Austronesian–Ongan languages

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Southeast Asia, the Pacific and Madagascar
Linguistic classification: Proposed language family
Glottolog: None

Austronesian–Ongan is a proposed connection between the Ongan and Austronesian language families, published in Blevins (2007). Ongan is a small family of two attested languages in the Andaman Islands, while Austronesian is one of the largest language families in the world, with a thousand languages spread across the Pacific.

Sound correspondences

Blevins (2007) proposes the following sound correspondences:

Proto-Austronesian (PAN) *p *t *k *q *ku *qu *b *d *g *s, *S *c, *C *z *j *h *m *n *ny *N *l *r *R *w
Proto-Ongan (PO) *p *t *k *kw *b *d *j, *g *c *j, *y *h, *y, *∅ *m *n *ny *l, *y *l *r *l, *r *w

There is neutralization and sometimes loss of final nasals in Proto-Ongan, with final **n merged into Proto-Ongan *ŋ, and final **m and **ny partially merged into *ŋ. (The latter merger, and loss, may post-date Proto-Ongan.) Final (oral) stops are lost in multisyllabic words (unstressed syllables?) in Proto-Ongan.

Initial **b drops from Proto-Ongan before **u and perhaps before **i.

**qw and **kw become *kw in Proto-Ongan, and *q/k or *w in Proto-AN.

Proto-Ongan and Proto-AN share a typologically odd restriction against root-initial *m-.

Vowel-initial words in Proto-Ongan correspond to *q in Proto-AN; because the Austronesian forms often include doublets, Blevins believes this is due to epenthesis in Proto-AN.

Vowels in open, non-final syllables
Proto-Austronesian (PAN) *i *u *a *ay#
Proto-Ongan (PO) *i *u, *o *a, *e *e *e#

Final **ay has become *e in Proto-Ongan. *e also derives from **a before palatals, word-finally, and when unstressed.

Proto-Ongan *o typically derives from **u in a checked syllable, or from assimilation as in **wa.

Proto-Ongan *ə is thought to have been an allophone of *e, found before coda nasals except after palatals.

Grammatical correspondences

Most derivational morphology and grammatical words are so short that the several resemblances between Proto-Ongan and Proto-AN may be chance. However, Ongan morphology does appear to explain an odd situation in Austronesian.

Proto-Austronesian has a limited set of reconstructed vowel-initial roots, all of which are kin terms, body parts, or other readily possessed nouns. Ongan languages have inalienable possession, and inalienably possessed nouns are all vowel initial. Elsewhere, vowel-initial roots in Proto-Ongan correspond to initial *q- in Proto-Austronesian. The complete list of vowel-initial Proto-AN roots reconstructed by Blust is as follows:

*aki grandfather; *ama father, paternal uncle; *aNak child; *apu grandparent/grandchild; *aya paternal aunt; *ina mother, maternal aunt
*ujung/ijung nose; *ikuR tail; *iSeq urine; *uRat vein, sinew; *utaq vomit
*asu/wasu dog; *aCab cover; *ian home; *uNay splinter

These are all the kinds of words expected in inalienable-possession systems.[1] Blevins suggests that inalienable possession was lost from Proto-Austronesian, presumably after epenthetic *q- was added to vowel-initial words. There are many Proto-AN doublets like *wasu, *asu 'dog'; initial *w- has also been lost from *w-anaN 'right side' and *w-iRi 'left side' in Pazeh and other languages, from what Blust describes as "some now-obscured morphological process".[2] Blevins suggests that in all three cases, the Proto-Austronesian *w- reflects the Proto-Ongan possessive prefix *gw- 'his, her', which remained as a fossil in some daughter languages. Thus proto-Austronesian–Ongan may explain some of the odd patterns found in proto-Austronesian.


The connection between Austronesian and Ongan has not been supported by Austronesianists. Blust (2014)[3] finds that Blevins' conclusions are not supported by her data: Of her first 25 reconstructions, none are reproducible using the comparative method, and Blust claims that the grammatical comparison does not hold up.


  1. *aCab 'cover' may be cognate with Proto-Ongan *otab 'head',
  2. Blevins, p 183
  3. Robert Blust (2014) "Some Recent Proposals Concerning the Classification of the Austronesian Languages", Oceanic Linguistics 53:2:300–391.