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The Oceanic languages make up one of the largest subgroups of the Austronesian language family, the second biggest language family in the world. These 600+ language varieties span the entire Pacific Ocean – from Hawai'i to New Zealand, Tobi (Palau) to Rapa Nui. Due to the high number of languages spoken by widely varying speech communities over such a vast area, the Oceanic subgroup raises critical questions about linguistic diversity, language evolution, language contact, and language development.

The Comparative Oceanic Linguistics - CoOL - project responds to these questions by combining methods of classic comparative historical linguistics, computational linguistics, and sociolinguistics to reconstruct the Oceanic past and to explore how high mobility, overlapping migrations, and complex interactions have impacted language histories.

Ongoing work includes revising the classifications of Southern Oceanic and Polynesian languages, investigating the magnitude and causes of variation in linguistic diversification rates, modelling the evolution of linguistic disparity, identifying linguistic signals of early contact between speakers of Oceanic and non-Oceanic languages, discovering the source(s) and timing of the Polynesian Outlier westward migrations, and reconstructing linkages and dialect networks in the break-up of Proto Oceanic.

Group members

Senior Scientists
Senior Associate Scientist


  • Bethwyn Evans
  • Aymeric Hermann
  • Malcolm Ross
  • Jacques Vernaudon



Rangelov, T., Walworth, M., & Barbour, J. (2023). A multifaceted approach to understanding unexpected sound change: the bilabial trills of Vanuatu’s Malekula Island (advance online). Diachronica.
Open Access    DOI    BibTeX   Endnote   

Zariquiey, R., Vera, J., Greenhill, S. J., Valenzuela, P., Gray, R. D., & List, J.-M. (2023). Untangling the evolution of body-part terminology in Pano: conservative versus innovative traits in body-part lexicalization. Interface Focus, 13(1): 20220053.
Open Access    DOI    BibTeX   Endnote   

Sheehan, O., Watts, J., Gray, R. D., Bulbulia, J., Claessens, S., Ringen, E. J., & Atkinson, Q. D. (2023). Coevolution of religious and political authority in Austronesian societies. Nature Human Behaviour, 7, 38-45.
Open Access    DOI    BibTeX   Endnote   


Walworth, M., Dewar, A., Ennever, T., Takau, L., & Rodriguez, I. (2021). Multilingualism in Vanuatu: Four case studies. International Journal of Bilingualism, 25(4), 1120–1141.


Hermann, Aymeric & Walworth, Mary. (2020). Approche interdisciplinaire des échanges interculturels et de l’intégration des communautés polynésiennes dans le centre du Vanuatu. Journal de la Société des océanistes. 239-262.