Jump directly to main navigation Jump directly to content Jump to sub navigation

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

Group leader
Senior Scientist
Senior Associate Scientist


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



Skirgård, H. (2024). Disentangling Ancestral State Reconstruction in historical linguistics: Comparing classic approaches and new methods using Oceanic grammar (advance online). Diachronica.
Open Access    DOI    BibTeX   Endnote   


Barlow, R., & Killian, D. (2023). Tomoip phonetics and phonology. Te Reo, 66(1), 60-96.
Open Access    BibTeX   Endnote   

Shcherbakova, O., Michaelis, S. M., Haynie, H. J., Passmore, S., Gast, V., Gray, R. D., Greenhill, S. J., Blasi, D. E., & Skirgård, H. (2023). Societies of strangers do not speak less complex languages. Science Advances, 9(33): eadf7704.
Open Access    DOI    BibTeX   Endnote   

Rangelov, T. (2023). The acoustic and articulatory properties of the prenasalised coronal trill in two Oceanic languages. In R. Skarnitzl, & J. Volín (Eds.), Proceedings of the 20th International Congress of Phonetic Sciences, Prague 2023 (pp. 3417-3421).
Open Access    BibTeX   Endnote   

Heggarty, P., Anderson, C., Scarborough, M., King, B., Bouckaert, R., Jocz, L., Kümmel, M. J., Jügel, T., Irslinger, B., Pooth, R., Liljegren, H., Strand, R. F., Haig, G., Macák, M., Kim, R. I., Anonby, E., Pronk, T., Belyaev, O., Dewey-Findell, T. K., Boutilier, M., Freiberg, C., Tegethoff, R., Serangeli, M., Liosis, N., Stroński, K., Schulte, K., Gupta, G. K., Haak, W., Krause, J., Atkinson, Q. D., Greenhill, S. J., Kühnert, D., & Gray, R. D. (2023). Language trees with sampled ancestors support a hybrid model for the origin of Indo-European languages. Science, 381(6656): eabg0818.
DOI    BibTeX   Endnote   

Barlow, R. (2023). Papuan-Austronesian contact and the spread of numeral systems in Melanesia. Diachronica, 40(3), 287-340.
Open Access    DOI    BibTeX   Endnote   

Auderset, S., Greenhill, S. J., DiCanio, C. T., & Campbell, E. W. (2023). Subgrouping in a ‘dialect continuum’: A Bayesian phylogenetic analysis of the Mixtecan language family. Journal of Language Evolution, 8(1): lzad004, pp. 33 -63.
Open Access    DOI    BibTeX   Endnote   

Passmore, S., Barth, W., Greenhill, S. J., Quinn, K., Sheard, C., Argyriou, P., Birchall, J., Bowern, C., Calladine, J., Deb, A., Diederen, A., Metsäranta, N. P., Araujo, L. H., Schembri, R., Hickey-Hall, J., Honkola, T., Mitchell, A., Poole, L., Rácz, P. M., Roberts, S. G., Ross, R. M., Thomas-Colquhoun, E., Evans, N., & Jordan, F. M. (2023). Kinbank: A global database of kinship terminology. PLoS One, 18(5): e0283218.
Open Access    DOI    BibTeX   Endnote   

Rangelov, T., Walworth, M., & Barbour, J. (2023). A multifaceted approach to understanding unexpected sound change: the bilabial trills of Vanuatu’s Malekula Island. Diachronica, 40(3), 384-432.
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   

Barlow, R. (2023). A grammar of Ulwa (Papua New Guinea). Berlin: Language Science Press.
Open Access    DOI    BibTeX   Endnote   

Choo, B., Holland, T., Clement, A. M., King, B., Challands, T., Young, G., & Long, J. A. (2023). A new stem-tetrapod fish from the Middle–Late Devonian of central Australia. Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology, 43(3): e2285000.
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.