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Family of about 1,200 languages spoken by more than 200 million people in Indonesia, the Philippines, Madagascar, the central and southern Pacific island groups (except most of New Guinea; seePapuan languages), and parts of mainland Southeast Asia and the island of Taiwan. Before European colonial expansion, it had the widest territorial extent of any language family. A primary genetic division in the family separates the Austronesian languages of Taiwan from the remaining languages, which are divided into Western and Central-Eastern Malayo-Polynesian. Western Malayo-Polynesian includes Javanese, which is spoken by about 76 million peoplemore than a third of all Austronesian speakers. Eastern Malayo-Polynesian includes Oceanic, the best-defined subgroup of Austronesian, comprising nearly all the languages of Polynesia, Micronesia, and Melanesia. Typological generalizations about Austronesian languages are difficult because of their enormous number and diversity, though content words tend to be disyllabic, and vowel and consonant inventories tend to be limited, especially in Polynesian. Written records in scripts of Southeast Asian provenance (seeIndic writing system) survive for several languages, including Old Javanese and Cham, the language of the kingdom of Champa.
Variants of AUSTRONESIAN LANGUAGES
Austronesian languages formerly Malayo-Polynesian languages
This entry comes from Encyclopædia Britannica Concise. For the full entry on Austronesian languages, visit Britannica.com.
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