The Austronesian languages are a family of languages widely dispersed throughout the islands of Southeast Asia and the Pacific, with a few members spoken on continental Asia. Malagasy is a geographic outlier, which is spoken on Madagascar. Austronesian has ten primary subgroups, nine of them found in Taiwan (the Formosan languages) and one ancestral to all other members of the family (Malayo-Polynesian languages). Austronesian is one of the largest language families in the world, both in terms of number of languages (1244 according to Ethnologue) and in terms of the geographical extent of the homelands of its languages (from Madagascar to Easter Island).
The name comes from the Greek word Austronesia, meaning "southern islands".
The Formosan languages are spoken on the island of Taiwan, and some neighbouring islands. The Malayo-Polynesian languages are scattered across the hugearea described above. The Malayo-Polynesian (MP) languages are divided into two major subgroups, the Western MP and the Central-Eastern MP.
Eastern has two subgroups: Polynesian and Micronesian. Micronesian includes the languages spoken by the native peoples of Micronesia such as Nauruan, Sama and Chamorro. Polynesian languages include Hawai'ian, Māori, Samoan, Tahitian, Tongan and Tuvaluan. All of the said languages except Hawai'ian have official status in the countries and territories of the Pacific Ocean. Collectively they are spoken by about 1 million people.
Comparative reconstruction, confirmed by archaeology, has shown that the original homeland of the linguistic ancestors of all these languages was the island of Taiwan, and that the deepest divisions in Austronesian are among families of native Taiwanese (Formosan) languages (unrelated to Chinese). The older term 'Malayo-Polynesian' is sometimes still used for the entire non-Taiwanese branch of Austronesian.
The Malayo-Polynesian languages tend to use reduplication (repetition of all or part of a word) to express the plural, and all Austronesian languages have a low entropy; that is, the text is quite repetitive in terms of the frequency of sounds. The majority also lack consonant clusters (e.g., [str] or [mpt] in English). Most also have only a small set of vowels, five being a common number.