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.

Edible insect larvae in Kaytetye

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.

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.



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.