Prehistory of the Boab

Patrick McConvell, Thomas Saunders and Stef Spronck: Linguistic Prehistory of the Australian boab.

Boabs, a close relation of the African baobabs, are found only in the Kimberley region of Western Australia and a region close by in the Northern Territory. Here several of the words for the boab tree and its parts are examined with special emphasis on loanwords which cross language family boundaries going in a west-east direction. It is proposed that this linguistic diffusion may reflect dispersal of the tree into new areas on the east, in relatively recent times. On the other hand another recent diffusion from the west of new salient functions of the boab fruit spread a new term to central Kimberley where boabs are known to have been present and used by humans for many thousands of years

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Societies of intimates

The journal Narrative Inquiry has a special issue of papers about narrative in Australian languages. From the introduction:

When the Australian writer Richard Flanagan accepted the 2014 Man Booker Prize for fiction, he said that “As a species it is story that distinguishes us”. While the prize was given for a literary work written in English, Australia and the surrounding regions are replete with a rich diversity of oral traditions, and with stories remembered and told over countless generations and in many languages. In this article we consider both the universality and the cross-cultural and cross-linguistic diversity of various forms of narrative. We explore the question of what a linguistic typology of narrative might look like, and survey some of the literature relevant to this issue. Most specifically, we ask whether some observed differences in narrative style, structure, or delivery could derive from social features of the communities which produce them: their social density, informational homogeneity, and the high degree of common ground they share.

Global Triggers for Language Extinction

http://rspb.royalsocietypublishing.org/content/281/1793/20141574.full

Global distribution and drivers of language extinction risk
Tatsuya Amano, Brody Sandel, Heidi Eager, Edouard Bulteau, Jens-Christian Svenning, Bo Dalsgaard, Carsten Rahbek,Richard G. Davies, William J. Sutherland

Many of the world’s languages face serious risk of extinction. Efforts to prevent this cultural loss are severely constrained by a poor understanding of the geographical patterns and drivers of extinction risk. We quantify the global distribution of language extinction risk—represented by small range and speaker population sizes and rapid declines in the number of speakers—and identify the underlying environmental and socioeconomic drivers. We show that both small range and speaker population sizes are associated with rapid declines in speaker numbers, causing 25% of existing languages to be threatened based on criteria used for species. Language range and population sizes are small in tropical and arctic regions, particularly in areas with high rainfall, high topographic heterogeneity and/or rapidly growing human populations. By contrast, recent speaker declines have mainly occurred at high latitudes and are strongly linked to high economic growth. Threatened languages are numerous in the tropics, the Himalayas and northwestern North America. These results indicate that small-population languages remaining in economically developed regions are seriously threatened by continued speaker declines. However, risks of future language losses are especially high in the tropics and in the Himalayas, as these regions harbour many small-population languages and are undergoing rapid economic growth.

https://minerva-access.unimelb.edu.au/handle/11343/55705

The lexicography of indigenous languages in Australia and the Pacific

Affiliation: School of Languages and Linguistics
Source Title: International Handbook of Modern Lexis and Lexicography
Publisher: Springer-Verlag
Date: 2015
Access Status: Open Access
ARC Grant code : ARC/FT140100214
ARC Grant code : ARC/FT140100214
Citation: THIEBERGER, N, The lexicography of indigenous languages in Australia and the Pacific, International Handbook of Modern Lexis and Lexicography, 2015, pp. ? – ? (16)

Dreaming the Keepara

Dreaming the Keepara: New South Wales indigenous cultural perspectives, 1808-2007

Kelly, Raymond

Institution:University of Newcastle. Academic Division, The Wollotuka Institute

This interdisciplinary study investigates the Aboriginal intellectual heritage of the Mid North Coast of New South Wales, through a combination of family history, oral tradition, and audio-recorded songs, stories, interviews, discussions, and linguistic material. This research has uncovered an unsuspected wealth of cultural knowledge, cultural memory, and language heritage that has been kept alive and passed down within Aboriginal families and communities, despite the disruptions and dislocations endured over the past seven generations. This study’s findings are presented in three interrelated forms: a dance performance that incorporates traditional and contemporary songs, stories, and lived experiences of an Aboriginal extended family; an oral presentation within the framework of Aboriginal oral transmission of knowledge and this written exegesis, which is itself an experiment in finding pathways for the expression and progression of Aboriginal knowledge within the context of academic discourse. The theoretical framework of this work is grounded in my personal experience of Aboriginal traditions of knowledge production and transmission, maintained through everyday cultural activities, family memories of traditional education, and our traditional and present-day language forms and communicative practices. The performance, oral and written components connect this intellectual and cultural heritage with historical and photographic documentation, linguistic analyses, and audio recordings from my grandfathers’ and great-grandfathers’ generations. The written component establishes the background to the study, and reviews relevant literature with a prioritisation of Aboriginal voices and sources of knowledge, both oral and written. It explores aspects of my family history from the early 1800s to the present, including my childhood and early educational experiences and leads on to a detailed look at the work of my late father, Raymond Shoonkley Kelly in documenting and maintaining out intellectual and cultural heritage through the NSW Survey of Aboriginal Sites. The final part of this study focuses on language, which is central to all of the preceding investigation. This work demonstrates how operating from an Aboriginal knowledge base allows us to see beyond surface differences in spelling and pronunciation, to reach a deeper understanding of the cultural meanings and ways of speaking that have allowed us to preserve and maintain out cultural integrity. This knowledge base also enables the linguistic unpacking of previously unanalysable song material from the audio recordings. Indigenous people in New South Wales are continuing to engage in a cultural and political struggle to maintain and protect our identity in the face of an ever-present threat of assimilation by the mainstream Australian society. The success of our struggle will depend significantly on our ability to keep our language and our intellectual heritage alive.

Keywords dreamingKeeparaAboriginal Reservesindigenous cultural perspectivesAboriginalAborigineDreamtimerace relationsAborigines protection boardAboriginal Welfare BoardAboriginal Missions

Edible insect larvae in Kaytetye

http://www.bioone.org/doi/abs/10.2993/0278-0771-37.1.120

Journal of Ethnobiology 37(1):120-140. 2017

Edible Insect Larvae in Kaytetye: Their Nomenclature and Significance
No Access

Insects have traditionally constituted an important source of food in many cultures, but changes in dietary practices and other lifestyle traits are threatening the transmission of insect-related knowledge and vocabulary to younger generations of Indigenous Australians. This paper describes the rich cultural and culinary traditions surrounding an important insect group, namely a class of edible insect larvae consumed by a desert community in central Australia. Twenty-nine different edible insect larvae are named in the Kaytetye language, with the names encoding the identity of the host plant on which the larvae are found. We describe the complexities involved in the naming system, paying special attention to cultural and linguistic factors. The difficulties in the scientific identification of these ethnotaxa are discussed, as are the significance of our data to (1) questions of universal patterns in ethnoclassification and nomenclature and (2) the purported lack of binomially-labeled folk species in the languages of hunter-gatherer societies.

Genomic history of Aboriginal Australia

The most recent issue of Nature has an article on internal diversity in Australian genetics. It includes intriguing data about the mapping between linguistic diversification and genetic diversification.

Nature
(2016)
doi:10.1038/nature18299

A genomic history of Aboriginal Australia

The population history of Aboriginal Australians remains largely uncharacterized. Here we generate high-coverage genomes for 83 Aboriginal Australians (speakers of Pama–Nyungan languages) and 25 Papuans from the New Guinea Highlands. We find that Papuan and Aboriginal Australian ancestors diversified 25–40 thousand years ago (kya), suggesting pre-Holocene population structure in the ancient continent of Sahul (Australia, New Guinea and Tasmania). However, all of the studied Aboriginal Australians descend from a single founding population that differentiated ~10–32 kya. We infer a population expansion in northeast Australia during the Holocene epoch (past 10,000 years) associated with limited gene flow from this region to the rest of Australia, consistent with the spread of the Pama–Nyungan languages. We estimate that Aboriginal Australians and Papuans diverged from Eurasians 51–72 kya, following a single out-of-Africa dispersal, and subsequently admixed with archaic populations. Finally, we report evidence of selection in Aboriginal Australians potentially associated with living in the desert.