An Oceanic Origin for Aiwoo, the Language of the Reef Islands?

By Ross, Malcolm; Naess, Ashild | Oceanic Linguistics, December 2007 | Go to article overview

An Oceanic Origin for Aiwoo, the Language of the Reef Islands?


Ross, Malcolm, Naess, Ashild, Oceanic Linguistics


Whether the languages of the Reefs-Santa Cruz (RSC) group have a Papuan or an Austronesian origin has long been in dispute. Various background issues are treated in the introductory section. In section 2 we examine the lexicon of the RSC and Utupua-Vanikoro languages and show that there are regular sound correspondences among these languages, and that RSC languages display regular reflexes of Proto-Oceanic etyma and are therefore Austronesian. We also show that together the RSC and Utupua-Vanikoro languages form an Oceanic subgroup, which we label "Temotu," and that the Temotu group is probably a first-order subgroup within the Oceanic family. In section 3, we examine a variety of constructions and morphemes in Aiwoo, the language of the Reef Islands, to see whether they have plausible Oceanic sources. The answer in most cases is that they do. This is important, as several of these constructions have in the past been given as evidence that the RSC languages have a Papuan origin. We conclude that the RSC languages are Austronesian and that there is no need to posit a Papuan element to explain their origin.

1. INTRODUCTION. The languages that we are concerned with in this paper are located in the Temotu Province of the Solomon Islands. Santa Cruz Island is roughly 390 km from Makira in the main Solomons archipelago to the west and about 270 km from the northernmost Torres Islands of Vanuatu to the south (see map 1). (1) The languages of the area are listed in (1) together with alternate names and abbreviations. (2) Their approximate locations are shown on map 2. The language or languages of Santa Cruz Island (also known as Nedo or Deni) form a chain of dialects. We refer here simply to two for which Tryon and Hackman (1983) supply lexical data, Malo (here labeled Natugu) and Nanggu (here Nagu). Omitted from (1), but included in map 2, are the three Polynesian languages Vaeakau-Taumako (= Pileni), Anuta, and Tikopia.

(1) * Reefs-Santa Cruz group

--Aiwoo (= Reefs) [AIW]

--Natugu (= Malo, Lodai, Nedo) [NAT] (3)

--Nagu [NAG]

* Utupua

--Nebao (= Aba) [NEB]

--Asuboa[ASU]

--Tanibili [TNB]

* Vanikoro

--Buma (= Teanu) [BUM]

--Vano (= Vana) [VNO]

--Tanema (= Tanima, Tetau) [TNM]

There are two Temotu historical topics that we will not consider here. One is contact between Polynesian and Temotu languages (see Naess and Hovdhaugen 2007). Vaeakau-Taumako certainly, and perhaps Anuta and Tikopia as well, have left their mark at least in the form of borrowings on Temotu languages. The second topic is the amazing diversity of the Temotu languages. This is less surprising when one considers the distances between them--the Reef Islands are some 70 km north of Santa Cruz, for example--but distance does not explain the diversity Francois (2006) finds among the languages of Vanikoro alone.

Instead, our focus is on the genealogy of the languages in (1) and especially upon Aiwoo. The UV languages have been taken to be Oceanic (Tryon and Hackman 1983, Tryon 1994). The genealogy of the RSC group has been questioned ever since linguists have had any knowledge of them (i.e., since Codrington 1885), but our starting point here will be two oft cited papers read at the Second International Conference on Austronesian Linguistics in January 1978 and published as Lincoln (1978) and Wurm (1978). The authors take opposing views. Lincoln (1978:929) begins his paper: "The main theme of this paper is that the Reefs-Santa Cruz (RSC languages could be classified as Austronesian--or more specifically as Oceanic languages--free from the influence of other language families in the Pacific." Wurm (1978:971), on the other hand, suggests that the RSC languages are descendants of "a non-Austronesian language or languages and that they have incompletely taken over an Austronesian language:" He goes on to suggest that there have been several different Austronesian inputs. …

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