Language study links Maori to Taiwan

New research into language evolution has provided more evidence that Pacific Island populations, including Maori, originated in Taiwan thousands of years ago.

Auckland University scientists have analysed vocabulary from 400 "Austronesian" languages to determine how the Pacific was settled.

"The Austronesian language family is one of the largest in the world, with 1200 languages spread across the Pacific," psychology Professor Russell Gray said.

Settlement of the Pacific was one of the most remarkable expansions by prehistoric humans.

"By studying the basic vocabulary from these languages, such as words for animals, simple verbs, colours and numbers, we can trace how these languages evolved."

Relationships between the languages provided a detailed history of Pacific settlement, Professor Gray said.

The results showed the settlement happened in a series of expansion "pulses", each spanning about 1000 years.

The Austronesians arose in Taiwan about 5200 years ago and spread to the Philippines. About a millennium later, they moved on to Polynesia.

After settling Fiji, Samoa and Tonga, they eventually reached New Zealand, Hawaii and Easter Island, he said.

The expansion was believed to be linked to improvements in equipment, such as canoes, and in social techniques.