Farming and Language in Island Southeast Asia: Reframing Austronesian History

Mark Donohue, Tim Denham

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


    Current portrayals of Island Southeast Asia (ISEA) over the past 5,000 years are dominated by discussion of the Austronesian "farming/language dispersal," with associated linguistic replacement, genetic clines, Neolithic "packages," and social transformations. The alternative framework that we present improves our understanding of the nature of the Austronesian language dispersal from Taiwan and better accords with the population genetics, archaeological evidence, and crop domestication histories for ISEA. Genetic studies do not demonstrate that the dispersal of Austronesian languages through ISEA was associated with large-scale displacement, replacement, or absorption of preexisting populations. Linguistic phylogenies for Austronesian languages do not support staged movement from Taiwan through the Philippines into Indo-Malaysia; in addition, the lexical and grammatical structure of many Austronesian languages suggests significant interaction with pre-Austronesian languages and cultures of the region. Archaeological evidence, including domestication histories for major food plants, indicates that ISEA was a zone of considerable maritime interaction before the appearance of Austronesian languages. Material culture dispersed through ISEA from multiple sources along a mosaic of regional networks. The archaeological evidence helps us to shape a new interpretative framework of the social and historical processes that more parsimoniously accounts for apparent discrepancies between genetic phylogenies and linguistic distributions and allows for more nuanced models of the dispersal of technologies and societies without reference to the farming/language dispersal hypothesis.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)223-256
    JournalCurrent Anthropology
    Issue number2
    Publication statusPublished - 2010


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