Malagasy dialects and the peopling of Madagascar

Maurizio Serva, Filippo Petroni, Dima Volchenkov, Søren Wichmann

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

22 Scopus citations


The origin of Malagasy DNA is half African and half Indonesian, nevertheless the Malagasy language, spoken by the entire population, belongs to the Austronesian family. The language most closely related to Malagasy is Maanyan (Greater Barito East group of the Austronesian family), but related languages are also in Sulawesi, Malaysia and Sumatra. For this reason, and because Maanyan is spoken by a population which lives along the Barito river in Kalimantan and which does not possess the necessary skill for long maritime navigation, the ethnic composition of the Indonesian colonizers is still unclear. There is a general consensus that Indonesian sailors reached Madagascar by a maritime trek, but the time, the path and the landing area of the first colonization are all disputed. In this research, we try to answer these problems together with other ones, such as the historical configuration of Malagasy dialects, by types of analysis related to lexicostatistics and glottochronology that draw upon the automated method recently proposed by the authors. The data were collected by the first author at the beginning of 2010 with the invaluable help of Joselinà Soafara Néré and consist of Swadesh lists of 200 items for 23 dialects covering all areas of the island. This journal is

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)54-67
Number of pages14
JournalJournal of the Royal Society Interface
Issue number66
StatePublished - Jan 7 2012


  • Dialects of Madagascar
  • Language taxonomy
  • Lexicostatistic data analysis
  • Malagasy origins


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