Wangga songmen

For the Sake of a Song: Wangga Songmen and Their Repertories

By Allan Marett, Allan Marett, Linda Barwick and Lysbeth Ford, Linda Barwick, Lysbeth Julie Ford

Wangga, originating in the Daly region of Australia’s Top End, is one of the most prominent Indigenous genres of public dance-songs. This book focuses on the songmen who created and performed the songs for their own communities and for the general public over the past 50 years. The book is organised around six repertories: four from the Belyuen-based songmen Barrtjap, Muluk, Mandji and Lambudju, and two from the Wadeye-based Walakandha and Ma-yawa wangga groups, the repertories being named after the ancestral song-giving ghosts of the Marri Tjavin and Marri Ammu people respectively. Framing chapters include discussion of the genre’s social history, musical conventions and the five highly endangered languages in which the songs are composed. The core of the book is a compendium of recordings, transcriptions, translations and explanations of over 150 song items. Thanks to permissions from the composers’ families and a variety of archives and recordists, this corpus includes almost every wangga song ever recorded in the Daly region. Representing the fruit of more than 20 years’ work by Marett, Barwick and Ford with the families of the songmen, and drawing on a rich archival record of photographs and recordings from the communities of Belyuen and Wadeye, this book is the first phase of a multimedia publication project that will also include a website and a series of CD packages. It is the second book in the series ‘The Indigenous Music of Australia’ published by Sydney University Press. All the recordings are available to stream.


Trees and Cultural Phylogenies

Michael J. O’Briena*Mark CollardbBriggs Buchananab &Matthew T. Boulangera 

Anthropology has always had as one of its goals the explanation of human cultural diversity across space and through time. Over the past several decades, there has been a growing appreciation among anthropologists and other social scientists that the phylogenetic approaches that biologists have developed to reconstruct the evolutionary relationships of species are useful tools for building and explaining patterns of human diversity. Phylogenetic methods offer a means of creating testable propositions of heritable continuity – how one thing is related to another in terms of descent. Such methods have now been applied to a wide range of cultural phenomena, including languages, projectile points, textiles, marital customs, and political organization. Here we discuss several cultural phylogenies and demonstrate how they were used to address long-standing anthropological issues. Even keeping in mind that phylogenetic trees are nothing more than hypotheses about evolutionary relationships, some researchers have argued that when it comes to cultural behaviors and their products, tree building is theoretically unwarranted. We examine the issues that critics raise and find that they in no way sound the death knell for cultural phylogenetic work.

[not directly related to Australian languages but relevant to recent work on cultural phylogenetics.]


Title: Enindhilyakwa phonology, morphosyntax and genetic position
Authors: van Egmond, Marie-Elaine
Keywords: Aboriginal languages, grammar, phonology, morphosyntax, comparative method, genetic position
Issue Date: Mar-2012
Publisher: University of Sydney
Arts. School of Letters, Arts and Media / Linguistics
Abstract: This thesis is a grammatical description of Enindhilyakwa, a non-Pama-Nyungan language spoken by over 1200 people living in the Groote Eylandt archipelago in the Gulf of Carpentaria, Northern Territory, Australia. The language is classified as an isolate in O’Grady et al. (1966), and as “perhaps the most difficult of all Australian languages, with a very complex grammar” (Dixon 1980: 84; Capell 1942: 376). The aim of this thesis is to unravel this complex grammar, morphosyntax and phonology, and to place the language in the context of the neighbouring Arnhem Land languages. I propose that, although highly intricate, Enindhilyakwa morphology is also fairly regular and transparent, and, in fact, patterns much like the Gunwinyguan family of languages to its west. The areas of grammar covered in this thesis are: phonology (Chapter 2), nouns and adjectives (Chapter 3), verbal prefixes (Chapter 4), verb stem structures (Chapter 5), tense, aspect and mood marking on the verb (Chapter 6), the incorporation of body part and generic nominals into verbs and adjectives (Chapter 7), case marking (Chapter 8), and the genetic affiliation (Chapter 9). Enindhilyakwa phonology displays some radical departures from the typical Australian pattern, as well as from the typical Gunwinyguan pattern. However, the innovations can be traced back to an original proto-Gunwinyguan stock. Other grammatical features of this language are: (i) an elaborate noun classification system, involving noun classes, gender and generics incorporated into verbs and adjectives; (ii) an extensive degree of nominal derivation, including inalienable possession, alienable possession and deverbalising prefixes; (iii) four distinct pronominal prefix series on the verb to mark an equal number of moods; (iv) the possibility of most nominal case markers to be used as complementising cases on verbs; and (v) the pervasive use of body parts, which play a major role in naming and classifying inanimate objects.

Optionality in grammar

William McGregor: Optionality in grammar and language use
Linguistics. Volume 51, Issue 6, Pages 1147–1204, ISSN (Online) 1613-396X, ISSN (Print) 0024-3949, DOI: 10.1515/ling-2013-0047, November 2013

This paper investigates optionality in grammar and language use, and argues that there is optionality and optionality, and thus that it is essential that we be much more careful than hitherto in categorizing linguistic entities as optional. Equipped with a suitably constrained construal of the term, it is possible to formulate testable generalizations about optionality. Specifically, it is always meaningful in the sense that the contrast between use and non-use of a given linguistic element conveys meaning; use and non-use are never in absolutely free variation. Furthermore, there are restrictions on the type of meaning associated with the two contrasting paradigmatic “forms”. It is always a type of interpersonal meaning, concerning the domain of joint attention. It is further suggested that the connection between form and meaning is motivated, and thus this represents another domain in which the linguistic sign emerges as non-arbitrary. Evidence for the proposed meaning is presented from case studies of five diverse domains of grammar: complementizers, case markers, definiteness markers, person and number markers, and NP ellipsis. While these case studies only scratch the surface of the range of optional phenomena in the world’s languages, they provide sufficient circumstantial evidence to make an initial case for the proposals; they also raise numerous questions for future investigation.

Kaytetye Flora and Fauna

Myf Turpin: Semantic extension in Kaytetye flora and fauna terms. AJL 33/4

Flora and fauna play a vital role in Indigenous cultures and their nomenclature reveals much about the society from which they belong. This article identifies the lexical structures and types of metaphor and metonymy that are used for naming plants and animals in Kaytetye, a language of central Australia. By linking semantic analysis to detailed ethnography this paper elucidates the cultural connections that underlie polysemous biota terms. Various types of semantic extension are found, including ‘sign metonymy’, where two or more species share a name because one signals the availability of the other. A subtype of this is what I call ‘meaningful call’ metonymy. This is where an onomatopoeic bird name has lexical content, and thus the bird ‘says’ the signalled phenomena. The paper also finds that alternate register terms turn up in everyday words for biota. The aim of this paper is thus twofold: to demonstrate the importance of investigating socio-cultural practices, multiple speech registers and ecological phenomena for understanding patterns of polysemy and diachronic semantics; and to identify the range of semantic extensions that give rise to biota nomenclature in Kaytetye, where we find the previously undescribed ‘meaningful call’ metonymy.