An Invaluable Treasure Shared by Taiwanese Indigenous Peoples with the World
The discourse on Austronesia originated in linguistic research. The word “Austronesia” consists of two cognates; “austro” stems from the Latin root austrālis ‘of the south,’ whereas “nesia” stems from the Greek root nesos ‘islands.’ As such, “Austronesia” is the collective term for the multitude of islands scattered across the South Pacific Ocean. Linguists have discovered certain similarities between the languages spoken in this region, and even evidence of a common language. After decades of research, linguists now formally categorize these similar languages as the Austronesian languages, which indicates that these “closely related” languages belong to the same language family.
According to linguists and anthropologists, the Austronesian language family is the most widespread language family in the world, covering Malaysia, Indonesia, Taiwan, Madagascar, Melanesia, Polynesia, Micronesia, New Zealand, and a large portion of New Guinea. It ranges as far north as Taiwan, west to Madagascar, east to Easter Island, and south to New Zealand, an area that encompasses over 1,200 languages. We can see from the description above that, within the field of linguistic studies, “Austronesia” is a geographical term that describes the distribution of this language family. Once a relationship between these languages was established, linguists and anthropologists reasoned that ancient Austronesian languages must have originated from the same source. The ethnographic term “Austronesian Peoples” was coined during the quest for that common origin.
Peter Bellwood: Distribution of Austronesian languages
In the archaeological literature, the “Out of Taiwan” model proposed by Peter Bellwood et al. borrowed an idea put forward by linguist Robert Blust in the 1980s, which is the claim that Taiwan could be the geographical center of the evolution and divergence of the Austronesian languages, as they exist in extreme diversity on the island. In addition, archaeologists have found significant correlations among Austronesian speakers not only in linguistic but also in physical and cultural features, providing further support for the hypothesis that Taiwan is the ethnic and cultural origin of the Austronesian peoples. Later on, social anthropologist Jared M. Diamond published an article titled Taiwan’s Gift to the World in the British science weekly Nature, detailing the way in which Taiwan’s indigenous peoples played a pivotal role in spreading Austronesian languages, agriculture, and pottery making—the gifts from Taiwan to the world. The article enabled Taiwan’s indigenous peoples and the world’s Austronesian speakers to share and appreciate one another’s cultural beauty as they sail towards a common future on the vast, boundless ocean.