Language trees support the express-train sequence of Austronesian expansion

R D Gray, F M Jordan

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)peer-review

278 Citations (Scopus)


Languages, like molecules, document evolutionary history. Darwin1 observed that evolutionary change in languages greatly resembled the processes of biological evolution: inheritance from a common ancestor and convergent evolution operate in both. Despite many suggestions, few attempts have been made to apply the phylogenetic methods used in biology to linguistic data. Here we report a parsimony analysis of a large language data set. We use this analysis to test competing hypotheses: the 'express- train' and the 'entangled-bank' models for the colonization of the Pacific by Austronesian-speaking peoples. The parsimony analysis of a matrix of 77 Austronesian languages with 5,185 lexical items produced a single most-parsimonious tree. The express-train model was converted into an ordered geographical character and mapped onto the language tree. We found that the topology of the language tree was highly compatible with the express-train model.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1052-1055
Number of pages4
Issue number6790
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2000


  • phylogeny
  • language
  • Austronesian
  • Pacific
  • migration
  • cultural evolution
  • cultural phylogenetics


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