Brian Loo Soon Hua

Can Speakers of Indonesian/Malay and Speakers of Polynesian Languages Understand Each Other?

Bahasa Indonesia and Polynesian languages like Ka ‘Ōlelo Hawai‘i and Te Reo Māori are distant relatives spoken in different parts of the vast maritime territory occupied by the Austronesian language family, one of the world’s largest language families. Many of these languages are spoken in isolated areas extremely distant from their genetic relatives and are therefore not in direct contact. For instance, the distance between Sumatra and New Zealand is greater than the distance between Ireland and Western China. If we take Malagasy, spoken on Madagascar off the coast of East Africa into account, the Austronesian languages are (at least in pre-Columbian times) the most widely-dispersed language family on Earth. The question is: Can Indonesians understand speakers of Polynesian languages such as Hawaiian and Maori?
During this talk, Brian will welcome a speaker of Indonesian and a speaker of a Polynesian language to interact on screen and to attempt to communicate with one another in their respective languages. The results might surprise you!

Ask the speaker a question


  • Anonymous says:

    Thanks Brian! You answered a few questions here that I had been wondering about.

  • Anthony Ngu says:

    Because he only managed to arrange the zoom call days before the conference, he thought it wasn’t a good idea to give it to the organisers on such short notice. He will show it next year.

  • Dimitris says:

    Thanks Brian! Your explanation is helpful. I was looking forward to the part with the Indonesia speaker interacting with a speaker from one of the Polynesian islands. That part wasn’t included. Is there a separate link for that? Or could you add it to your website?

  • Anonymous says:

    Terimakasi Brian. After procrastinating a couple of days due to talking all the time in the venus room I could finally watch your presentation, which inspired me more to learn Indonesian. Mais j ái besoin de trouver temps pour étudier. 哈哈哈

  • BudBrown says:

    Thanks, Brian for this presentation. As a speaker of Tagalog and Cebuano, I was on the edge of my seat the whole time. Many times saying. Oh, so THAT”S why…” Maraming salamat.

  • Heidi says:

    I really like your way of presenting etymology as an enjoyable and exciting topic. Well, I know it is, but you can convey this feeling better than many university professors.
    And I didn’t know much about these languages and how much they are related to each other, so it was really interesting, thanks a lot!

  • astari says:

    Thank you for the very insightful presentation Brian! Maori and Hawaiian particularly are very interesting for me, happy to have more reasons to learn it now that I know they’re similar to Indonesian.

  • says:

    Great talk, Brian! Kudos!

    Loved it! 🇧🇷

  • Alexander says:

    Great talk, Brian. Bummed I didn’t get to hang out with you this time around, but I’m glad I still got to check out your presentation. One question: you showed a lot of consonant shift as you head east. Are there any sounds that were retained more commonly in the eastern polynesian languages than in the western ones?

  • Selmina says:

    A fascinating presentation, I’ve learnt immensely. Terima kasih banyak. I noticed the word “sucu” and I knew it’s “milk” in Fijian, I’ve been learning simple Fijian phrases from uTalk, so it’s helpful when listening to your presentation.

  • Arisu says:

    Thank you very much for the presentation!

  • That was very insightful, Brian. Thank you! It was like you could hear how the words evolve as they are echoed or taken by winds across the islands. Very cool information!

  • Fascinating as always, Brian, with the unfortunate side effect of making me want to dive back into Indonesian and Malay despite really needing to focus on Mandarin right now. Keep up the great work!

  • teddynee says:

    Very informative presentation. Is there explanation about why Polynesian languages changed so much in their pronunciation? Is there the story behind it?

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