1: 239–51.

van Driem, George (2011). “Rice and the Austroasiatic and Hmong-Mien Homelands.” In N. J. Enfield, ed. Dynamics of Human Diversity, 361-390. Canberra: Pacific Linguistics.
Vovin, Alexander. (1994). ‘Is Japanese related to Austronesian?’ Oceanic Linguistics 33 (2): 369-90.

Vovin, Alexander. (1998). “Japanese rice agriculture terminology and linguistic affiliation of Yayoi culture.” In Archaeology and Language II: Archaeological Data and Linguistic Hypotheses. London: Routledge.

Vovin, Alexander. (2008). “Proto-Japanese beyond the accent system”. In Frellesvig, Bjarne; Whitman, John. Proto-Japanese: Issues and Prospects. Amsterdam: John Benjamins. pp. 141–156.

Vovin, Alexander. (2013). “From Koguryo to Tamna: Slowly riding to the South with speakers of Proto-Korean.” Korean Linguistics. vol. 15, no. 2: 222–240.
Vovin, Alexander. (2014). “Out of Southern China? – Philological and linguistic musings on the possible Urheimat of Proto-Japonic.” Journées de CRLAO 2014. June 27–28, 2014. INALCO, Paris.

Whitman, John B. (2011). ‘Northeast Asian Linguistic Ecology and the Advent of Rice Agriculture in Korea and Japan’. Rice 2011, vol. 4: 149–158.

Keywords: Austric, Japonic, Tai-Kadai, Austronesian, Austroasiatic, Nusantao, aereal hybrid