Nauruan classification

Kevin Hughes


Nauruan is a Micronesian language that has been classified outside of the Nuclear Micronesian group. This classification suggests that Nauruan, unlike all other Micronesian languages, did not descend from Proto-Micronesian. Though this view has been adopted in the literature, it should be considered tenuous. It is based on little Nauruan data and is informed by work that is presented as highly tentative. This paper presents a reassessment of Nauruan classification, drawing on data from original fieldwork. Research shows not only that Nauruan is a Micronesian language, but that there is no compelling evidence for classifying Nauruan apart from the Nuclear group. Of particular importance is the claim that Nauruan fails to reflect the merger of Proto-Oceanic *d and *dr as Proto-Micronesian *c (Jackson 1986). Comparative evidence suggests that Nauruan does reflect this merger: POc *d, *dr > PMc *c > r̆. It follows that Jackson's classification for Nauruan is unmotivated, as is the Nuclear/non-Nuclear distinction within the family. Having established that Nauruan need not be classified apart from the Nuclear group, Nauruan's precise classification within the Micronesian family is considered. A question of primary importance is whether Nauruan reflects the merger of Proto-Micronesian *s and *S. The possibility that Nauruan did not participate in this merger is considered, in which case Nauruan should be classified outside of the Central Micronesian group, like Kosraean. The possibility that Nauruan did participate in this merger is also considered, in which case Nauruan should be classified somewhere within Central Micronesian. Further, some innovations are described which are potentially shared between Nauruan and certain Central Micronesian languages. The possibility that these are shared innovations is considered, as are the implications this would have for Nauruan classification.


Micronesian languages; Oceanic languages; Austronesian languages; Nauru; Nauruan

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Copyright (c) 2020 Kevin Hughes

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