Linguists have generally accepted that Japanese belongs to the Japonic family, and the only extant "sibling" language of Japanese are the Ryukyuan languages. It is also conjectured that Japanese is probably related to Korean and the Altaic languages, citing grammatical similarities and attributed cognates with Manchurian (Tungustic), Mongolian, and Turkish.

However, Japanese also has a few distinctive features that are similar to Austronesian languages. For example, both Japanese and (AFAIK) Bahasa Indonesia generally lack plural marking, and plurals are is often expressed by reduplication:


  • yama "mountain"; 山々 yamayama "many mountains"
  • hito "human"; 人々 hitobito "many people"

while in Bahasa Indoensia:

  • burung "bird"; burung-burung "birds"
  • orang "human"; orang-orang "all the people"

This similarity alone is definitely insufficient to conclude that Japanese is related to Austronesian. However, are there any other grammatical similarities cited to support this claim? Do comparative linguists today tend to credit or discredit this claim?

  • A note: I don't speak any Austronesian languages personally.
    – xuq01
    Mar 25, 2017 at 8:17

2 Answers 2


A. Vovin 1994 "Is Japanese Related to Austronesian" addresses the relation between Austronesian and Japonic, including morphological correspondences, and finds the hypothesis wanting. A. Kumar 1996 in "Does Japanese have an Austronesian substratum?" investigates the matter further, with more emphasis on the hypothesis of an Austronesian substratum (as opposed to genetic relationship), though looks at Javanese and Japanese (for example) rather than the respective proto-languages, and does not propose any striking morphological relationships. The idea does not seem to have gained significant tractions, compared to Dené-Yeniseian.

  • 1
    The pragmatics of Japanese and Javanese are similar, which probably has more to do with the fact that both cultures live on islands with extremely dense populations than with any "genetic" relationship. Both are known for their elaborate politeness formulas and lexical diversity in honorific speech, for instance. There have to be a million ways to say "Excuse me" when you're surrounded by many other people all the time. But Javanese is unusual among Austronesian languages; I know of none that approach this level of pragmatic and lexical complexity.
    – jlawler
    Mar 25, 2017 at 20:43
  • @jlawler Is this similar to, like, similar pragmatics of Japanese and Mandarin, due to a shared culture? Both Mandarin and Japanese have elaborate polite registers of language as well; they also have many shared ways of expression (not talking about cognates).
    – xuq01
    Mar 26, 2017 at 5:29
  • Chinese culture and language were the Greece and Rome of all Asian cultures and chunks have been borrowed and transplanted into all of the cultures and languages. As for politeness, nothing in the world compares to Javanese.
    – jlawler
    Mar 26, 2017 at 14:53
  • I agree with @jlawler. Chinese influence on Javanese language and culture is zero.
    – fdb
    Mar 26, 2017 at 21:01

The two language families seems unrelated. However, it seems that the proto-japonic, proto-koreanic and proto-austronesian are all part of 'sprachbund' that is why daughter languages have some similar features.

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